- Julius de Jong
Daring to Be, and Show, Yourself (Episode 17-39)
How vulnerability and asking for help change everything
When we’re not present, it is easy to believe we should be perfect. That we should know all the answers. That we’re expected to always look our best and not show any flaws. Obviously, we are not perfect, nor do we have all the answers, nor do we always look our best. Oh, and yes, we do have our flaws. I know I have plenty.
For some reason however, we sell ourselves on the notion that we should be a certain way. And that if we aren’t, people won’t like us for who we really are. When we’re not careful, we risk ‘walk[ing] around imprisoned within ourselves’ (Jeter, 2015). Growing up I had sold myself the belief that I should present myself to the world as someone who knew what he was doing. Someone who always had the answers and could go at it alone. When confused, worried, or when I didn’t know what to do, I put on a mask. Pretending all was well, instead of sharing what was really going on for me in those moments. At that time, I thought no one wanted to bother with my worries or concerns. I believed that when I would share these with the people around me, they would think less of me. Therefore, I continued to act from behind a mask, a façade. As Andy Lopata writes in his book “Just Ask: Why Seeking Support is Your Greatest Strength”, the majority of us are conditioned to believe we need to know all the answers, find solutions independently and look good (Lopata, 2020).
Over time, I couldn’t keep this up. It was draining my energy; playing pretend, and not being able to share or show what was truly going on for me. At a certain point, I simply couldn’t do it anymore. I had become an irritable, grumpy, and unhappy person. A person who didn’t enjoy his own company. I couldn’t bare not being able to show myself any longer. It was during a breakup with my girlfriend at the time, that it all changed. Finally, for the first time in my life I shared everything that I was experiencing. I wrote a long letter, which I’d sent to her after the breakup. I still remember that experience, that moment of clicking ‘send’ of the email containing my words of revelation. It was as if the sky broke open, and the brightest sun suddenly pierced though the darkest of clouds. I physically felt a shift. An enormous weight was lifted from me, and suddenly, I was able to breathe freely again since I don’t know how long. It was an amazing feeling, to freely and unapologetically share all that was going on for me in that moment. In that letter, I had opened up about things from years ago which finally could see the light of day. I was able to let go of things that had been weighing me down for years.
That email was my catalyst for change. I started to open up to more people around me and showed more of myself. Especially the ‘less-perfect’ sides of me. Stimulated and inspired by this amazing feeling of release and freedom I had experienced after sending that letter. The opposite of what I expected started to happen. Instead of being judged for my flaws and imperfections, people started connecting more with me. They too started to open up more, and our conversations and connections gained vastly in dept and substance. What I realized then, was that people can relate to our imperfections. It makes them comfortable, as they see themselves in us. Sharing ourselves invites others to do the same. This is true both in a private but also professional setting. We can always feel when someone is not real. We are not being real when we’re holding things back. We are not real when we pretend to be or feel something, which we’re not, or don’t feel. Pretense is an impediment to human connection. We always feel it, if not consciously, then certainly subconsciously. Therefore, Brené Brown said so accurately, ‘[r]ather than sitting on the sidelines and hurling judgement and advice, we must dare to show up and let ourselves be seen’ (Brown, 2015).
For over eight years, I have been including vulnerability in my teaching at two universities in Switzerland. I remember when we started implementing this aspect into the module design of the teachings. After careful steps of exploring the element of vulnerability – and authentically showing oneself – into the teaching, it became an ever more present part of it. Interestingly, the more this was included, the bigger the shifts were in the groups which were part of these experiences. To show yourself and feel safe to do so uninhibited has a tremendously expanding effect. The energy in the groups always shifts because of this. People opened-up and started to share things previously kept hidden and out of sight. Based on these new discoveries and perspectives of one another, new conversations started, and, in some cases, lives changed because of this. At times, more than a few, there were tears. And at times it was difficult, but at the same time extremely liberating, for people to finally share and remove the load that had been holding them down for sometimes decades. ‘One of the best parts of unlocking the power of vulnerability is experiencing the freedom of self-love’ (Jeter, 2015). When we show ourselves openly, something realigns within ourselves too. It’s like coming home to yourself, and it feels amazing. Having other people there as witnesses holding the space with you reinforces this process. However, ever writing things down (by pen) in private can have an enormously liberating effect. Try it!
