Keys to Being Social: Vulnerability

Keys to Being Social: Vulnerability

Being open with people gives them permission to be open with you. But how transparent should you really be? How much should you tell? What does vulnerability have to do with social media?

My friend Carol recently said,

“I liked what you said about not wanting things to be weird with people not knowing where you were when you next met them.”

Wait. Let’s backup.

I suffered a great loss two months ago: my husband of 23 years died of complications from Kidney Disease.

And, during his hospitalizations, I had always been open about it — as was he — in order to let his friends and family know what was going on, in order to receive prayer, in order to be real.

And because I had opened myself up on Facebook during his last hospitalization, about a dozen of my friends knew when he died. I came home from the hospital not knowing, but thinking, I would not even have enough money for his cremation.

Little did I know that this tribe of mine spent six hours — during the night while I wept and finally fell asleep — to setup When I woke up, I had enough funds to cover the costs of the cremation and the funeral.

And as I have been grieving this amazing loss, I’ve spent time decompressing and putting my thoughts down — on Facebook — for my friends to read and pray for me.

I knew that if I didn’t speak of his death — my grief — that people would feel awkward around me the next time we ran into each other. Should they talk about Mercier? Should they ask how I’m doing?

And if I self-isolated, that would make my feelings of grief and loneliness worse.

So, Carol suggested that I write a post called “Social Media Spotlight: Being Open with People.” But as I’m sitting down, looking deep within my drafts folder, I thought — this topic is really about the terrifying emotional state of vulnerability.

Now, we’ve talked about authenticity before, but that is not the same as vulnerability.

Let’s begin.


It’s hard.

It’s scary. I’m living it right now.

Susceptible to emotional injury, especially in being easily hurt:” The Free Dictonary

How does vulnerability affect social media? It’s about connection.  The more connections you have, the more influence you have. As scary as it is, vulnerability is key.

I’ve been thinking about it for years — but Brené Brown’s famous Ted Talk helped keep my thoughts alive.

The thing that underpinned this was excruciating vulnerability.This idea of, in order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen, really seen.” Brené Brown

I asked my friend,

“Would you agree that being open gives people permission to be open with you?”

She answered,

“Most definitely. It’s not easy to show vulnerability, though with practice, vulnerability puts others more at ease.” Carin Arrigo

She’s right. Think of the people you feel most safe around. Are they the people who are open with you?

Connection Originates From Vulnerability

In her Ted Talk, Brené Brown recounts how studying vulnerability caused her to have a breakdown of her own. She told her therapist:

“And I know that vulnerability is the core of shame and fear and our struggle for worthiness, but it appears that it’s also the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love.”  Brené Brown

And who doesn’t want joy?

Who doesn’t want to feel creative?

Who doesn’t want belonging and love?

I found this out in my bout of songwriting. My producer, Chris Falson, used to say that a songwriting partnership was a lot like a marriage. At first it seems like a ridiculous analogy. But when I thought about it further, it made sense.

In order to be creative — with another person — you have to trust them. You have to trust that person deeply. Your ideas — your creativity — come from your soul. Creativity is closely tied to our identity.

If you’ve ever brainstormed with someone who made you feel stupid for “throwing an idea out there,” then you know what it feels like to not feel safe.

How much should you share?

And so I return to the question I asked Carin.

“Would you agree that being open gives people permission to be open with you?”

And I say, to that, “absolutely.”

That said, and I have told friends and colleagues this, share what you feel comfortable sharing. But I would still advise that you share something personal. Whatever that thing is — a hobby, perhaps — that will allow someone to start a dialog with you. Share that.

Do you have to share?


No one wants to be real. But you need to be real — with somebody.

Even in counseling or mentorship you have to open up or you will never have the healing and insight. Recently during the business track at WordCamp Orange County, Tami Heaton discussed finding out she had boundary issues.

“Nobody likes to plunge into the depths of their soul to see what’s dysfunctional.”  Tami Heaton

My friend Adam Fout, who I met on Twitter by the way, is vulnerable. His writing is real. It’s raw. It speaks to me. And guess what? I feel more connected to him. Not in a weird stalker way, but in a I-trust-you way.

Here’s a sampling about perfectionism and creativity from his personal blog:

“Perfectionism kills what could be amazing creations while they’re still in the cradle.

Perfectionism also turns ideas that should have died long ago into shambling zombies, zombies that keep me from moving on to something fresh.

It also does this lovely thing where it fills me with guilt and shame when I publish something that doesn’t meet its exacting standards.

And never, not once, has perfectionism actually given me a perfect product.

It’s a character defect, and the more time I spend trying to kill it, the better of a creator I become (I think).

Because when the lie that nothing I create is good enough goes away, I might actually create something decent.” Adam Fout

He’s right, too. Perfectionism is crippling. And what causes perfectionism? Say it with me — shame.

Secrets, Shame, and Stress

Keeping secrets means internalizing stress. And secrets come from shame or the fear of it.

At a women’s retreat many years ago, Lauren Kitchens — a famous radio personality — told us to make friends and acquaintances. Open ourselves up to people. But she put her arms in front of her in a circle, miming holding a bucket and said,

“Not everyone gets to be in my bucket.”

And she’s right. A few friends should be close to you. A few people that you can trust are good for these deep things.

But at the same time, being open relieves stress.

“When I finally got up the courage to start telling the truth, I could feel a weight lift off my shoulders. I had no idea how much stress I had been causing myself. To my huge surprise, instead of shunning me, people actually treated me with more respect and confided in me with their challenges. I wondered how had I been so wrong in judging other people’s reactions.” Michael Simmons, Harvard Business Review  *emphasis mine

Less stress, more respect, and quite possibly feeling more connected to this world has a positive impact on your performance at work, too. If you’re in a management position, this could quite literally change your bottom line.

You see, if the conditions are wrong, we are forced to expend our own time and energy to protect ourselves from each other, and that inherently weakens the organization. When we feel safe inside the organization, we will naturally combine our talents and our strengths and work tirelessly to face the dangers outside and seize the opportunities.” Simon Sinek, Why Good Leaders Make You Feel Safe

Do you need connection?

Social media thrives off of connection. Maybe you don’t need it. If your only goal is to sell chachkies as my friend Steve says, then build an e-commerce site and be done with it.


If loyalty and reciprocation are important to you and if influence is something you want, then you need connection.

The unavoidable truth is we will never experience deep and lasting connection without vulnerability.

I leave you with this:

“In a world where people compare their behind-the-scenes with others’ highlight reels, we can surprise ourselves, and put others at ease, by sharing our full humanity.” Michael Simmons, Harvard Business Review 


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