My work focuses on, among other things, the importance of authenticity. Because of this, I’m constantly in situations where I’m talking about, encouraging, and seeing the positive impact of vulnerability.
Most of my speaking engagements are for people, leaders, and teams within organizations of various sizes and in different industries. However, from time to time, I do get the opportunity to speak to athletes, which I love. I played baseball in college and then professionally for a few years before injuries ended my career.
A number of years ago I was invited to speak to a group of minor baseball players and coaches at spring training, which is an exciting and often stressful time for everyone involved.
I spoke to them about how they could effectively deal with the pressure of the sport and how they could handle the mental and emotional ups and downs of playing baseball in a healthy and productive way.
My talk went well and seemed to resonate with the guys. After I spoke, a number of the players came up to talk to me. During our conversations, many of them mentioned an interesting way their coaches introduced themselves to their players the day before.
Instead of introducing themselves by giving their résumés, the coaches each told a personal story about a meaningful moment they’d had when they were players themselves.
How One Story Can Teach Us All to Be Vulnerable
One of the coaches, named Alan, blew everyone away with his story.
He got up and said, “I played for ten years in AAA, without a single day in the major leagues.”
No one plays in AAA (which is the highest level of the minor leagues) for ten years. If you get that high up and hang around for a while, you either make it up to the big leagues, or you walk away from the game. It’s very uncommon and actually quite difficult to spend that much time at that level of the minors.
Alan went on to explain that toward the tenth season in AAA, he had made peace with the fact that he wasn’t going to make it to the major leagues. He decided to retire.
Upon making his decision, Alan called his dad and asked him if he could come see him play one last time.
The Final Game
His dad got to the game, and Alan was determined to play well. In the second inning, his manager removed him from the game after he grounded out in his first at bat.
This only happens if a player isn’t hustling, does something stupid, or is hurt. But Alan wasn’t hurt. He did hustle on the play. And he hadn’t done anything stupid to warrant being taken out of the game that early.
Alan was upset and disappointed. How could his manager show him up like that, in front of his father? He sat on the bench as far away from his manager as he could.
Eventually, his manager walked to the end of the bench and got in Alan’s face. “Do you want to know why I took you out of the game?” he asked. “Yes sir, I didn’t appreciate that…you showed me up in front of my father,” Alan replied harshly.
His manager said, “I took you out of the game…because you just got called up to the major leagues.”
The next thing he knew, Alan looked up and all 25 guys on his team had gathered around him in the dugout to give him hugs and high fives.
His teammates knew how long Alan had waited, how hard he had worked, and how much it had meant to him. The celebration went on so long in the dugout, they actually had to stop the game.
As amazing as this story is, the most incredible part is that when Alan told it to a roomful of 150 Minor League Baseball players, he broke down and cried in front of all of them.
That never happens. And a few days later, dozens of those players were coming up to talk to me about it because it had a huge impact on them.
The Power of Being Vulnerable
That’s how powerful it is when we have the courage to be vulnerable — when we let people see who we really are and how we really feel.
Being vulnerable is not a sign of weakness. In fact, vulnerability is one of the most accurate measures of courage.
Unfortunately, all too often we relate to vulnerability—especially in certain environments, relationships, and situations—as something we should avoid at all costs. However, it’s vulnerability that liberates us from our erroneous and insatiable obsession with trying to do everything “right.”
All too often we think we can’t make mistakes, have flaws, or be human. But that’s simply not true.
Being vulnerable allows us to let go of the pressure-filled, stress-inducing perfection demands we place on ourselves.
In addition to our own liberation, when we’re vulnerable we give other people permission to be vulnerable as well, and in doing so, we open up the possibility of real human connection and the opportunity to impact people in a profound way, which is what most of us truly want in life.
How easy or difficult do you find it to be vulnerable yourself? What do you do to have the courage to be vulnerable in your life? What questions or suggestions do you have about this? Share your thoughts, action ideas, insights, and more below.
This is an excerpt from my book Nothing Changes Until You Do, with permission. Published by Hay House (May, 2015 in paperback) and available online or in bookstores.
