My therapist said an interesting thing to me this week, after we spent most of the session talking about my need for rules on how to just ‘be’*. She said: “It seems like you’re moving to a place of just being more authentically and more vulnerably you”. Ugh.

[* It’s an adoption thing – when you don’t feel like you naturally belong or have mirrors around you to reflect your genetic family, an adopted baby/child has to create their own (unconscious) rules for how to ‘be’ part of that family, how to fit in and how to feel like they belong. I still struggle when I feel like I’m in situations where I don’t know the rules for being, and realise how sensitive and triggered I can be when told the way I’m being is not right or not good enough.]

It was meant to be a compliment but in my online world – and especially when it comes to running your own business – authenticity and vulnerability have become over-used buzz words, bandied about as marketing devices, without any real meaning behind them anymore.

Brené Brown’s TED talk on vulnerability was excellent (definitely worth a re-watch) and clearly started a movement but search for “authenticity in business” or “how to be authentic in business” and I don’t think much of the advice you’ll find is hugely useful.

What does it mean to be more authentically, more vulnerably you?

For me, it’s been about seeing – and removing – the constructs I’ve created to keep myself safe, protected and not fully ‘seen’.

Constructs such as being seen as the ‘in control’, ‘always together’, ‘able to cope with anything’ person that I suspect many people see me as. I do still have effective coping mechanisms, but at the moment, I think many more people are seeing the less-together, not-got-it-all-figured-out human that I actually am (because I’m letting them!).

However, it’s clear that no matter how or who you are, people will still see you through the lens of their choice. There are people who…

  • Only really want to see the ‘good’, ‘strong’ or ‘happy’ part of you, but not the raw, vulnerable, struggling part of you.
  • Only want to find fault with you, criticise you and be angry with you, but not look at how their stuff might be involved in this.
  • Can only see the constructs you’ve created. Though a large part of this is on you, there’s an element of denial, of people only wanting to see what’s in front of them because it fits the narrative they’re currently working with.

It’s a risky game, the game of constructs and of seeing only the parts of people (ourselves?) we want to see.

When we do this, we dismiss and deny that we are each whole, perfect, imperfect, flawed, good people. We succumb to the fear of holding up the mirror to our whole selves, the fear of shining a light into the dark, dusty corners and starting to explore who we really are, beyond the constructs we still use to keep ourselves safe, loved and liked.

So how do we really get behind the triteness of being told to be more authentic, to be more vulnerable? I think it’s two-fold…

(1) We stop expecting the people we follow and admire to be perfect, to be flawless; to be the perfect coach, the perfect entrepreneur, the perfect creator, the perfect mentor…

We take them off the pedestals we’ve put them on and we accept that they have flaws and imperfections; that they’re human and that they make mistakes, fail and then fail some more.

I am guilty of this – in the past, I’ve expected the coaches, mentors and advisors I’ve worked with to be perfect, immune to being human and making mistakes and when they do, I’ve judged them. It’s something I recognised when deciding who to work with as a therapist.

I noticed that my current therapist seemed to get a bit flustered around diaries, money, and all things paperwork and admin. Instantly I caught myself judging and thinking, “Hmmm, that’s not great, maybe she’s a bit shit”. But really, does the fact she’s a bit flappy around paperwork mean she’s a rubbish therapist? And can I judge that off the back of a 2-minute observation? Nope! And so far, she’s been the ideal therapist for me, despite the flappiness around paperwork and admin. Lesson learned: She’s human.

(2) We work on identifying the tools, devices and constructs we still use to keep ourselves safe, loved and liked.

And commit to remove them, to step out from behind the screen and to show people the whole of us. Share the behind-the-scenes messiness of your creative process; share the fact that despite espousing the benefits of running your own business you often feel like anything but that,  share the you behind the facade.

If you’re running your own business, that age-old advice “People buy from people (they know, like and trust)” is a nod to exactly this – we are human. So show you, the human.