Leading With Vulnerability

I have had a hard time being friends with people my entire life.

It’s not that I have had a hard time making friends, but I’ve had difficulty keeping them. Most people I know have a best friend — or a whole group of friends — whom they have known for a decade or more.

They can reminisce with these people about life and memories and how much things change through different seasons.

I don’t have this in the same way.

Instead, over the past ten years, I’ve moved a total of 15 times. I haven’t lived in the same place for more than nine months.

And while this has given me an incredibly wide network of acquaintances, it has left me with few people who know me intimately. As a result, I’ve been able to hide the worst parts of myself from the world.

This all changed just over two years ago when I married my wife Ally.

She has seen me at my best and my worst, and despite my best efforts to continue hiding, she has seen into the darkest parts of me.

Nothing terrifies me more than this and recently I had to face this fear in a way I had never experienced before.

My Job Resignation

About a month ago, I decided to resign from my job.

A couple of red flags had popped up in my life and in my relationship with Ally, and suddenly I realized I had spent the last two years of my life (if not longer) hiding behind my work and accomplishments.

I was too ashamed to truly show myself to anyone, and since, for the first time, I was living in close proximity to someone who could see me so clearly, I used busyness to keep my distance from her and “protect” myself.

There is only so long you can hide, and I realized if I didn’t remove the barrier and learn to lean into my fear, I was never going to have the marriage I wanted.

I also started to see how what were now relatively small issues could become big issues later. During hard times we have a couple of choices. One of them is to leave, the other is to become vulnerable.

This time I chose to become vulnerable, which was to admit I needed a change. I needed to quit my job. I need to reorganize my priorities. I needed to let my wife see me for who I really was. I needed to stop hiding.

Vulnerability Breeds Vulnerability

A few days after this really difficult decision, I was meeting a friend for lunch. He is someone I have looked up to for a very long time and I have spent most of my relationship with this person trying to impress him.

He knew about the season of transition I was in and wanted to meet up and see how I was doing. I had major anxiety leading into this meeting.

Noticing my anxiety, my wife asked me to talk about what was going on. As I talked, I recognized I was afraid he would think less of me if he saw the struggles of this season of my life.

My wife challenged me with something that has reshaped my entire life. She told me to, “lead with vulnerability.”

In other words, she said, don’t spend the whole lunch trying to impress him with how put-together you are in this season. Tell him how hard it’s been, how scared you are, but how many rewards have come when you’ve leaned into fear.

The conversation went really well.

In fact, a level of trust and intimacy was reached during that lunch that we had never reached before. It’s amazing what happens when we stop trying to perform and actually show our real selves with people.

The Stuff of Lasting Relationships

This is the legacy I want to leave and what I want to be known for.

It is easy for us to think that we will build the type of legacy and meaning in life that we want by working extremely long hours. But these projects will fade as fast as they came.

Here’s what I am learning: Legacy is built on relationships, which are built on trust, which is fostered through vulnerability.

One of the saddest movies I have seen in the past couple of years is the movie about Steve Jobs, titled Jobs.

As a culture, we celebrate a man who innovated amazing technology. But we forget that he wrecked havoc on his personal life to develop technologies that will be obsolete a decade after his passing.

I don’t want to minimize his huge impact on our culture, but for those of us who are seeking to have an impact on culture and to have full, rich, meaningful relationships feel the tension Steve Jobs seemed to feel (and that I feel).

I wonder if the things we seek are as mutually exclusive as we think they are.

Do we have to make choices between innovation and relationship?

Do we have to choose between success and vulnerability?

Recently, I had a friend read a passage to me from Steinbeck’s East of Eden and it helped me understand what I really want out of life. It speaks to this tension between relationships and impact and helps me understand how I want to live.

It goes like this:

In uncertainty, I am certain that underneath their topmost layers of frailty, men want to be good and want to be loved.

Indeed, most of their vices are attempted shortcuts to love. When a man comes to die, no matter what his talents and influence and genius, if he dies unloved, his life must be a failure to him and his dying a cold horror. It seems to me that if you or I must choose between two courses of thought or action, we should remember our dying and try so to live that our death brings no pleasure to the world.

We have only one story. All novels, all poetry, are built on the never-ending contest in ourselves of good and evil. It occurs to me that evil must constantly respawn, while good, while virtue, is immortal. Vice has always a new fresh young face, while virtue is venerable as nothing else in the world is.

(East of Eden, chapter 34).

I want to be that kind of guy — the unforgettable kind, the immortal kind, the kind of man who’s legacy lives beyond me. I want the kind of “success” that lasts beyond my time on this earth.

And I think it all starts from a place of vulnerability.