WALKING THE FINE LINE BETWEEN VULNERABILITY AND PROFESSIONALISM
When I turned seven, I made myself a promise: I’m going to write a book.
Can you guess what happened this time last year? That promise came true. Did I wake up celebrating? Au Contraire!
Instead, I woke up to a gut-wrenching pit in my stomach and an email from an ex. And he wasn’t emailing me with applause. He was emailing me upset. He had seen the book-cover splattered over social media, and couldn’t help but see his name in the place of the vague, yet seemingly passive aggrieve pronoun.
The title reflected a phrase I had heard clients groan, and a phrase I had uttered myself: I Can’t Believe I Dated Him.
I never mention his name. I removed incriminating details. The truth is, when the first line of the book opens with an anecdote about a man cheating on me, it could have been one of four people in my life. But I can’t blame him. I would have been equally hurt. What seemed like a catchy title in my publishers’ eyes now seemed like a huge mistake. Had I shared too much? Would everyone think it was a memoir? I’m a relationship coach and not a novelist, but would clients think I wrote a sob story?
As a Brené Brown fan, I understand the power of vulnerability, but where do we find a balance? I’ve seen Instagram posts that sound like diary entries and articles that sound like an algorithm wrote them.
Is there a healthy balance between too-human and too-sterile?
The gap between the two is large, gray, and growing. In our parents’ generation, work was separate from personal life. In the new era of personalities as brands, entrepreneurs and writers are left to wonder: How do we balance the tension between vulnerable and professional?
Even though the book is about dissolving relationship conflict, I found myself mediating on an inner conflict: One part of me wanted to celebrate the professional achievement, but another part worried that what I had written wasn’t professional at all. Should I call my editor and tell them to delete chapter one, pretending that a robot with no past had written the rest?
Every writer has felt the tension: Do I share the truth and potentially hurt someone in the process? Or, do I water-down the truth and risk not connecting with the audience? If you are in the personal development business, the tension grows even deeper. Being too vulnerable about weakness might make a client question our ability to help them grow.
While I don’t think there is a hard set of rules around bringing vulnerability into our business, I have learned to ask myself four questions before sharing my story:
#1 Am I sharing for shock or for service?
No matter what your story holds, you are a service; your content should reflect that. Shocking the audience with crude comments about your life might help your marketing go viral, but who are you helping? When I share my story I always ask, “Will my story guide, help, or inspire others?”
#2 Does my story instill trust in my customers?
My former boyfriends still think my book is a memoir, but I didn’t write it for them. I wrote it for clients. Clients want to know that their frustrations are in trustworthy hands. Letting them know you have walked the walk can instill trust. That being said, clients are not therapists or friends so share as a way to show empathy, not to receive pity. I shared my personal experience as a way of saying, “Hey I’ve been there, and I’ve learned some things along the way.”
#3 Does my vulnerability honor the people involved?
This is tough. Sometimes the truth doesn’t paint us or others in golden light. If sharing about someone else, address both points of view: The men who betrayed me have left me with more good memories than bad. And, although they betrayed me, I also betrayed them. Vulnerability exists in the context of relationships, so consider the relationships involved. This leads to the final question.
#4 If my client was standing right in front of me, would I be more vulnerable or more vague?
This gut check helps you avoid what can so often happen: The divide of the computer screen makes us share more than we would face-to-face. If I wouldn’t tell my client a personal story, then I shouldn’t tell my followers via email.
When you are an entrepreneur, you are committing to a relationship. Like any relationship, you set the tone of what your time will be like together. Will it be dry and unemotional? Or will it be personal and intimate? Your level of vulnerability is your choice.
Vulnerability is not venting, gossiping, breaching privacy laws, or sharing feelings about someone who can’t defend themselves.
Vulnerability is a tool to bring the humanity back into business.
It speaks from the human in you to the human in your clients.
Disclaimer: If sharing about another person, ask permission. There are strict privacy rules to honor.
Photos by: Eun Creative