The Difference Between Weakness and Vulnerability

The Difference Between Weakness and Vulnerability

Written by Emilie

Topics: Show Yourself

A few weeks ago I heard an interview on BlogcastFM with Jade Craven. She dispensed some solid advice about building a blog and using social media to connect with other bloggers. But she also did something that most bloggers never do: she allowed herself to be vulnerable.

In the interview, Jade spoke about her recent nervous breakdown and mental health issues. She even mentioned how proud she was of herself for doing the interview at all, considering how uncomfortable they typically make her.

Wow. I was immediately hooked.

Vulnerability Enhances your Ability to Lead

It goes against conventional wisdom. As bloggers, entrepreneurs and leaders, we are taught not to question ourselves or display one iota of weakness- ever! We are told to be the ‘experts’. We should be providing solutions, not doubting ourselves. Being honest might turn people off and cause them to lose trust in us.

And for the most part, I agree. If you want to get your message out there, you need to be confident and speak with conviction. Timidity will get you nowhere.

However, people often get way too hung up on the idea of being bigger than life- the wise sage on the mountain with all the answers. In doing so, they’re forgetting something really important: that honesty and humility are attractive qualities.

If done correctly, writing about your shortcomings can make your readers connect with you on a deeper level. It can actually enhance their trust in you and make you a more effective leader.

Weakness vs Vulnerability

The distinction between coming across as relatable- as ‘one of them’, versus coming across as unsure of yourself, is in the way you present your challenges.

If you simply put yourself down or question your abilities, with no further mention of growth or goal-setting, you will come across as weak and lose your audience. But if you write honestly about your struggles and focus on your plan of action for overcoming them, that’s not weak, it’s inspiring.

There are two ways you can do this. You can either share past struggles and talk about how you overcame them or you can write about your current struggles, but come at them from a place of strength.

1. Being Honest about Past Problems

We tend to be most captivated by people who have overcome tremendous hardship to get where they are. Think about your favourite book or movie. All the best stories include personal struggle, surmounting obstacles, and beating the odds. We love the underdog.

It’s never a bad idea to talk about where you once were and how you got to where you are now. This is great way of relating to people but still remaining the ‘expert’. In fact it adds authenticity to your message.

My friend Mars recently published a post called 3 Essential Life Lessons I Wish I Had Known Earlier, in which he writes all about getting picked on as a teenager. He then goes on to talk about what he’s learned since and how he wishes he could go back and share his current knowledge with his former self.

Even Tony Robbins talks about his hardships growing up in a poor household, getting kicked out of the house by his mother and having to survive by working as a janitor at the age of seventeen. Of course then he goes on to talk about how he overcame these problems and turned himself into the man he is today.

We like these stories. They’re inspiring. They gives us hope that we too can overcome our problems (if we simply listen closely to this person’s advice).

2. Being Honest about Current Problems

Allowing yourself to open up about your current struggles is scarier, but often quite powerful. You will come across as human and far more relatable to your community. There’s no need to pretend like you have all the answers. You are one of them, and that’s okay, provided you address your struggles from a place of strength.

Notice how in her interview, Jade did not put herself down. She spoke honestly about her mental health issues and how she’s working to overcome them. Because she addressed her struggles from a place of strength, she did not lose credibility as a leader.

In fact, she probably gained a few new fans (such as myself). She resonated with me because she sounded human. She didn’t only give out great advice, she revealed something about who she is. I liked her on a personal level.

Your Ability to be Vulnerable is Precisely What Qualifies You to be a Leader

All this to say, that if you’re thinking of starting a blog or just putting yourself out there as a community leader in any sense of the term, don’t let your shortcomings get in the way. Instead, use them to your advantage. Allow yourself to be vulnerable but come at it from a place of strength. Then share your journey and progress as you go.

Don’t worry about being perfect. It’s not only your wisdom, but your motivation to continuously improve your life that qualifies you to be a leader.

