The Oxford Dictionary defines vulnerability as: “Being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally.” Brené Brown – the Queen vulnerability studies, describes vulnerability as: “Uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.”
You could be excused for thinking bugger this vulnerability caper, it sounds awful! Hang in there, here’s my version: “Choosing to shed my armour, unlock my mistrust, and striving to be courageous, loving and wholehearted in everything I do”
Here is the story of my year of living vulnerably. That’s a bit of a fib, it’s the story of my first year of living vulnerably and why. This article is an exercise in vulnerability because it’s the first time I have publicly shared my journey.
I was ambitious and driven from the outset of my career. I took great pride in being:
You’ve all just constructed a picture in your mind, haven’t you? I did too. I constructed a persona that I became. I was guided by the belief that I needed to hold my own in business by:
I created a persona, a beautiful facade or mask that I proudly wore like a badge of honour. No, that’s B.S. I wore it like a suit of armour. Because when I was tough, formidable, uncompromising and being a force to be reckoned with and blah blah blah, no one messed with me. Right? (Wrong) And no one hurt me. Right? (Wrong)
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think I was entirely an ogre. I was (and still am) a lot of fun. But when your private mantra is ‘don’t f**k with me or mine,’ I think there’s opportunity to examine the way you are living your life!
Very few people saw me warts and all. They saw what I allowed them to see. It was exhausting, particularly for someone with a reasonable EQ. I knew what I was doing, however, a fairly virulent case of imposter syndrome pushed all reasonable thoughts about authenticity and vulnerability to one side… to be dealt with ‘one day!’ Avoidance, I worship at thy altar.
So, what happened?
I’d love to say I had one grand epiphany, wrote an action plan and changed. I didn’t. I had a series of signals that I saw, ignored and filed away for ‘one day’. (there’s that pesky avoidance again)
Signal 1: I’d been working with someone who had known me for a long time. We’d worked together in several different environments. I felt this person knew me very well. That person said to me ‘I’m glad you’re here. We need someone to shake this place up that doesn’t care too much about what people think, isn’t emotional and can get shit done. You’ve got a hard heart and won’t get sucked in.’ I was aghast… but you know, I’m ashamed to say, there was part of me that felt some satisfaction in being described that way.
Signal 2: I was doing some very deep leadership work during my MBA studies. I undertook a lot of self-analysis, reflection and planning to increase my effectiveness as a leader. I gained valuable knowledge about myself. I had a couple of aha! moments. I constructed an action plan. I filed it…. for ‘one day’.
Signal 3: In the final stages of an interview for a role, the executive who was hiring me had a chat with me about my reference checks. You know, those reference checks that happen without you knowing it? He had spoken to several people that had worked with me (mind you, they were all men… but that is another conversation) and he told me that these guys said I was tough, did not tolerate fools gladly, got shit done, could be a ‘bit of a hard case’ but completely passionate and committed to my team, my work and my causes.
Once again, the feedback didn’t surprise me… but this time it did concern me.
Here I was, successful but stuck. Successful but unfulfilled. Successful but not going to get this job which I really really wanted. The problem with me was that I had an attitude of it is ‘them not me’ when life served up a tricky situation or presented me with a difficult challenge. At that moment, I genuinely thought something must change. Because what has got me here is no longer enough.
But then I got a surprise. The hiring manager said:
‘I see through you Michelle. It’s all a front, isn’t it? You’ve had to be tough, play hard and now you’re stuck with this persona you’ve created for yourself, haven’t you? I know that you’re all that, but you’re more, much more.’
Then he hired me. Whaaaaat? Game changing moment.
I used that signal, and some others, to change my game.
I chose a change of role to lose the persona, sell the suit of armour and to lead with authenticity, transparency and vulnerability.
Why? Because what had got me here was no longer enough. In fact, it was outdated and did not serve me or the people that relied on me as a leader well.
So began the reinvention steps. So, began the anxiety… because I was now about to create an environment of continuous emotional exposure.
But I pressed on. I chose to:
I fell in love!
But most importantly, I fell in love with myself for the first time in my life. In November 2015, I said out loud to another human being “I really like myself and I love who I’ve become” and yes, lots of tears ensued.
From an outcomes perspective (because I didn’t just become a warm and fuzzy person who doesn’t care about getting shit done!), here’s what leading in a truly authentic and vulnerable way enabled.
So, my very strong recommendation is to stop and reflect about how you are living your life. Because this is no dress rehearsal so embrace your vulnerability and start living and leading wholeheartedly and vulnerably. It’s bloody good!
Michelle is now moving the gender equality conversation from “talking about” to “action” in sport and business. If you’re a leader in sport or business who is struggling to gain traction and you’re serious about how to achieve gender equality and be successful in business – because they are not mutually exclusive, then get in contact with Michelle!
Michelle is an experienced sports board director who is currently on the board of Williamstown Football Club, member of the Football Sub-Committee and Chair of the VFLW Sub-Committee which leads the development of the female game in the Western Suburbs and beyond. Michelle previously held a director’s role with the Gippsland AFL League, where she was part of the t am that established VWFL in Gippsland and she was association secretary of one of the largest incorporated netball clubs in SE Melbourne for 8 years.
Michelle ‘gets’ sports, leadership and the benefits of diversity and inclusion. Michelle makes things happen.
Connect with Michelle on LinkedIn or www.MichelleRedfern.com – of course, we encourage you to follow Michelle on Instagram, and if you’re a woman who gets it, be sure to connect with her community group on Facebook called Women Who Get It!
Everyone has a story to tell. Be part of our movement to empower every woman on this planet in sharing their story and living a courageous, compassionate and confident life – unleashing their potential and fulfilling on their desire to live a more meaningful life! Join our community on WomenUnleashed or get started on your story by answering our online QandA ‘Submit Your Story’
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