Can I be real, authentic, open, honest, vulnerable AND a successful, credible businesswoman?
I hope so, because I don’t feel I have a choice. Not anymore.
This is a topic that’s on my heart and in my mind and that’s cropping up in conversations with some of my co-workers at our shared creative space, The Old School House in Boscombe, Bournemouth.
Can we share our struggles? Can we tell clients or prospective customers that while we have stellar CVs and tonnes of experience, we sometimes doubt ourselves, have crises of confidence, think we’re not up to the task, struggle with imposter syndrome and want to give it all up and go and do something far less challenging instead?
I believe we can. I believe we have to. I believe this is what makes us human, what connects us with others on a deep level. I believe this is what it’s all about.
I’d much rather hear the real story, the mess, the struggle and the failures than be presented with a highly polished façade that hides all the cracks underneath. I want authenticity from my friends, colleagues and role models and I hope that’s what people want from me. I won’t think any less of you if you tell me how difficult things are at times. In fact, I’ll feel closer to you, more connected to you. I’ll respect you more. You’ll inspire me more.
I pondered this dilemma yesterday – the dilemma of how to marry my professional journalist and PR coach persona with the heart-on-sleeve, From Forty With Love blogger in me – the vulnerable woman who writes on this page. I advertised a workshop I’m running next week – Own Your Own PR – where I plan to use my journalism and storytelling skills and my knowledge of the media to help people and businesses identify their unique story and get their message out into the world. Then I tweeted the link from my From40WithLove account and linked it to my new Facebook business page. That means that anyone interested in my PR workshop will have access to the other side of me too – they’ll be able to delve deep into my heart and soul and take a tour around my internal landscape by reading my blog, taking in all the peaks and troughs along the way.
Yikes, I thought. Should I not separate my two personas? Do I not undermine my credibility as a journalist and PR coach by letting everyone in on my inner battles?
But if I were to do that, I would be going against everything I believe in, because I believe passionately that it’s essential and urgent that we bring vulnerability and authenticity into our professional lives and into our conversations in the workplace. This is why I am on the School for Social Entrepreneurs Start-Up programme this year – to grow and develop into a social entrepreneur who writes and speaks on authenticity, vulnerability and the importance of being real; who coaches people to find and follow their authentic path and break free from their stressful, inauthentic, often self-harming patterns and lives; who encourages people to drop the mask and be real; who, like my hero Brené Brown, takes this message into schools and workplaces, sharing my own struggles at work and at home and thereby giving people permission to do the same, to speak up, to own their truth, hopefully saving themselves some heartache and pain or an emotional breakdown in the process.
So no, I can’t send out two messages or split myself down the middle. I need to be authentic, true and whole, for my own benefit and for the benefit of others.
This is my resolve, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been hit by waves of shame after taking a step towards visibility – who do I think I am? I’ve got it wrong. I’d be better off staying small. Everyone will be pointing a finger and laughing at me (despite knowing, deep down, you’ve all got far better things to do!).
It’s helpful to know that what I’m suffering from is what Brené Brown calls a ‘vulnerability hangover’ in her fabulous Ted talk on shame. Or as I called it in a Facebook post yesterday, the ‘afterburn’.
It’s helpful to listen to that talk and realise I’m not alone in suffering from ‘afterburn’, to realise that by taking an emotional risk I am being courageous and I am, as Brené Brown says, at “the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.”
It’s also helpful to hear her speak the Theodore Roosevelt quote that reminds me I’m a winner because I’ve shown up, I’ve taken action, I’ve put myself out there.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat”
And it’s helpful to hear her affirm that vulnerability is the answer to disconnection, self-harm, addiction, perfection and the excruciating pattern of analysis-paralysis:
“If we’re going to find our way back to each other, vulnerability is going to be that path. And I know it’s seductive to stand outside the arena, because I think I did it my whole life, and think to myself, I’m going to go in there and kick some ass when I’m bulletproof and when I’m perfect. And that is seductive. But the truth is, that never happens. And even if you got as perfect as you could and as bulletproof as you could possibly muster when you got in there, that’s not what we want to see. We want you to go in. We want to be with you and across from you. And we just want, for ourselves and the people we care about and the people we work with, to dare greatly.”
Finally, it’s helpful to realise that I learn by doing even if I make mistakes, not by pondering, not by analysing, not by waiting. I learned how to be in a relationship by getting into the muddle and being in a relationship. I learned how to love by loving and being loved. And I learn how to do my work by doing my work. I learn what direction I want to go in by picking a direction and seeing if that works out. I learn what niche I want to be in by beginning with no niche or starting with one niche and then switching to another. It’s fine to experiment.
And by experimenting, I’ve come up with an idea of where I might want to focus my PR work:
PR for the Petrified: Helping those amongst us who have something they really want and need to say, something they’re incredibly passionate about and need the world to know, but who are wracked by self-doubt, fear, self-questioning and those voices in their head that tell them to keep quiet and stay small. Those of us who really want to blog, write a magazine piece or be featured on TV but are too scared to give it a go. I’d like to help people walk through their fears and get their message out there even if they’re trembling when they pick up the telephone or when their fingers hit the keyboard.
And why do I think I can do this?
Because I’ve been there.