When you consider all the people you might help or inspire, it’s actually weak to not open up.

11 Comments

  1. Lach says:

    Well said Emilie. This is something I know is true, but I need to be reminded of it a lot because when you do put yourself out in front of a lot of people it can be really scary to show those parts of yourself that you think are inadequate. But really opening up to that vulnerability in a genuine way sends a very powerful message. It says I’m wanting to grow and I can be bigger than the fear of judgement. I think that speaks to people in a very personal way because everyone has those fears and failings that they are struggling with in their own lives. It’s only when you can open up to your humanity that you can really connect with other humans. When people present themselves as gurus who have everything figured out and never mess up, they come across as fake. You can’t really relate to them.

    I like how you broke it down too: either talk about struggles you’ve overcome; or talk about the growing your doing now. That’s inspiring to people. Complaining that you’re inadequate is not. Leadership starts at home.

    • Emilie says:

      Hey Lach,

      It’s cool to hear your perspective in particular on this, since you’re all about being audacious and smashing fear. It just goes to show that you can write epic, inspiring posts, without sacrificing that human quality.

      Also, you’re right. Showing that you’re bigger than the fear of judgment is totally a demonstration of your fear-smashing abilities. So true. :)

  2. Jade Craven says:

    Thank you so much. It took a lot of hard work to get to a point where I saw my setbacks as stuff that made me unique, rather that as someone who just used it as an excuse.

    It means so much when people acknowledge the mindset shift. Making simple changes in thinking was hard but it made business and anxiety management so much easier.

    Basically I have a two year old nephew on my knee hence the brevity, but I wanted to thank you. <3 It made my dad.

    • Emilie says:

      You’re very welcome. I think viewing our setbacks as strengths and embracing them is one of the most powerful mindset shifts we can make. It’s both empowering on a personal level and inspiring to others.

      Thanks Jade, for being awesome. :)

  3. ainslie says:

    First, I just found your blog recently and am LOVING it. Totally inspirational, so thanks <3

    Second, this post reminded me of a TED talk that I absolutely love, by Brene Brown about "The Price of Invulnerability" and how, in general, we have "lost our tolerance for vulnerability" and view it as weakness, and therefore a bad bad terrible thing. She talks a lot about what we can miss out on in life if we never allow ourselves to experience or express vulnerability, which I think is so true in so many situations! It totally struck a chord with me (just like this post did!), and is definitely worth a watch – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_UoMXF73j0c

    • Emilie says:

      Hi Ainslie,

      Ah thanks so much! And that TED talk is fantastic. Thanks for sharing it. Coincidentally I just went to TEDxCopenhagen today. So it’s been a very inspiring (and somewhat mentally exhausting) day. :)

      Thanks for the comment!

  4. Trever Clark says:

    Jade has been pretty inspirational to me as well. I don’t know if I would have had the courage to write my most recent post if I hadn’t seen her being honest about her own mental health issues in the past.

    It’s a fine line between TMI and being authentic and vulnerable. I think that you hit the nail on the head here, though. It makes a huge difference when someone is just bitching and putting themselves down versus coming at it from a place of strength and moving forward.

    • Emilie says:

      Hi Trever,

      Yeah it’s especially nice when a bigger blogger does it. Sets a good precedent for the rest of us to follow.

      On a related note, I went to a TED event yesterday and this Danish researcher was talking about how the key to happiness is authenticity. She did a study comparing the stress levels of employees who allowed themselves to feel annoyed when dealing with obnoxious customers vs employees who tried to put on a plastic smile no matter how rude the customer. She found that the first group’s stress levels stayed pretty level but the latter group’s stress levels were through the roof. I thought that was interesting.

  5. Shann says:

    Hi Emille,

    I am thrilled to find your blog. I shared your post on twitter and facebook. I will be back!

    Have you seen the TEDx Talk with Dr. Brene Brown? I think you will love it! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X4Qm9cGRub0&feature=player_embedded

    Cheers!

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