The Power of Vulnerability

So very often I see clients with wonderful visions for their business, missions that can inspire great change in their clients and communities….and a choking fear of stepping out in their power and putting that work out fully into the world. Like a beginning swimmer teetering at the edge between “shoulder high” and “over my head,” they waver, bounce up and float a bit, maybe tread water  a little – and then quickly put their feet down onto the solid bottom, not quite trusting themselves to the depths.

How does that hesitation show up? Most often with some key element of their web presence being left out – websites without blogs, without social media, or without ways for visitors to stay in touch.

Budget issues? Certainly, that can be a factor…but even when I am providing phased project structuring and no-interest financing, the hesitation kicks in. It’s not just about money.

Yesterday a new client gave her hesitation voice. She’s a groundbreaking, pioneering, fiercely courageous woman who is just beginning to contemplate a web presence for her healing practice. As we talked about an expanded social media presence, however, she said, I am feeling a zing of fear around this. I’m ready for the website – but the thought of this social media work is a whole different thing. 

In that moment, I saw the reason for her fear: it’s easy to post a copywriter’s framing of your message and your presence on your website. There’s a degree of separation: it may be your message, it may be your vision, but those are words written by a professional about you.

But to have  your words, in your own voice, on the web – suddenly you are owning your vision and mission in a whole different way, putting it up there not just for a group of networking colleagues, or a civic group, or even a professional conference audience, but the whole online world to hear. It’s not just about your work, suddenly; it’s about you in your totality, speaking your truth for the world to see.

No wonder my client was spooked. To speak her vision publicly, give her voice to her work as a healer, was to make herself profoundly vulnerable.

That fear may manifest in as many ways as the number of social media options. All of them fly in the face of popular wisdom in a world that tells us to keep the voice of our essential selves, our deepest driving values, out of the public eye.

And yet – for this client to speak her vision was also to embody the message that she taught her clients, one of authenticity and self-awareness, releasing deep truth to access deep power. With her increased vulnerability came increased risk – and with increased risk came increased power.

To quote Brené Brown‘s profound book Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead:

 “Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.”

There’s a cultural context for this risk: if you put yourself out there and fail to walk your talk 100% – if you’re a green business, say, and you’re caught using non-recyclable plastic cups rather than bioplastic when hosting a real-time event, or if you’re tooling around town in a gas-guzzling Taurus rather than a Prius – you could be perceived as hypocritical, and your whole message – worse, your business! – could be invalidated. Look at the Swift-Boat smear campaign that sank John Kerry’s presidential campaign…or the farcical efforts to invalidate Senator Bernie Sanders’ candidacy with an op-ed written during his college years.

On a personal level, I remember my own father, when I was in Girl Scouts and newly in love with the 1970s environmental movement, derisively calling me “Little Miss Environment” when I forgot to turn out a light as I left a room…

You get the idea.

But just listen to the nit-pickiness of these issues – how many of us who are trying to change the world also attempt to be 100% in integrity in every conceivable way – not only for our own souls’ good but also for our public image, projecting and protecting ourselves from endless what-ifs?

In the end, we can spin ourselves into paralysis trying to avoid such charges of hypocrisy by  little minds and their hobgoblins of consistency….or silence ourselves for fear of being called out…or fall completely off the rails in personal meltdown.

But really – the truth is that, at its best, a vision is a moving target for us as well as for our clients. It should be beyond what we can easily achieve; achieving it should be an ongoing process. Offering a vision does not imply that we are its ultra-perfect exemplars. While that’s not to advocate sloppiness, half-baked work – or God/dess forbid, greenwashing! –  it does mean that we don’t need to have achieved perfection to be effective. Even the wisest experts admit that they are eternally learning!

I think that’s where vulnerability comes in: the ability to let the vision not be about us. The ability to earn and share our expertise in the tools, in celebrating the process of becoming in all its stages, rather than setting ourselves up as the Uber-Avatar of XYZ. To own, authentically, that we’re all on the path in the service of something bigger than ourselves.

And to my mind, that’s what makes a conscious business worthwhile.


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