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This article was published in 2015 and updated for 2023.
When we make peace with ourselves, everything changes.
Over the years and the experiences I’ve had – particularly in my professional life – I’ve learned that writing, speaking, and coaching are relatively easy things for me to do. It’s dealing with myself that’s the hardest part.
I think this is true with most of the things we do in life – even the most challenging ones. It’s usually our own fears, doubts, insecurities, attachments, and resistance that make things difficult, not so much the things themselves.
When We Make Peace With Ourselves, Life Flows With More Ease
Regardless of the specific circumstances we’re facing or tasks in front of us, when we make peace with ourselves and what’s going on, things tend to flow with more ease, joy, and grace. When we’re not at peace with ourselves or life, it doesn’t matter how “good” or “bad” things may be circumstantially, we suffer.
So how do we make peace with ourselves and overcome our fears, doubts, and insecurities?
Making Peace with Ourselves
Here are three core lessons for how we can make peace with ourselves at a deeper level:
1. Have Compassion For Yourself
Self-compassion is one of the most important aspects of life and growth, but is often something we either overlook, think is “soft,” misunderstand, or simply don’t know how to practice.
There are three key elements to self-compassion:
- Mindfulness and awareness for how we’re treating ourselves.
- A sense of kindness and forgiveness towards ourselves
- A realization of our common humanity with others (i.e. remembering that we’re not alone in our experience).
In my life I’ve realized that when I’m able to be gentle and kind with myself and reduce my self-criticism, not only are things more fun, I’ve actually been able to achieve much more success.
2. Surrender to Life as it Actually Is
Surrendering isn’t about giving up or giving in, it’s about making peace with what is (even if we don’t like it.)
A big paradox in life is that until we can be at peace with what’s actually happening in the moment (i.e. letting go of our resistance and of our obsessive focus on how things should be), we’re not able to make the changes we want or to experience the joy we desire.
Whenever we resist, judge, or fight against what is happening in our lives, we suffer. However, when we’re able to allow things to be exactly as they are, it can be remarkable to see how easily things have flowed.
3. Take Ownership
Ownership is about taking full responsibility for our lives and for what shows up around us. This can be tricky for a few reasons.
First of all, we live in a culture that loves to blame and make excuses, so we’re swimming in that ocean all the time. Second of all, there are a lot of things that happen in and around us that we don’t have direct control over (other people, the economy, the weather, decisions, and many circumstances and situations – both personal and global).
However, we always have a choice about how we relate to what’s going on and how we interpret the things happening around us and even within us. When we take ownership we let go of blaming and excuses (or we notice as soon as we can when we’re heading down that negative road.) And, we make a commitment to ourselves that we’re going to create what we truly want – not simply react to life as if it is “happening to us.”
These are all fairly simple concepts, but like many things I write and speak about, understanding them is quite different than practicing and embodying them (i.e. they’re easier said than done.)
When we cultivate empathy and compassion for ourselves and embrace the realization that meaningful change begins with us, we gain a profound understanding that we hold the key to our own joy, pain, triumphs, and challenges.
It’s both sobering and liberating when we embrace the idea that we are the source of our own happiness or suffering. When we get this and live this way, we release ourselves from a great deal of unnecessary stress and make ourselves available to show up for others and for life in an open, authentic, and empowered way.
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This article was published in 2014 and updated for 2023.
My friend and colleague, Dr. Robert Holden, poignantly says, “There’s no amount of self-improvement that can make up for a lack of self-acceptance.”
Self-acceptance is defined as “an individual’s acceptance of all of their attributes, positive or negative.”
So much of our life and our work is focused on self-improvement. And while there’s nothing wrong with us wanting to improve ourselves – too often we go about it erroneously thinking that if we achieve the improvement we’re after, we’ll then feel good about ourselves.
But it actually doesn’t work that way.
Self-Improvement vs. Self-Acceptance
Self-improvement and self-acceptance are both vital in a balanced life. Self-acceptance promotes inner peace while self-improvement fuels progress. It’s important to find a harmonious balance between the two to lead to genuine self-empowerment.
