Everyone struggles with vulnerability.
Anyone who tells you they don’t and especially everyone who LOOKS like they don’t actually struggles with being vulnerable even more than the average person. The perfect example of this can be seen by examining the personal lives of comedians and actors. Being on-stage, alone, and creating something artistic is a terrifyingly vulnerable position to find yourself in. Your biggest critic lives inside your own head. So if we hear even constructive criticism it’s actually added to the voice inside our heads, making two people criticizing us.
It’s often overwhelming.
Creative Criticism: The Most Brutal Criticism
At A3 Environmental Consultants, we operate in a world of science. Answers are right or wrong, at the very least answers are arguable and debatable. Knowing what you are talking about is a comfortable position because, well, you know what you are talking about. Criticisms are tempered or couched in your continuing education which nobody faults you for especially the younger you are. The older you get, challenges to your authority might be couched as “This is how we did it at my old employer” or “This is a new way of doing it”.
Your ego is left intact.
Conversely, criticism that addresses your style, philosophies, core beliefs and artistic talent are the the most pernicious and unkind. Women are often terrible to each other in this regard. They judge and criticize hair styles, clothing styles and other choices we make that make us who we are. These choices are choices of style, without right or wrong, only differences. These judgements are born from the same location in the mind as bigotry and racism and are equally violent. As we discussed before, those mean girls voices are often loudest inside our own heads. We’re our own worst bully.
Fashion is art and art is about aesthetic. Every lead singer needs to find it inside themselves to get on stage and sing. Standing in the spotlight with people looking at you, the fear is not just that you’ll fail, or choke, but that you will be judged and judged badly.
Your ego is ravaged.
The imposter syndrome is the feeling (everyone) gets that they don’t really belong.
On stage, running a company, managing people, or projects. It tells us we’re not good enough. Someone is going to find out. We feel like we are 6 years old, impersonating our parents, dressed up in their oversized work clothes. The funny thing is your parents felt the exact same way. I guarantee it.
Knowing the voice inside your head telling you you don’t belong is the same voice everyone hears makes it quiet(er).
Career Advice: Be Frightened All The Time
Tim Allen axiom ” If you aren’t failing, you aren’t trying hard enough.” and it’s corollary “If you aren’t frightened, you aren’t trying hard enough.” You should strive to be uncomfortable as often as you can because you are doing something new, exiting or different. Learn to love the adrenalin and lean into it. Eventually all the things you feared won’t be frightening anymore and you’ll need to find newer, bigger challenges to give you butterflies in the stomach.
Vulnerability is Your Superpower
Vulnerability makes you human.
That sounds like a passing phrase and maybe I dropped it like a pointless platitude.
I did not.
Let’s try it again with focus, vulnerability makes you human and people like humans.
Being vulnerable makes you sympathetic. Sympathy is very human and it earns you wiggle room to screw up publically and get away with it. Speaking directly to your audience about how you are taking risks and making yourself vulnerable is a wonderful place to preempt criticism from both inside and outside your head. Keep in mind, you may not be screwing up publically, you might be changing the face of fashion as we know it, creating a hit song, or work of art.
You need to find out if your art is amazing. You’ll need to find the courage to be judged.
So let’s talk about how to find the courage to be judged.
Constructive Vulnerability Mitigation Techniques
Practice Radical Honesty
When you are in a presentation, business meeting, with your spouse or family you will eventually find yourself feeling vulnerable. The most constructive way out is to practice radical honesty. I know this is easy to say and hard to do but it gets easier over time. If someone asks you a question and you don’t know the answer say it loud an proud. We are learning every day and today is your day to learn. If you find yourself trying to make up some bullshit, you run the very risk that they asked you a question they knew the answer to already and you’re digging your own grave. “Fake it until you make it” is terrible career advice and miserable customer service. In addition, and this can’t be overstated, lying means you need to retain the lie in your head so you can trot it out again when you are challenged on it a second time or by other people. The easiest and fastest way out is honesty.
If someone more frighteningly asks your opinion and asks you to back it up, now we’re in the realm of creative vulnerability. Radical honesty would suggest you speak honestly about your vulnerability as a preamble to your opinion. Your audience will be sympathetic if they find your opinion unuseful. In a strange transmogrification, if your idea or opinion is valuable, they will interpret your vulnerability as humility (which is good) and possibly add more points for wisdom and creativity.
I’m going to put a finer point on this radical honesty thing.
The most terrifying moment(s) in a young man’s life is (1) having to ask a girl out on a date (2) having to kiss a girl for the first time. However, these are also both events that need to be gotten past. I don’t believe girls feel this pressure in the same way. Girls typically get asked out, guys do the asking.
The terror comes exclusively from the vulnerability of rejection and feels like a judgement on the essence of what makes you, you.
Some of this can be mitigated by having some familiarity with the girl in advance, but life comes at you fast and sometimes there’s no time to have long histories before the girl of your dreams walks into and out of your life. Something has to be done.
Identifying your vulnerability, saying something hopeful about a future and inviting her to be a part of that future is a ego saving, vulnerability mitigating way to proceed.
“I know we don’t know each other very well, but I enjoyed talking with you. Maybe we could do it again sometime?”
I guarantee your answer will be either a yes, or a maybe and at the very least a flattered and graceful demur.
Just Do It
Parenting, like diving board and other frightening cliffs can be jumped off of by “Just Doing It”. People have all sorts of hangups about having children, yet once you have them there’s no going back.
Be prepared is not only the motto of the Boy Scouts, it’s a stress mitigation technique. There can always be things you don’t think about, if those come up, practice radical honesty. If you feel vulnerable because you were unprepared, you deserve it.
Your Tribe Loves You
When you joined A3 Environmental Consultants, we became your tribe. A tribe looks out for each other. If there’s a bar fight, even if it’s because you got a little saucy and mouthed off to the big guy in the corner, I’m swinging for his nose. We are a tribe and we will crush anyone who means you harm both internal and external.
You are talented and respected.
For your resume, for the people you’ve impressed in the course of your career and for the good work you have done in your time with us, you belong here.
To put an even finer point on it:
Your spouse, your parents, your kids and your pets are your tribe too. They love you no matter how critical the voices are in your head or how bad your day was at work.
Next up we’re going to talk about destructive vulnerability mitigation techniques.