Showing and fully being yourself is not easy. It takes great courage and hard work. That first step of risking rejection and judgment can only be made by ourselves. No one can do this for us. However, both from personal experience and from what I’ve witnessed during my eight years of teaching in relation to this, I know there is no better way to be, then to be ourselves. ‘[W]hen we dare to drop the armor that protects us from feeling vulnerable, we open ourselves to the experiences that bring purpose and meaning to our lives’ (Brown, 2012). ‘We associate vulnerability with emotions we want to avoid such as fear, shame, and uncertainty. Yet we too often lose sight of the fact that vulnerability is also the birthplace of joy, belonging, creativity, authenticity, and love’ (Brown, 2012). Let’s show ourselves, and live more fully, together.
Healthier, deeper, and higher-quality relationships
To learn more about vulnerability, asking for help, and not going at it alone, I interviewed Andy Lopata, a professional relationships strategist and author of the book “Just Ask: Why Seeking Support is Your Greatest Strength”. During our talk on the topic, I asked Andy how asking for help had impacted his personal life and work. As Andy shared, the quality and health of his relationships changed for the better because of asking for help at times and being more open and vulnerable with the people around him. Important element that Andy stressed is the reciprocity of this practice. It is not only about the willingness to ask for help, but equally the readiness to help others too (Lopata, 2021). When we can be open and vulnerable with the people around us, this results in more authentic and deeper relationships as a consequence. Pretense is unhealthy for a relationship (Lopata, 2021). As Andy explained, many relationships are founded on pretense. ‘Whether professionally or personally, we want to offer the best version of ourselves’ (Lopata, 2021). Doing so steels energy both from yourself and the relationship. It also prevents true and real connection. Instead, tell the truth about your worries and concerns, and share when you’re down. Ask for support and help when you need it. Doing so breaks down barriers between you and the people you’re connecting with. This allows the relationship to flourish and relate heart-to-heart, rather than head-to-head, because you’re not overthinking everything (Lopata, 2021).
Being open should be balanced. We need to understand when to share, and how much to share. When someone asks you ‘How are you?’, they sometimes simply do so out of courtesy, and are not interested to hear about all the details and concerns of your life in that moment. You have to therefore be thoughtful in the way you open up to people. Still, we can drop many more barriers around us in our engagement with others. As Andy shared, ‘the barriers that remain are there at the appropriate time, but can also be lowered at the appropriate time’ (Lopata, 2021).
Why we have a hard time asking for help
Generally, we are too slow when it comes to asking for help (Lopata, 2020). According to Andy Lopata, there are three key reasons why we have a hard time asking for help, as listed below:
We don’t like being a burden to other people. Contrary, when someone we like or love, askes us for help, we want to help them. This gives us pleasure helping them. ‘So actually we need to reposition this in our minds and give people the pleasure of helping us’ (Lopata, 2021);
We don’t want to be seen as vulnerable. Vulnerability is often perceived as a weakness, but it’s not. It’s a strength and a show of courage and confidence if one dares to be vulnerable. ‘By asking for, and getting help, we overcome our hurdles and reach our objectives more easily, which makes us stronger’ (Lopata, 2021). We thus need to reframe this concept of vulnerability and see it as a strength instead of a weakness;
We assume people can’t or don’t want to help us. We shouldn’t assume anything. Ask, and let them decide for themselves.