This balance can be tricky. In today’s world – especially with everyone posting the highlight reels of their lives on social media – it’s easy to compare ourselves to others.
We live in a culture that is obsessed with self-improvement. We turn on the TV, surf the web, look at magazines, browse through our feeds, take classes, read books, listen to others, and more – constantly getting various messages that if we just fixed or improved ourselves a bit, we’d be better off. How often do you find yourself thinking some version of, “If I just lost a little weight, made a little more money, improved my health, had more inspiring work, lived in a nicer place, improved my relationships (or something else), then I’d be happy.” Even though I know better, this type of thinking shows up inside my own head more often than I’d like.
The paradox of self-improvement is that by accepting ourselves as we are, we give ourselves the space, permission, and opportunity to create an authentic sense of success and fulfillment. When we insatiably focus on improving ourselves, thinking that it will ultimately lead us to a place of happiness, we’re almost always disappointed and we set up a stressful dynamic of constantly striving, but never quite getting there.
What if we gave ourselves permission to accept ourselves fully, right now? While this is a simple concept, it’s one of the many things in life that’s easier said than done.
Why Do We Resist Self-Acceptance?
One of the biggest pieces of resistance we have regarding self-acceptance is that we erroneously think that by accepting ourselves, we may somehow be giving up. It’s as if we say to ourselves, “Okay, I’ll accept myself, once all of my problems and issues go away.”
Another reason we resist accepting ourselves is the notion that somehow acceptance is resignation. It’s not. Acceptance is acceptance – it’s about allowing things to be as they are, even if we don’t like them. As Byron Katie says (and I often quote), “When you argue with reality you lose, but only 100% of the time.”
The paradox of self-acceptance lies in the realization that embracing our true selves, including our current circumstances, qualities, and imperfections, opens the door to genuine personal growth and positive transformation.
By acknowledging who we are without judgment, we create an authentic space for change to occur naturally. However, when we become fixated on demanding changes solely to achieve happiness, self-esteem, or success, we often find ourselves frustrated and unfulfilled. True progress arises from a foundation of self-acceptance, where inner contentment allows us to organically pursue meaningful improvements, leading to a more genuine and satisfying journey of self-discovery.
If you take a moment right now to think about some of the most important changes you’re attempting to make in your life, ask yourself this question, “What would it look like, feel like, and be like for me to fully accept myself in these important areas?”
Often, our biggest obstacles to making meaningful changes, achieving success, and finding fulfillment, stem from self-criticism, the pursuit of perfection, and impatience. These self-imposed barriers hinder our progress and overshadow our potential for growth and accomplishment.
By learning to embrace self-compassion, accepting that perfection is not attainable, and practicing patience, we create a nurturing environment for personal development and genuine fulfillment. Letting go of harsh self-judgment allows us to focus on the journey rather than fixating on outcomes, enabling us to appreciate the incremental steps and learn from setbacks along the way. In doing so, we unlock the true potential within ourselves to thrive and prosper.
What if we changed our approach, and with as much love, compassion, and vulnerability as possible, just accepted ourselves exactly as we are, right now?
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This article was published in 2013 and updated for 2023.
How do you feel about giving feedback?
Providing feedback can be tricky sometimes – but it’s extremely important. It’s a crucial instigator of development. It also enhances our growth mindset and practical skills.
But why can giving feedback be so challenging sometimes? We’ve all had experiences of both giving and receiving feedback that didn’t go well or, in some cases, may even have caused real harm and pain for us and others.
There are four key things to remember when we’re giving feedback, if we want it to be well received. Here are some tips for feedback that can help you be more effective in giving it.
Tips for Giving Feedback
There has to be implicit or, ideally, explicit permission for us to give someone feedback. Unsolicited feedback, even if it’s spot-on and valuable, can be hard to take.
Asking someone if they’re open to feedback or whether we can give them some, while sometimes awkward, can be helpful and important. This is true even if we’re their manager, parent, or mentor, or in any other type of relationship where permission for our feedback may seem implied.
