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Being Honest About Vulnerability

It has been a strange year. A year of hardship, growth, resiliency, successes, and failures. Emotions have run the gamut. Tough decisions have been made. But, all that goes on behind the scenes, behind a carefully-crafted, public-facing professional veneer that I have learned to create and maintain since I was a high school kid looking for my first job. Here's the thing though, one major takeaway from these past few rollercoaster months is that I'm not sure that the old mantra of putting on a bright face and faking it until you make it always serves me professionally the way that I thought they might.

I think times have changed when it comes to the way we work and the way we portray our work selves in the pandemic-era world. Yes, there is a myriad of ways (which I will likely mosey through at some point in the future) but the one that I am most intrigued by at the moment is the concept of vulnerability. Since the beginning of the year, Caley Van Cleave (sister, best friend, bad-ass business partner) and I have led multiple workshops concerning strategies for a job search in a difficult time, viewing the job search with a positive attitude, and so on. During these events, we are unabashedly ourselves (a little awkward and sometimes foul-mouthed) and incredibly open about the challenges that we are working through as professionals and business owners. The curtain gets pulled back and it helps us to relate to the folks we are speaking with and for us to relate to them in turn. We are human and we show it.

So, why don't we do that all the time? Why not bring the stories of the hurdles and heroics to the rest of the world via LinkedIn? Caley and I pondered this over the phone the other morning. I was video chatting with her, computer in lap, in front of the public library where I often find myself working these days. What would my clients think if they knew how many hours I spent and how much was accomplished from the front seat of my 2008 Subaru Forester? Would it affect our business? If so, why? Does that matter to us? We found ourselves chuckling at the realization that we often don't practice what we preach to others in the way of being vulnerable and authentic. Growing up on a steady diet of John Wayne films and Johnny Cash, the image of toughness is one we know and cultivate in ways we hadn't really considered. For example, when someone asks how business is going, we always say some variation of "fine" or "good". Those answers aren't wrong, they're just a little trite.

What we could really be saying is "good, but you know it has been a challenging year, we are working through it as best we can," or, "it's going well, but we have had to be pretty flexible in adapting to the effects of the pandemic by being creative with our services," or, "things have been tricky but we are liking the challenge". All of these things are true. All of them are genuine. More importantly, all of them have an element of vulnerability that gives us an opportunity to seek out others for help or to see if we may be of service to others. Throughout the course of the year, we have continually asked ourselves, "what are we really about?" and helping people is it. That's what we want to do. That's what we like to do. So, we took some time to really think about what that meant for us and how we could move forward as a business with that spirit of service at our core.

The process hasn't been easy. It involved rebranding (again), taking a good hard look at the services we provide, dealing with some personal guilt about stepping away from being energy-specific, and being deliberate with our time and efforts. More than anything, it has involved being vulnerable with ourselves and others as we have fumbled our way along. There have been awkward phone calls asking old clients for work. There have been sacrifices (adios office space, adios Denver). There have been moments of doubt and clarity and heaps of failures. All of it has been one big chaotic and wonderful experiment in entrepreneurial ingenuity and self-growth.

This weekend, standing on a mountain ridge, drinking beers, and looking at the stars, I found myself listening to a friend discussing his troubles at work. He worried that he wasn't able to open up fully to his clients in his sales role because they wouldn't see him the same way, wouldn't trust him somehow. That's when it clicked for me. Maybe we are all running around looking for someone to give us permission to be ourselves in a professional capacity. To possibly look at vulnerability as a desirable quality in someone that we want to do business with. Maybe that would make all of us a little more free to do the self-work to try new things, push boundaries, innovate, and achieve. I don't know the answer. What I do know is that this conversation hit a button within me. One that makes me want to stand on my proverbial LinkedIn rooftop and shout "let's all try vulnerability for a change"! So, this is it: the beginning of that experiment in a very public forum. Buckle up, it might get weird, but that's okay. As Brene Brown says, "Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change." Preach.

Ear candy: TED Talk - Brene Brown: The Power of Vulnerability

Eye candy: Fast Company - The New Rules of Business: Fast Company's ADvice for the Next 25 Years