One of the major evolutions I went through in 2016 was learning to make myself as vulnerable as possible. So it’s kinda strange that I haven’t written anything about it during that year. Perhaps I was too afraid to expose myself to criticism about it 😉 (I have a rule on this blog that any lame jokes I come up with must stay in the final post.)
See what I just did there? I called my own joke lame to avoid making myself vulnerable to other people not liking it 😉
At the end of 2015 I felt like I still needed some closure when it came to the breakup with my ex-girlfriend. So I sent her a letter with every single thing I had ever wanted to tell her but kept inside instead. The good, the bad and the ugly. That was the first time I experienced what it feels like to make yourself vulnerable to someone else on purpose.
It sucked. First I was crying all night while writing it. Then I felt anxious about the fact that she would read it and react in a way that could hurt me.
But other than that, it also felt like a huge weight that had been unknowingly sitting on my chest for months was now lifted off of it. I could finally breathe freely again, even though I had never realized I couldn’t before.
A little bit later, someone who used to play in the same band as me posted something on Facebook that could potentially ruin the band’s career if people believed it. The only way to save some face was to share my point of view. But that included posting on Facebook in front of our 5,000+ followers that I had been abused as a little kid. As far as vulnerability goes, shit just got real.
I could see a clear pattern though. As horrible as it felt to open up to people about things like that, the emotional freedom & feeling of strength that came afterwards more than made up for it.
Why in the world would you act weak on purpose? Isn’t that stupid and unsafe?
I used to think like that as well. Making yourself vulnerable to me seemed like standing with your eyes closed, arms open and your nuts forward in the middle of the road while a crowd with hundreds of drunk people comes running in your direction. Only a fool would do it.
(Side note: I actually did that with 2 friends for 30 minutes straight, blocking the whole street. Surprisingly no one kicked. I only received hugs and high fives. That should show you something about the power of vulnerability 😉 )
It’s easy to confuse vulnerability with weakness when you are raised in a society that tells you to keep your emotions private and your flaws secret. Especially as a man.
Yes, it’s true that making yourself vulnerable always entails some kind of risk.
• When you talk to a stranger they can reject you rudely.
• When you share your deepest insecurities and with someone they can use that information to deliberately hurt you.
• When you get in front of a crowd to do improve comedy or perform your sons, people can boo you off stage.
But the fact that you are willing to do these things, actually conveys great power and confidence. It shows people that you have a healthy self-esteem. That you trust in yourself that you’ll be able to deal with whatever negative outcome the exposure might lead to. And ironically because of that, most of those negative things never happen.
In a lot of cases, the opposite actually happens.
Let’s have a look at some of the many areas in which vulnerability provides you with clear practical benefits:
Building a Connection With People
Do you sometimes feel alone even when surrounded by a crowd? Or like all those Facebook friends can’t make up for the fact that you still haven’t found someone who truly understands you?
You know how I knew that? The answer is the same one that’s going to help you solve it.
For our latest album I wrote a song called “Lost & Found”. Even though we had practiced it and it had many details I loved, every fiber in my body told me not to release it. I believed it was way too personal and specific for anyone to relate to. I also was afraid because of the amount of details about my life it included.
The funny thing is that one year later I still have people messaging me after they bought the album to personally tell me how they found the lyrics on the album extremely relatable for them. Specifically this song.
I’m pretty sure most of those people didn’t have the exact same experience I had that the song was about (or maybe they do and it’s more common than I know). But that doesn’t mean they never experienced similar emotions in a different context before.
A similar thing happened when I wrote my article about relationships. I was afraid of sharing my opinion publicly because I knew it was such an unpopular one. But I did it anyway because I hoped it could help people. It was the first time I posted something that very few of my friends openly liked or commented on. It seemed like I was right and people generally didn’t like it.
But in the following days my inbox got flooded with private messages from people who told me I “took the words out of their mouth” that they didn’t dare to speak publicly. And that they were glad someone understood. Since then, it’s become the most popular article on this blog.
When I open up about the sides of me that I’m used to hiding, those are always the moments that lead to the deepest connections.