Making sure that we have permission to give feedback shows that we respect and value the person to whom we’re giving it. It also usually makes feedback feel less like judgment and more like support, allowing the person to be more receptive to what we have to say.
It’s important for us to check in with ourselves about the intention we have behind the feedback. In other words, why are we giving them this feedback? Do we genuinely want them to be more successful? Are we annoyed with them and want to let them know why? Are we trying to prove or defend ourselves? Are we trying to control them or the situation?
There are lots of reasons why we might provide feedback to others, but acknowledging our true motivation and being real with ourselves can help us determine whether or not it’s even going to be helpful. Making sure our intentions are genuine and constructive increases the likelihood of the person being open to receiving it.
Giving feedback takes skill. Of course, from a growth-mindset perspective, providing feedback is not only important, but also one of many things we can improve upon the more we practice and dedicate ourselves to doing it.
The feedback process can be deeply personal and vulnerable. It often requires genuine attention, commitment, self-awareness, and courage from all parties involved if it is going to go well and have real impact. It’s not easy to do. However, the more open and willing we are to engage in this process authentically, the more we can develop and refine our ability to provide feedback effectively. And there are, of course, different ways to skilfully give feedback.
Oftentimes, especially at work, we may give it directly and explicitly as part of a review or development conversation. But as Melissa Daimler, Chief Learning Officer at Udemy and author of ReCulturing, said to me a while back on my podcast, “Sometimes the best feedback I’ve gotten has been when I didn’t even realize it was feedback.”
The most important aspect of giving feedback is the relationship we have with the person we’re giving it to. We can have explicit permission, the most positive intention, and a lot of skill in how we deliver it — but if our relationship isn’t strong or it’s actively strained, it’ll be very difficult for us to give feedback to someone and have them receive it well. I could get the same exact feedback from two different people but react to it differently depending on my relationship with each of them.
Let’s say, in one case, I know the person cares about me, appreciates me, and believes in me. I’m much more likely to be open to their feedback and to take it positively. But if, in another case, the person is someone I don’t know as well or may have some unresolved issues with, it’s less likely that I’ll be open and take their feedback well. This is all about personal credibility.
Making sure the relationships we have are strong and authentic helps us ensure that we can give feedback effectively when we need to do so.
All four of these things — permission, intention, skill, and relationship — are important for us to remember when giving feedback. And they’re also important for us to think about in receiving feedback.
The other side of the same coin is making sure that we give people permission to give us feedback, check in with and pay attention to what their intention might be, give them feedback about how they’re giving it or how we like it to be given, and work to strengthen our relationships with the people around us.
To improve our capacity to receive feedback, we should embrace three key practices: actively seeking it by asking for it, fostering an open attitude towards it, and genuinely considering it when it comes our way.
Embracing feedback is vital for our personal and professional development because it propels us towards growth and success. The more receptive we become to seeking and absorbing feedback, the more we nurture an authentic mindset of growth, leading us further along the path of continuous improvement.
What makes giving feedback most challenging for you? What can you do to make it a little easier and more effective?
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This article was originally published in 2018 as an excerpt from my book, Bring Your Whole Self to Work. This version was updated in 2023.
In today’s digital age, and in a post-COVID, hybrid working world, so many of us are communicating even more via text, social, Slack, and email.
Many of us are probably guilty of having a disagreement escalate communicating this way. Many people often engage in difficult or emotional conversations electronically because it seems easier, only to regret it later on.
I’ve had some conflicts with important people in my life get blown way out of proportion, mainly because I engaged electronically, instead of speaking to them live.
In almost every one of these situations, I can see that it was my fear of engaging directly, in real-time that escalated things.
Why Do We Fail to Understand the Importance of Live Conversations?
Why do we fear to connect live, even though most of us know better? Why do we choose to have certain important conversations electronically rather than in person?
Our Primary Mode of Communication
For most of us, our primary mode of communication is electronic (email, text, social, Slack, etc.) these days – both personally and professionally.
It Seems Easier
It can sometimes seem easier for us to be honest and direct in writing because we can say what is true for us without having to worry about the in-the-moment reaction of others.
