The Real Thing


(A bit of a cheat on the “wine walk”)

Pour ½ oz Crème de Cassis in a wine glass. Fill glass with chardonnay, chilled to about 46 degrees. Serve

Like countless others, I was touched by Brené Brown’s TED talk from Houston titled The Power of Vulnerability. In it, Ms. Brown divides people she’s researched into two categories: people who have a strong sense of love and belonging and the people who really struggle for it. She expounds on the courage (literally whole-heartedness) of those who have a genuine sense of worthiness. That, in itself, is a profound statement, but in her limited TED time, she doesn’t explore why. To me, however, the answer is fairly concise: the worthiness has been tested.

We all encounter those who are focused on projecting an image—competent, confident, once again hoping that perception becomes reality. This image becomes an exoskeleton, our armor against the world’s impact. We find we exert our effort into forming and sustaining this image, failing to strengthen that which is actually us. Brown says we go numb to vulnerability, then numb to all uncomfortable feelings, then numb to all feelings altogether. We’re living outside ourselves, inside this cold shell we’ve wrapped around ourselves. Perhaps we hope that we’ll become what we project, but we never really will.

A Chinese proverb says “out of the hottest fire comes the strongest steel.” The truly worthy people understand this because they’ve allowed themselves to lay vulnerable to adversity. They’ve failed, again and again, but as a former professor once advised, they’ve failed “gloriously.” They’ve taken what they learned from the failures, integrated it into improvement, and showed the courage to get up and face the adversity again. In time, they’ve learned that valuable lesson others only pretend to know: “I’m enough.”

Authenticity in Leadership has become a buzz-phrase in business in the last decade. Article after article call for a push to be authentic, so many leaders, almost overnight, invent an “authentic” them that is more approachable, but it’s not authentic. They’re still maintaining 100% of the control over their image, they cling to an illusion of infallibility—sure, they’ll admit to making mistakes, but listen closely to those testimonials: it was because they weren’t given enough information, they were inexperienced then, or some other external cause led to the mistake—and the “transformation” is almost invariably superficial. Instead of introspection, the focus is on projection.

Authenticity doesn’t materialize overnight. It takes allowing yourself to be vulnerable—releasing that situational control, testing that vulnerability time and again, self-doubt. It takes conflict. It may even take starting a blog where every entry you wonder if people actually read and, if so, does it bring value or is it time wasted, but I digress. It takes failing gloriously until you reach a point where you can genuinely, with courage and conviction, say “I am worthy.”

Where are you on your journey? Please comment below.

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