Depending on how you look at the world, you may see business and vulnerability as separate realms. Business operates in the professional realm and is about getting clients and making money. Vulnerability operates in the personal realm and is about putting yourself out there, like you do when you fall in love. What do these seemingly disparate topics have in common?
If you’re a business owner, you know where I’m going. You know that the process of starting a business is incredibly vulnerable. It’s not easy to tell the world, “I’ve decided to leave behind the stability of a regular job and steady paycheck and dive into the unknown.” If that’s not uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure (aka vulnerability), then I don’t know what is.
Last year, I faced vulnerability in a BIG way when I started my own business. For me it was more than the process described above, because my business is personal. Like, WAY personal. Its premise – compassionate health coaching for teen girls – stems from my own struggle with an unhealthy relationship with food. Which, by the way, was a deeply-held secret.
This meant that my starting-a-business journey needed to include coming clean with my story. This was a terrifying thought, especially since I had worked for years in the realm of health education. How was I going to tell the world that while I was building an award-winning wellness program and consulting for various organizations committed to healthy youth, I was secretly struggling in my own relationship with food?
As I wrestled with this challenge, I dove into the work of one of my heroes – Brené Brown. Brené is a research professor who has dedicated her career to the study of vulnerability. Her underlying message, which stems from years of study, is that vulnerability is a necessary ingredient for a well-lived life.
In her words, “Owning our story can be hard, but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”
Buoyed by courage from Brené’s work, I committed to telling my story. I planned to put it on my website (which wasn’t up yet), but I wanted to tell the people I knew in a more personal way.
Before long, the perfect opportunity arose. I had been following the Institute for the Psychology of Eating (IPE) for several years, and I was planning to take their Eating Psychology Coach Certification course in the fall. When they announced that they would be awarding three scholarships to applicants who made a video about how IPE’s work had impacted their lives, I knew that this was my chance. IPE had played a huge role in my healing journey, so I had a legitimate story to tell. They would be awarding scholarships based not only on your story, but also on how many likes, shares, and comments it got, which meant that I would need to share my video widely.
One hot summer afternoon, I sat in front of my computer, turned on the webcam, and told my story. I took six or seven takes before I was happy with it (or as happy with it as you can be when revealing such a deep personal secret), and then I uploaded it to YouTube. I wrote a carefully-crafted e-mail, and went through my contacts, selecting everyone I wanted to send it to. My list numbered over 150.
Then, I stalled. I waited for my husband to get home from work, and asked him to look over everything. He did, and affirmed that it all looked great. He held my hand as I held my breath and clicked ‘send.’ Immediately afterwards, I shut down my computer, and declared “Let’s go to dinner. I need to be away from all this for a while.”
I felt the most vulnerable I’d ever felt in my entire life.
Thankfully, my willingness to be vulnerable paid off. I received countless messages of love and support. A surprising number of people confided that they, too, struggled with food. Old friendships have been rekindled, and new doors have opened. Today, seven months later, I can honestly say that sharing my story was one of the best things I’ve ever done, for this reason most of all: it’s taken away the intense shame I used to carry around. I no longer have to bear the heavy burden of my deeply-held secret.
However, a powerful second benefit of being so vulnerable is that it’s been good for business. People like seeing others open up. They want to work with someone who is real, not someone who is perfect.
If you’re a business owner, I encourage you to consider adding vulnerability to your cadre of business tools.
Annette Sloan is a health coach, speaker, and yoga instructor. Her business, (w)holehearted, specializes in compassionate health coaching for teen girls. Annette loves empowering teens to find their happiest, healthiest, most authentic selves. In addition, she leads a local group called “Happy, Healthy, and Wholehearted Moms,” which empower moms in their relationships with food, body, and self so that they can be positive role models for their kids. Connect on her website and on Facebook.