When you feel like you’re alone in a world where no one seems to understand what goes on inside your head, wake up. Everyone feels that way sometimes. And the reason we feel that way is exactly because we’re taught not to make ourselves vulnerable. But by doing it, I’ve learned that generally, the more personal the feeling you experience, the more universal it is.
Which is not so surprising, as we’re all humans (except for those crazy lizard people & shapeshifters that live in people’s conspiracy theories) 😉
Protecting Your Reputation
It may sound counterintuitive, but by making yourself vulnerable to losing face in the eyes of your peers, you actually save it. Lemme’ splain:
A reputation, the trust people have in your personality, is a fragile thing. It’s easily lost and hard to re-gain. Especially in this day and age scandals can go viral fast. Sometimes even when they are not true.
Another trend in the 21st century is for everyone to present a picture perfect image of themselves to the world. Just look at people’s social media profiles. Do you see ugly pictures? Of course you don’t. Sometimes you even see beautiful pictures of “ugly” people 😉 And if we have to believe Facebook, everyone lives a life that would make us downright jealous.
At the same time though you know, everyone has some dirt. People feel bad sometimes. People do bad things to each other, sometimes in spite of their good intentions. But they carefully hide it from the world to uphold the ideal image they have crafted for themselves.
Being vulnerable means doing the exact opposite of that from time to time. Admitting that you suck at something and don’t have to defend yourself for that for example. Or that you sometimes exhibit behavior you wouldn’t condone from other people and tell yourself it’s okay in this situation. You know, like telling white lies, or bombing Syria.
As a teenager, I had a huge case of writer’s block during a long phase of depression. I felt very insecure because of this, as before that songs used to flow out of me like they were… (Can’t find a decent comparison here, sorry.)
I ended up going to rehearsal and passing some other people’s songs off as my own because I couldn’t bear the shame of telling my friend I could not come up with anything decent, even though I tried every single day. Then I forgot all about it because I didn’t want to admit to myself I had done something I would never agree with from someone else.
Years later he discovered it, and of course it came to bite me in the ass. I had let people down and even though I was now a totally different person, there was no way to make up for it. He told me I should never tell anyone because it would ruin my reputation as a musician.
However, last year I was doing an interview about our new record and the question came up how I had evolved as a songwriter compared to the earlier years of the band. Having already witnessed the power of vulnerability, I decided to just share that whole story with the world.
The way I saw it, I didn’t want to act as if I was some kind of moral superhero all the time. I wouldn’t trust a person who doesn’t wears his flaws openly, so why should I hide mine?
If in the end, people would choose to stop believing in me for something my past self had done years ago, then those people would be no match for who I am as a person right now. Why try to create a fake image just so more people would like me?
Don’t repress your dark side, embrace it.
If you create a reputation for yourself as a flawed human being (which everyone on this planet is, by the way):
• You’ll be more relatable for others
• You won’t have to worry about living up to some ridiculously unrealistic image people have of you.
• You don’t make yourself susceptible to blackmail or have to worry about people sharing your secrets, since you don’t have any.
Branding & Sales
First of all, when marketing your brand, you can already apply the same benefits I mentioned above (building a connection with people, protecting your reputation, etc.). People are sick of crafty or manipulative social media posts and a lack of real interaction. Show the world there are actual humans behind the brand you run and you can win their hearts. Robots generally don't win hearts.
As for your sales, remember that people don’t buy from a salesperson they don’t trust or like. Radical honesty and vulnerability can be the missing link in why you don’t get to convince those really hard cases.
To show you an example:
I’m often approached by people on the street trying to get me to sign up for monthly donations to some kind of charity.
I donate to various charities often, but I don’t want to sign up for automatic monthly donations because I want to be able to decide when and how much I donate, especially since my financial situation isn’t very stable yet.
Having done the same job in the past, I recognize every line or tactic they’re using on me after I declined. So I call them out on it and tell them it won’t work. Real people convince me, sales techniques don’t.
To my surprise, most of them fail to get real with me. One time, the guy admitted to me that he understood my position and wasn’t going to pressure me, but that he had hoped I was the one guy that was going to give him the final sale he needed to reach his target for the day, as it was almost over. This could play a role in whether he’d get the job or not.