How to make it enticing for someone to help us
Asking for help can be difficult. However, there are some ways which make it more appealing for someone to help us when being presented with our request. Find some key tips for this below:
Make it easy for people to help you. This is an important point. We should make it as easy as possible for someone to positively respond to our request for help. For instance, when asking someone for a meeting, make it concrete and practical. Suggest different date/time options for them to choose from, and make it clear what it is specifically you need help with;
Formulate your request from a place of strength instead of weakness. When we have the experience that someone is asking for our help to dodge their responsibility, or presents themselves as inadequate and weak, we’re not incline to help. On the other hand, when someone clearly communicates the work they’re putting into achieving their objective, and how our help can propel them further on their path it becomes a different experience. We like to help people who help themselves. Make sure you show that you are doing the work. If we express ourselves needy and weak, people will be less incline to help us. Contrarily, when we express with confidence that we’re moving where we’d like to go, and we’re putting in the work, but we ask for some help along the way, that’s a different experience. We like to help people who help themselves;
Communicate that saying no to your request is okay. Make it okay for people to say no to your request. Similarly, also personally be able to accept their no in your own mind. When asking for help, communicate that it’s okay for them to say no;
We like to help people whom we know. This gives us pleasure. Therefore, it is important to create a ‘warm’ request for help. Mentioning you were recommended to reach out to the person you’re asking for help by someone that person knows, is very helpful. This creates familiarity and trust. When the request for help comes from someone close and familiar to the person we’re requesting help from, the chances of them honoring our appeal greatly increase. Therefore, whenever possible, have your requests to people you don’t know delivered to them by someone that does;
Take the ‘I’ test. Especially when reaching out to people cold, but also when requesting help from someone closer to you, take the ‘I’ test, as recommended by Andy. It’s simple: count the number of times you mention ‘I’ in your request compared with the times you mention ‘you’ or ‘we’. When reaching out to someone, make it about them, and not about yourself. As you probably suspect, there should be a very few to no ‘I’ and a lot of ‘you’ and ‘we’;
Help others and pay it forward. I very much believe in giving first. Creating value, before getting it. The same is true with regard to asking for help. Make sure you’re helping more people than you’re requesting help from. ‘Everyone that you’d give to, you know that they would help you if they could. And everyone you’ve received from, they know that you would help them if you could’ (Lopata, 2021).
Make people feel safe to share and be vulnerable
When looking for help, we seek out people with whom we can be open, who’s opinions we respect and who’s discretion we value. This means that whatever we share, remains with them. We seek out objectivity, and someone who can listen to us without judgement. Be this for others too. Offer what we seek. It is not by what we say, but by what we show in action that communicates who we are. Therefore, demonstrate that you’re discrete and abstain from judgement. What we do matters more than what we say. Lastly, because you’re willing to listen, doesn’t mean that someone wants to share with you. It’s good to be there for people, but don’t expect them to be obliged to confide in you (Lopata, 2021).
Asking open questions, and listen
To help people open up, asking questions is crucial. Of equal, and perhaps even bigger importance, is listening to the answers. During our talk, Andy suggests asking a series of staggered questions as he learnt from Ivan Misner called semantic differential questioning. This means asking the same question, two or three times to get passed courteous responses. You can do so by exactly rephrasing the question, or by slightly changing its wording. For example, as Ivan Misner shares in his talk with Andy, when asking for someone’s reason to leave the business in an exit conversation, the first question would be ‘why did you leave?’ After some other questions in between, Ivan suggests rephrasing the question asking, ‘were there other reasons for you to leave?’, and then lastly, after still not having received a satisfactory question to this answer, he suggests asking a hypothetical question: ‘if there were other reasons for you to leave, what would they be?’ Make sure to ask open ended questions, and make sure you’re signaling you’re interested in hearing the answer. Listen! My talk with Corine Jansen was extremely useful in this regard, as listening not only helps us learn about the other person, but also about ourselves. Lastly, most people just want to be listened to. They don’t need our solutions or hear of your ‘similar’ experiences. They just want to be heard, so they can express themselves and move through the experience and get over it, as I’ve talked about with Michael Kolb when we discussed honesty. Take yourself out of the equation and just listen. Don’t ask ‘why is this important to me?’ but instead ‘why is this relevant to them?’ (Lopata, 2021).
