Showing vulnerability might actually be a good thing — or how a humiliating moment won’t kill you

I love to host parties — I enjoy inviting friends over for small dinners and huge cocktail affairs, and typically I accept that life is messy so something is going to go wrong.
But about a year ago, I had one of my worst hostess moments.
We were cohosting a living room concert at which New Orleans cellist Helen Gillet was performing. I’d met her only a few days prior, as I’d arranged the show with her collaborator, Clint Maedgen, and she was the consummate professional, putting on a lovely show in spite of fighting off a cold.

In between sets, I stepped to the microphone to ask people to please tip the musicians — and as I focused on stepping around guests and the mic cord, I kicked over Helen’s cello. I’m not precisely sure how it all happened, because my memory blacked out for a minute.
Our violinist friend Ittai Shapira was one of the first to leap forward, examining the cello and pronouncing it healthy. That was reassuring, but I was still mortified by having been so careless and clutzy.
Then a friend of ours sent me the sweetest note, which helped ease my embarrassment a tiny bit and even made me reconsider my concerns a little. She wrote:

…. a thing I often think about you but don’t know if I’ve said: You reveal such a humanity and self-forgiveness in little instances of embarrassment (i.e. the Helen’s cello moment) that I’m sometimes convinced that’s the sole reason a gaffe has happened. It’s a break in your poised demeanor that I always note your ability to meet with humility but without shame.
That’s rarely witnessed, publicly or privately, and I think it is the definition of “grace under pressure” or just plain grace.

Now I don’t think of myself as either poised or as quick on self forgiveness.
But maybe my many previous opportunities to deal with recovering from clumsiness have given me enough practice to make it look comfortable? I loved pondering the positive effects of something I had felt as tremendously negative.
I’ve blogged before about Keith Ferrazzi’s Relationship Masters Academy — Keith advocates for deeper, more real professional relationships, with vulnerability being a key component. After I got this kind email, I thought about my tripping over Helen’s cello as a vulnerable moment of being real. I was so mortified and concerned, and was too focused on that to even think to mask that from our guests.

Here’s what Keith said about vulnerability in a 2009 interview:

ExecutiveBiz: Your book discusses four mindsets — vulnerability, generosity, candor, and accountability — that you say are essential to building lifeline relationships. Of the four, vulnerability may be hardest to implement. Any tips to embrace that mindset smartly?

Keith Ferrazzi: It’s about practice. Pick a few places and practice being more real. Let your guard down a bit. Let somebody know your concerns. See how much closer and loyal people become.

ExecutiveBiz: Obviously, though, you shouldn’t share with everyone, particularly in a corporate setting.

Keith Ferrazzi: Despite the fact it’s become vogue to think so, the truth is very few people out there are proactively going to hurt you. That said, the answer is go with the people you feel safe with. What will happen is you become more courageous, you will feel safer, you broaden your circle.  Eventually you get to people you would never have expected sharing with. You find they were ready, willing, and waiting to be held in trust.

Here are two major benefits I’ve noticed since exploring increased vulnerability:

1. Living authentically frees up new reserves of energy. I didn’t realize how much effort I put into trying to be slightly different from who I am. It takes work, day in and day out! Own your shortcomings and all that extra energy that used to go into covering things up can now be used for more productive activities. Plus, it’s much easier to get guidance when you put all your cards on the table.

2. Let the emotion show (at the appropriate time), and people will really care. Recently, I signed up for personal development course targeted toward women. Usually, I wouldn’t share this type of information at work, especially with male colleagues, because it feels so personal. However, I was so excited about the course, I couldn’t help but tell the everybody in the office during a social break one afternoon, including two male partners! Now everyone checks in on my progress and it’s a real pleasure to talk about something that is meaningful to me.

Has vulnerability connected you more to others — either as the person being vulnerable or as the person receiving it?


Categories: lifestyle

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3 replies

  1. Hi Colleen,
    I love this post because it’s SO true, and the deeper connection when you’ve let down your guard is immediate. You made yourself vulnerable just by writing this, and I immediately wanted to share.
    I had an awful moment when I was a first-time participant in an acting class filled with people who all seemed to know each other. In acting, vulnerability is encouraged, but it doesn’t come naturally to me and it’s really not something I’m comfortable doing. Anyway, when it came my turn to tell a bit about myself and why I took the class, I found that I couldn’t speak. My throat clicked. I started crying softly. I told them briefly about my mom’s unexpected death and how it fueled a life change in that I went part-time to pursue creative interests. I felt like an idiot for breaking down in front of complete strangers. Then I noticed two people in the front row, also crying along with me, and others wiping away tears. Suddenly, this new vulnerability gave me strength, and I felt freed of shackles I hadn’t even realized I wore. I felt connected to everyone in that room in a deep, meaningful way. I’d handed them part of my heart, they’d held it tenderly and with great care, and had given it back in one piece. I still keep in touch with that wonderful group of people. When you stumbled over your guest’s cello, you simply showed that you’re human. You handled it in such a way that gave everyone else in the room permission to be merely human, as well. What a wonderful hostess — to open your home AND your heart.


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  2. Crying at an improv workshop was a good thing – Newvine Growing

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