We talked a bit and came to the conclusion that if I signed up but put the first payment 3 months in the future, the charity could already use my name on the list for petitions, he would make his target for the day and I still had the option to cancel or continue my subscription 3 months later depending on my financial situation.
So in short: He admitted he only wanted to make the sale for his own personal gain, but the fact that he was the only one who got vulnerable and real with me convinced me to buy any way. While all the other people trying to play on my own wants and needs to convinced me didn’t.
Just something to ponder.
When you say “no” to a request from your boss, or a good friend. You risk them reacting negatively. Perhaps they might even think you’re full of yourself to act as if you deserve “special treatment”.
For example, I tell anyone who’s trying to gossip about other people to me, to shut up because I'm not interested. They often feel offended, but after I do it twice they stop doing it and we still stay friends.
You may make yourself vulnerable while speaking out for your boundaries the first time, but if you don't communicate them, prepare for lifelong violations 😉
If you don’t like people stirring up drama for example, dare to make yourself vulnerable to the “drama about not wanting drama” and to draw a line in the sand.
The worst that can happen is people not respecting you. The best that can happen is no more of what you don’t like. Seems like a worthwhile tradeoff for me 😉
Dating & Seduction
One night while going out, a couple of women were eye-fucking me from the bar all night.
I noticed them but I just didn’t really care for it. I was catching up with some old friends after a very rough week, and somehow I just wasn’t in the mood to socialize.
When I grabbed my coat to leave, one of them gestured me to come over and asked me where I was going. I told her “To the next bar”.
“Don’t you wanna stay for one more drink? Me and my friends have been staring at you all night and talking about what a hot guy you are, and now that I finally have the nerve to talk to you, you decide to leave. This sucks.”
I was very impressed by her level of vulnerability. At that time in my life, I was pretty good at approaching women in bars, but when I was attracted to someone and didn’t talk to her right away, I would usually not dare to do it later on.
I’d never want to have admitted chickening out the first time she noticed me noticing her, because I was afraid to come across as one of those typical creeps or the loser who needed 5 minutes to muster up the courage to talk to another human.
What I found so amazing about what this girl said to me, was that she actually acknowledged the fact that she had been staring at me all night. And because she was genuine I didn't find it creepy for a second. I also didn't think she was a loser. Her telling me that came across as very strong. She just taught me a very good lesson without knowing it 😉 (If you read this: thank you, random woman.)
I told her “I think it’s so cool that you had the guts to approach me right before it was too late. With the next guy, try to do it as soon as you see him. I sometimes chicken out like that as well and I always regret it.”
(Side note: Notice how I now had no problem admitting this because she lowered her barriers first. Just another way in which vulnerability allows you to connect with people.)
She said "I wasn't afraid to talk to you or anything, I just need some time to warm up." and asked for my name, then continued with "Look, me and my friend are both single and we both think you're hot. Just come with us, alright?"
I hesitated for a second but the truth was that even though they were good-looking and her approach impressed me I just didn’t resonate with her vibe, so I just answered: "I love how direct you guys are, but I'd still rather go with my friends."
After this soft rejection she stayed persistent:
"Don't you think that's a little too early to decide? We didn't even have a chance to talk and get to know each other yet."
Fair enough, I promised her that if the next bar turned out to suck, I’d come back and would give her 10 minutes of my time to get to know her. She told me she'd be waiting all night, which I found a little clingy until I considered it was probably meant as a playful joke. Her vulnerability was very disarming. I would forgive people for a lot of very unlikable comments, just because the underlying no-bullshit style is so likeable in itself.
The second bar was turned out to be pretty boring that night, so I went back to give her that 10 minutes. But somehow in the time between when I left and came back, she had gotten drunk and kind of annoying to talk with. I tried to dance with her but she tripped over her high heels and hurt herself.
I helped her up and she left the interaction blushing heavily. Her friend tried to “fix things” so that I would still go home with them. But she was using lines on me that sounded rehearsed, and used all the moves you’d find when you google “how to seduce a guy” while not saying one single thing about who she was or what she wanted to do with me.
