Overcoming the Fear of Vulnerability
I’ve written before about the power of being vulnerable. This may seem out-of-place on a blog about the professional world, but I disagree. Vulnerability is something that’s relevant to every human interaction, even business or school relationships.
I’m not talking about psychoanalyzing one another at work (please don’t). Professional vulnerability can be as simple as asking someone for help. It’s admitting when you’re struggling with something, and reaching out for advice or assistance.
I get a surprising amount of pushback on this idea. Sometimes I get emails that are downright angry from people who are convinced that showing “weakness” at work or at school is a liability.
I’ve heard stories about MBA programs and tech companies alike where the culture is so toxic that asking for help feels totally out-of-bounds. This attitude? It’s holding us all back.
I ask for help every day in my professional life, for one simple reason: I don’t know everything.
Right now I’m asking everybody about blockchain. I want to learn as much as I can because I think it has immense potential to give us all back control of our social identities.
The good news is this – being vulnerable is a lot simpler than understanding next-generation technologies. If you need a bit of courage to take that first step, here are some practical tips to help you ease into being more vulnerable.
1) Know what you don’t know.
There’s a ton of human knowledge out there. So simmer down - get comfortable with the idea that your expertise will only be a tiny slice of the pie.
Think about great leaders. They’re not people who have all the answers. Rather, they assemble teams full of specialists with complementary skills. Good leaders ask for help all the time. They’re not committed to their own egos, they’re committed to what works.
With that in mind, make two lists. One list has everything you’re great at, and the second should include skills that need improvement. There will be a range of aptitudes in that second column – from things you know nothing about to areas that just need some brushing up.
If you’re nervous about asking for help, pick a skill that you’re not totally out to sea on. Take baby steps – asking small questions will be easier than asking for help learning an entire subject from scratch.
2) Put it by someone you trust.
As you work up the courage to be vulnerable at work or in school, put your ask by your mother.
Okay, it doesn’t have to be your mom - what I mean is a trusted people person. Somebody who you know will tell you straight if what you’re asking for is too much. Someone who can help you be sure that you don’t sound helpless, dumb, or whatever your fear is.
With the confidence that somebody you love has your back, being vulnerable with others won’t feel like such a leap.
3) Offer something back.
It may help you get over your fear of vulnerability if you remember that you’ve got skills, too! The classmate who can help you with Econ 101 homework might need your expertise in English class. You never know until you offer.
A sincere “thank you” paired with an offer to help can make things feel less one-sided. Here’s an email template you can use as a jumping-off place:
Thank you so much for your help yesterday – your perspective is going to help me [be the next man on the moon / ace the test / invent the next Pet Rock™]. I really appreciate your time.
Please let me know if you ever have questions about [dog walking / composing a symphony / marketing]. I’m always happy to help.
I hope these tips help. Vulnerability may seem daunting, but it can be your greatest asset in work, and in life. It just takes practice.
And remember - I consider it a sign of strength and confidence when people admit what they don’t know. If you are practicing your vulnerability, you’ve already got a fan.