For most of my life, I equated vulnerability as a sign of weakness. As adults, I think that we also tend to associate vulnerability with pain. In particular, western society conditions us to put up boundaries, especially in the business world, because it vulnerability is so often associated with weakness, untrustworthiness, or unreliability.
The good news is that this view is gradually starting to shift, due to the rise of social media, which has revolutionized how businesses and career professionals can reach their customers and target audiences. In fact, studies over the last decade have shown that people respect and value authenticity and admire people with the courage to ask for help or advice or own up to mistakes.
So how do you step into your own vulnerability as a career professional or an entrepreneur if you’re used to being guarded?
First off, none of this happens overnight. It’s a lifelong journey.
As a career professional, some examples of vulnerable situations could include asking someone in your network for an informational interview, applying and interviewing for your dream job, or asking for and negotiating a well-deserved raise or promotion. As an entrepreneur, you face challenges such as starting a new business or taking your current company public, securing new business with a major client, or supporting a colleague or employee who may be struggling.
All of these situations require you to put yourself out there and face the possibility of rejection. For some people, the thought of rejection is so terrifying that they wind up standing still and severely limiting themselves to only a few opportunities. The irony of vulnerability is that there is an element of safety in taking the risk to show up, be seen, and possibly get rejected one or several times to learn about yourself and grow from those experiences.
In spending time analyzing my own relationship to vulnerability, with the help of a few coaches and mentors, I have compiled what I’ve learned into smaller steps that will hopefully support you in embracing your own vulnerability and moving outside of your comfort zone in your career and/or business.
1) Analyze your current relationship with vulnerability. This is a good opportunity to write down your thoughts, especially if you like to journal, or even speak them out loud to yourself. What is your gut instinct to that word, vulnerability? Does it equate to fear, weakness, pain, or something else?
I grew up in a household where I was praised for achievement and performance in multiple areas, such as grades, sports, appearance, people pleasing, etc. While I didn’t realize it at the time, that view set me on a path where I was constantly striving to earn approval and was never good enough.
A lot of that approval was also tied up in what I what I did for a living, including how much I was earning and what I was accomplishing. I spent years trying to outrun my own vulnerability, and until I moved to the Netherlands, I was never taught how to deal with “uncertainty, risk, or emotional exposure.”
2) Test the waters by having a vulnerable conversation with someone you know and trust. It’s really important that the person you choose is someone who is willing and wants to hear you. I’m not talking about telling your boss, spouse, or your parent’s everything that you’re feeling because not everyone can or is willing to hear you. If it’s just one person, start there.
3) Initiate meaningful conversations with people who are willing and want to help you in your job search and career aspirations. Many of us do this already through networking and casual conversations. While a good starting point is to network with people you know, it’s just as important to connect with people that you don’t know. Don’t forget, networking is a two-way street, which means it’s just as important for you to talk to people about their career goals and aspirations.
4) Acknowledge your fears. This can be challenging because it will involve getting rejected here and there. Maybe you email someone to ask for help and your email is ignored or you aren’t invited to an interview for a job that you were really excited about. Perhaps you ask someone to meet with you for an informational interview or to pitch a new business idea and he or she has no time to meet you.
I remember one discussion in particular where I was told by the interviewers that I had impressive technical qualifications and the experience to back it up but that they did not feel as though they learned anything unique about me as a person. I was invited to return later in the week and give a short presentation to cover those gaps. Guess what? I didn’t go because I was afraid of the idea of having to experience more discomfort and still face possible rejection afterward. Unsurprisingly, I was eliminated from the candidate pool.
In hindsight, I missed a valuable opportunity to show up, be seen, and present a better and more interesting version of myself that could have resulted in a job offer, or, at the very least, enhanced interviewing and presentation skills. These experiences, as uncomfortable as they can be, are opportunities for learning more about yourself and attaining a greater advantage to reach your goal.
5) Gather positive evidence. Think about the times that you’ve been vulnerable and all hell didn’t break loose. While it’s okay to think about what can go wrong, it’s just as important to think about what could go right. This means that while it’s likely for someone to ignore your email or request for an informational interview, it’s just as likely that this person will say yes. It’s possible that you receive a call for a second interview for a great opportunity, or, better yet—you receive a job offer!
Even in the situations that don’t turn out the way that you hoped, it’s important to try and see the positive in everything and change your perception of vulnerability, especially if you equate it with weakness. Maybe you were not selected for a particular position. This is a great opportunity to request feedback from the interviewers and use it to improve for future and better opportunities. Don’t forget to reward yourself when for the little successes as well as the big successes!
6) Don’t be intimidated to apply for roles that may be out of your league. When job seeking, people have a tendency to look at job requirements in a posting, see that their own skills and experience don’t measure up, and move on in order to avoid rejection and wasted time.
While it’s important to be realistic about your job search, you can miss out on valuable experiences and perspectives by staying within your comfort zone. Most hiring managers don’t expect candidates to possess 100% of the requirements, which is why they are often listed as “preferred” or “ideal” in the job description. Using that logic, it’s fair to assume that other people who possess similar qualifications to you will also not apply, which means less competition for the job. In the end, the only sure way that you won’t receive a job offer is by never applying in the first place.
About two and a half months into my job search, I was contacted through LinkedIn, by the person who would later become my manager, about an engineering opportunity for a US-based company with a Dutch site. Soon after, I secured 2 interviews within a few weeks and ultimately landed the job. However, prior to all of that, I almost didn’t apply because I thought the job was out of my league, even though I possessed the relevant experience.
Vulnerability Is Universal
While vulnerability can be terrifying, especially in the workplace, having the courage to show up and be seen is the key to building meaningful relationships, being likable, and fostering trust. Do you have a deep-seated belief of what vulnerability means? How will you challenge those beliefs in 2018? Feel free to let me know below in the comments!