I decided to go home, but first went to check up on the other girl to see how she was doing after the fall.
“I feel so stupid”, she told me, “Finally I see a man I really want to meet and then I get so drunk I embarrass myself and ruin the whole thing.”
I told her I understood and she didn’t need to feel embarrassed. She promised me if we ever ran into each other again she’d be decent enough to talk.
Once again, even though my second interaction with the twosome wasn't particularly enjoyable, her being vulnerable and honest succeeded in changing my opinion from a “No“ to a “No, not tonight. But I wouldn’t mind running into you again.”
It was impressive to witness how her complete openness made it almost impossible for me to think anything negative about her. I also wanted to make sure she felt okay and definitely not reject her harshly or anything. By the end of the night I could actually imagine it being fun to randomly meet her again another time.
On the other hand, being "gamed on" by her friend who used stupid canned lines that felt very forced and unpleasant. I'm sure it often worked for her because she was hot enough and guys would just play along to get into her pants, but it felt super inauthentic, which made it a massive turnoff in itself.
I think more men and women get laid in spite of these tactics than because of. Classic “seduction advice” used to work for me in the past, until I started to just be vulnerable myself all the time and –just like with this woman- got much better responses from everyone I met.
Once you learn to be vulnerable, so much of the “complications” of approaching strangers, dating and sexuality start to disappear:
• You no longer need an opening sentence, you don’t need to be good at small talk, you can just tell them what you feel or think. You can even admit that you’re nervous about it, that won’t fuck it up.
• Making yourself vulnerable to rejection and judgment opens up a whole new world of possibilities when it comes to meeting “Mr(s). Right” or “Mr(s). Right Now”, because you are no longer dependent on interactions that “just happen”.
• Cutting the bullshit and opening up about your desires or feelings from the start simply eliminates the concept of the “friend zone”.
Just like physical nakedness, emotional nakedness (AKA honesty) is downright sexy.
People like the fact that you’re not dishonest, manipulative or try to “get” something from them but are simply expressing yourself.
And on that note, we’ll end with one of the best things vulnerability can do for you:
Receiving Free Stuff
While on a road trip, 2 of my best friends and me had just completed an adventure course on a very hot day. We wanted to get some water, but it costed 3 euros for a 200ml bottle, which felt like a total rip-off to us. So we went to the bar and just asked if we could get a 2000ml bottle for free instead.
You could say this made us vulnerable to getting laughed at. We got it without any questions asked.
The next day we needed a place to stay, so we asked to stay in the guest house of a ISKCON temple. This costed more than we could afford so we told them “We kinda want to stay for free”. After making ourselves vulnerable and getting to know the people a little we got it for free, with the inclusion of lots of extra free meals.
In a similar but “more impressive” way: after creating a small one-time survey on an online platform, my buddy and me discovered we needed to pay a €300 yearly fee to view the results. We called the CEO and told him we would like to view the results just for one time without paying. He give us the €500\y professional plan for free as long as we gave them a good review. Boo-ya! Never underestimate the power of radical honesty 😉
The cool thing is that you cannot use this as a “tactic” to get free stuff and try to rip people off. It only works if it’s a genuine expression of what you feel inside.
In other words: If you dare to make yourself vulnerable to negative criticism and genuinely express your feelings about what you want, it often gets rewarded with exactly what you want, unless you expect to get it either way.
The thing is that any expression of what you feel inside must be unconditional. Without any expectations for people to react a certain way (giving you what you want for example). Otherwise it’s just another form of manipulation and not vulnerable anymore.
I continue to practice vulnerability every day while showing my girlfriend sides of me I’m afraid of sharing because I want us to get to know each other as intimately as possible, or by posting things on this blog I feel resistant to sharing.
Having heavily experimented with it for more than a year, it’s clear to me that vulnerability is not weakness at all. It’s a sign of true strength.
What would be a better demonstration of your faith in your own personal power than to become as defenseless as possible?
If you feel uncomfortable doing it, that means you’re on the right track.
Don’t worry, that’s not the fear kicking in. It’s the feeling of really being alive 😉
Because once you stop hiding from the world, you can finally start to live in it.
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