September 21, 2017

The Courage to be Vulnerable

We all have things about ourselves that make us notable. While I never quite understood it, the adjective “courageous” is often used to describe me.  For the longest time, I fought it. For me, that notion was reserved for our military and first responders...not just some woman who feels comfortable sharing her thoughts in an authentic manner.  

Now, I think I finally get it.  

Apparently, people attribute any perception of courageousness I might display to my willingness to be vulnerable publicly. Over the years, I have written about my own struggles and failure, both personally and professionally. I do this not because I actually enjoying shining a spotlight on everything that hasn’t worked out in my life; just the opposite actually. I share because I have a great career. I am a happy, productive person who is really comfortable with who she is. I believe I have gotten to that place in my life purely as a result of having lived - and learned - through all the ups and downs. And somehow, I believe my “keeping it real” with others allows me to potentially encourage them to do the same. In short, I fundamentally believe no one is perfect, and it’s our ability to learn from our challenged areas that ultimately allows us to thrive. Being able to do this at work might seem a little counterintuitive, but let me share three lessons learned from my experience to help push you to give it a try.

Yes, it’s uncomfortable. But way less so if you are comfortable in your own skin.  

Recently, I proactively shared that I am dyslexic in a recent post. Sure, I risk the fact that some people might think, “Well that explains it… every time we go to lunch she asks me to calculate the tip. I thought she was just stupid.” Or maybe, “Every time I ask Christina to review the data, she misses multiple errors.”  Exposing that vulnerability of not being able to manage simple math has the potential to be really scary for me. Instead, however, I choose to share. I am very comfortable at this point in my life with who I am, and the journey I’ve taken. I know I’m not perfect, and I just can’t be bothered if someone judges me for something I can’t control.

You have to work at it to be able to use it to your advantage.

Humans are adept at pointing out what is wrong with others but far less comfortable admitting their own shortcomings. Perhaps it is because the very essence of vulnerability is to admit that you aren’t perfect. I mean seriously, who loves to admit “You know what I really suck at…?”  Here’s the thing though: even if you don’t enjoy being vulnerable (no one does), wouldn’t you rather be in control of it rather than be surprised by someone else pointing it out to you?  Personally, I choose option A. If you subscribe to that premise, why don’t more people take this approach?  Likely, because it’s a risky endeavor. To share your less-than-perfect self is putting yourself in the position of being misunderstood, judged or even rejected. Yikes… no one likes those options. So start small, perhaps with a trusted co-worker or friend. See the reaction you get. My hypothesis is that you will likely not just find support and encouragement, but they will open up and share something they struggle with. That very action builds trust and strengthens relationships.  And then keep on building the courage to practice more. Just watch what happens!

You can benefit hugely.  

A few years ago, I got divorced. In my first date post-divorce, I was set up with a writer.  It was a train wreck of a date, but the one big takeaway from that night was him sharing, “You should keep a journal.  It’s incredibly cathartic.” I laughed it off because, at the time, I considered myself an incredibly private person. I have always been great at asking people questions, and getting them to talk about themselves. I found over time, very few people asked me questions back, so the asking of questions became a shield. The more I asked, the less I had to share. When I got home that night, that conversation inspired me to shift that dynamic. That very evening, I decided to go ahead and keep a journal...but I would hold myself accountable to write every day for a year. And then post it. Yes, post it to the world.

Of course, that sounds insane. Writing your most intimate thoughts and sharing it with the world, right? I didn’t care. I wrote like no one was reading it. I shared deeply personal perspectives. I shared silly random thoughts. I shared the good, the bad, and the ugly that is me. Every single day for a year. And a miraculous thing happened. I changed my life.  

Yes, people read it. I did my best to ignore that fact. Likely, the majority of them were voyeuristic and loved peering inside the head of a woman who is putting it all out there. However, I beneficially made an incredible amount of new connections over that year, with people sharing their own perspectives and stories. I learned that by putting myself out there and sharing my life and challenges, others became more likely to let their guard down too. And that built trust and deepened relationships. I learned if I truly wanted to understand and connect with people, I couldn’t always just be asking questions. I had to share too.  

No one likes feeling vulnerable, whether it’s at work or in life. However, I challenge you to think about the benefits that can come from owning it, rather than reacting to it when it surfaces. This is especially important in the workplace, where building productive relationships are vital to creating impact and success. And while I am not advocating for anyone to put themselves out there to expose it all like I did, I do encourage everyone to test it out. It just might change your life - and your career trajectory - a little too.

Christina Luconi is Chief People Officer for Rapid7. Follow her on Twitter: @peopleinnovator.