Electronic communication takes way less courage than having a live, real conversation with another human being (on the phone, on video, or in person). When we talk to people live we have to deal with our fear of rejection, fear of being hurt, and our tendency to “sell out” on ourselves and not speak our full truth. Avoiding live conversations and choosing to put it in writing sometimes feels safer and can allow us to say things we might otherwise withhold.
It is much less likely for us to work through conflicts, align with one another, and build trust and connection when we avoid talking live to each other about important stuff.
Anything we’re willing to engage in electronically can usually be resolved much more quickly, effectively, and compassionately by having a live conversation, even if we’re scared to do so. The fear may be real, but most often the actual threat is not.
How to Practice Engaging in Live Conversations
Here are some things you can do to practice engaging in live conversations with people more often and, ultimately, more successfully.
Be clear about your intention
Before initiating an electronic communication, ask yourself, “What’s my intention?”
If you’re about to engage in something that is in any way emotionally charged, about a conflict, or important on an interpersonal level, check in to make sure you’re not simply sending the message to avoid dealing with it and the person(s) involved directly.
Be honest with yourself about how you feel, what you want, and why you’re about to engage in the specific type and form of communication you’re choosing.
Don’t send everything you write
Expressing ourselves freely and unfiltered through writing can serve as a very important exercise, especially when dealing with conflicts or issues.
Remember: we don’t have to send everything we write!
One great exercise to practice is saving an email or text in your drafts or notes and reading it again later (maybe after you’ve calmed down a bit or even the following day.)
Writing out our thoughts and emotions before sending them gives us a safe space to release and process our feelings privately, which can lead to clarity and help us consider different perspectives.
By organizing our thoughts we can communicate more effectively and reduce the chances of creating conflict. Taking time before sending can also help us approach situations with a calmer mindset, which can go a long way in preventing us from sending an impulsive message that we’ll later regret.
Request a call or live meeting
Before engaging in a long, emotional electronic exchange, it can often be best to simply request a specific time to talk about the situation live – in-person, on video, or via phone.
Face to face is always best if you can make it happen, but if that poses a big challenge or isn’t logistically, connecting on video or talking on the phone can also work well.
A great response can simply be, “Thanks for your note, this seems like something that would be better to discuss live than electronically, let’s set up a time to talk later today or this week.”
Speak your truth, without judgment or blame
When you do engage in the live conversation (in person or virtually), focus on being real, not right.
Speak your truth by using “I statements,” (I think, I feel, I notice, I want, etc.).
As soon as you move into blame or judgment, you cut off the possibility of any true resolution. Own your judgments and notice if you start to blame the other person(s) involved. If so, acknowledge it, apologize for it, and get back to speaking your truth in a real way.
Get support from others
Reaching out for support from people we trust and respect is a great way to deal with emotionally-charged issues. Try to get feedback from people who will be honest with you, and who aren’t too personally connected to the situation themselves.
Whether it is to bounce ideas off of, get specific coaching or feedback, or simply to help you process through your own fear, anger, or tendency to overreact, getting support from those around you in the process is essential. You don’t have to do it alone and you’re not the only ones who struggle with things like this.
Let’s Remember the Importance of Live Conversations
Living life, doing our work, and interacting with the other human beings around us can be wonderfully exciting and incredibly challenging, especially these days with all we’ve been through and the continued uncertainty that exists everywhere.
Conflicts are a natural part of life, relationships, and work. We can learn so much about ourselves and others through engaging in productive disagreements and important conversations.
The ultimate goal isn’t to live a conflict-free life; it’s to be able to engage with those around us in a way that is productive, healthy, kind, and effective. When we remember that live conversations, even if they can be scary at first, are always the best way to go, we can save ourselves from needless worry, stress and suffering – and in the process resolve our conflicts much more quickly, easily, and successfully.
Are there situations in your life that require live conversations where you have either been avoiding or communicating electronically – and they’re not getting resolved? What can you do to address these situations directly – and have live conversations with those people? Share your ideas, commitments, thoughts, dreams, and more here on my blog.
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This article was originally published in 2011 and updated for 2023.