Opening up in spite of fear of judgment
Nothing what anyone else does or says has meaning, apart from the meaning we attribute to it (Lopata, 2021). We often jump to the worst conclusions when it comes to estimating what someone thinks or will do when we open up or ask for help. We need to recognize that we all have our struggles going on, and that no one is flawless. Let’s keep this in the back of our minds when we fear being judged and hold back ourselves because of it. Instead, be brave and acknowledge and share how you feel in that moment. As I shared at the beginning of this post, I know from personal experience that being and showing my true self does miracles for the relation I have with both myself, and others. Then, the people you open up and share with, will relax with you, and will feel more connected. In those rare cases where people end up judging you for what you’ve shared, ask yourself if they are the people you want around you. Being yourself is the best way to find and connect with people who share your values and views on life (Lopata, 2021). Talking about opening up in spite of fear of judgement, Andy raised another interesting point. He mentioned the importance to differentiate between genuine critique from unfair criticism. We need to be able to listen to criticism when it comes. This is never easy, but if we can bare the hurt to our ego, there is a learning to benefit from that helps us grow (Lopata, 2021). If we can listen to the feedback of someone, and take the learning, the relationship with that person can become stronger.
Self-compassion and gratitude
Looking back on things that you are grateful for allows you to show more compassion for yourself when things are tough and makes you more vulnerable to yourself and for yourself (Lopata, 2021). This is an important point raised by Andy, as we need to not only dare to show our vulnerability in our relations to other people, but as a start, in the relation with ourselves. In order to be ourselves with others, we first need to learn to be ourselves with our own being. In many cases, this is an uncomfortable process, and we distract ourselves from it by escaping. We escape in our work, sports, hobbies, relationships, sex, drugs, or whatever other conduct where we can forget about ourselves. Becoming one with ourselves and accepting our full self is crucial step towards our personal happiness and for real connections with other people. All of what we do should stem from an inner confidence in ourselves, and compassion for ourselves. This confidence comes from understanding and accepting ourselves for who we are and putting in the work towards who we are becoming. When we learn to be compassionate and kind towards ourselves, and to give ourselves a break from time to time, this also makes it easier to accept help from others (Lopata, 2020).
Being completely open and honest, I’m far from satisfied with this post. As this is a topic very dear to my heart, I wish I would have more time to write and reflect on this post. However, my daily life and work also requires a lot of attention. Therefore, for now this will have to do. I do hope that what’s written above and shared during my talk with Andy will inspire you to show more of yourself. In the end, that’s all that this post aims to do. Open up, and come home to yourself while allowing others to find themselves in you.
To learn about asking for help, and not going at it alone, and the vulnerability we need for this, I have interviewed Andy Lopata. Andy is a professional relationships strategist who has worked with a wide range of global clients and has written five books on networking and professional relationships.
Andy’s latest book, “Just Ask: Why Seeking Support is Your Greatest Strength” was the trigger for this interview and his work on, and experience with vulnerability. Personally, I am a big believer in the power of vulnerability both in business and private relationships. We’ve had a very interesting talk about topics dear to my heart. I hope you’ll enjoy listening as much as I did recording!
Website of Andy Lopata: https://lopata.co.uk
Brown, Brené, 2015, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. https://amzn.to/3Dj9qxT
Brown, Brené, 2012, The Power of Vulnerability: Teachings of Authenticity, Connection and Courage. https://amzn.to/3wPH8c7
Jeter, Ciera, 2015, The Unmasking: Unlocking the Power to Vulnerability. https://amzn.to/3cuHw6F
Kaplan, Barry and Manchester, Jeffrey, 2018, The Power of Vulnerability: How to Create a Team of Leaders by Shifting Inward. https://amzn.to/3DvfQKo
Lopata, Andy, 2020, Just Ask: Why Seeking Support is Your Greatest Strength. https://amzn.to/3Dreb8E
Palmer, Amanda and Brown, Brené, 2015, The Art of Asking: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help. https://amzn.to/3Fd5rn6