I spent the first 28 years of my career holding on tight to perception. My reputation was very important to me and I would do everything to avoid having someone judge me. This meant I was very careful about what was being exposed for others to see. My worry was if they judged me they wouldn’t want to work with me.

For example:

  • In one job interview I remember being asked if I ever had a project failure. I was ready with the spin-doctored answer of “no – but only because I look at failure as my customer being surprised by something.”
  • Last year while I was uncertain about my Agile coaching work. Turns out I was hanging on to this notion I wouldn’t be hired if I didn’t at least give the illusion I was a technology expert … so I talked a really good game.
  • A few years ago I was diagnosed with a benign neurological condition which causes spasms in my voice box. My career as I currently know it is dependent on my voice so I spent the past few years not telling anyone about this condition.

I could go on but all three of these things are examples of me struggling with being present with vulnerability. I didn’t want to let them get out of the bag as I was afraid of the impact they would have on my career.

What was I carrying?

When I would write a blog post it would take me weeks as I was very careful to ‘protect’ myself from judgement. My conference talks seemed very flat as again I was very concerned about what I would expose about myself. My relationships were impacted as I spent a lot of time living in my head rather than sharing what was going on for me. Even my coaching was limited as I would always be worried about exposing my own failures.

What I came to internalize earlier this year is this desire to always look good was in fact causing more problems than good. I was spending a lot of time in a mental state of shame spinning around in The Control CycleTM. It’s very controlling and kept me from being at my very best.

I have come to understand when I goto my place of worrying about judgement, there really is only one person doing the judgement. The one person happens to also be my own worse critic … me. This is very confining and causes me to stay in a comfortable place (rather than growing).

What’s possible in letting go

When I let go of that judgement and allow myself to be present with my vulnerability it’s as if a great weight is taken off my shoulders. My thoughts shift from churning on worry to just telling my story.

Last week I was speaking at a conference and told the story of my dog Hunter dying to an audience of about 150. For the first time I let go of that macho thing where guys aren’t supposed to cry and just let my story be heard (I was choked up and a tear emerged). There was a time I would have never let myself be so vulnerable to a crowd of people!

When I write blog posts or a chapter for my book I no longer find it a chore. I’ve let go of judgement and almost embrace my vulnerability. I simply sit down with my thoughts and start letting them flow (this post is a great example of that). It’s become almost a place for me to reconnect with myself. When I show up this way I find I am bringing my whole self, and am able to share the more powerful lessons I’ve learned on this journey (like this one).

My coaching and leadership activities follow this pattern as well. By letting go and being present with my own vulnerability I am in service of others in a far more powerful way!

In these moments of letting go and allowing myself to be present with vulnerability something very powerful shows up … me.

All of me.

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