Being vulnerable gives you strength, but not in the way you might think. There’s a growing culture that says being vulnerable is powerful, but they talk about it in a way that makes you weaker in the long run. ‘They’ say you should constantly spill your guts to everyone you know and only show vulnerability through the lens of weakness.
You see writers doing this quite a bit. They want to be the next James Altucher, who’s famous for spilling his guts about all the mistakes he’s made in his life, the sad feelings he had about those situations, and the depths of despair he’s found himself over the years. But they miss the critical component that makes his writing good.
He talks about how he overcame those situations. He talks about how he found strength when he didn’t think he had any left. His stories of sadness serve a purpose, whereas most other writers use ‘vulnerability’ to simply talk about how bad their lives are without taking any responsibility for it.
Taking ownership over your life is one of the most vulnerable things you can do. Spilling your guts just to spill your guts does nothing more than make you feel sorry for yourself. Self-pity is one of the easiest places to hide. True vulnerability involves exposing yourself to others in a way that might cause you harm, but can also garner respect. It means you live authentically in a world that doesn’t always want you to be your real self.
Let’s take a look at the power of being vulnerable in a way that makes you stand out instead of trying to hide from the world.
How many times have you pretended to be someone you’re not for approval? I recently read this article about political catfishing. It focused on men who pretended to have progressive views to get romantic partners, only to expose their real political opinions later, which turned their partners off, to say the least.
When you pretend to be what you’re not for approval, you’re going to get found out. You can only hide who you really are for so long. The clash in values will rear its ugly head at some point. This is why it’s much better to just be honest about what you value and believe upfront, even if it means some people end up not liking you.
I create content for a living and often I express opinions that turn people off. I’ve been called brash, aggressive, narcissistic, selfish, and out of touch. My disposition and experiences have created this sort of libertarian bent that I have. I don’t think I’m always right and I try to change my mind when new evidence appears, but I’m not going to pretend to go with the crowd on certain issues when I don’t.
There’s a cost for my style of communication. I could choose to pretend I have views I don’t have and make more money with my writing. Some of the top writers on the sites I contribute to paint a bleak view of society that a lot of people agree with, so they get clicks. There’s profit in the ‘sky is falling’ narrative, but I don’t want that blood money. I don’t want people to read my work if I have to play a character to get them to like it. Cheap views mean nothing to me. Sharing a catalog of work I believe in does.
If you want to be vulnerable and powerful ‘put your sharp ends forward.’ Expose the edges of your personality right away and have a take it or leave it attitude. Instead of seeking approval, you’re actively looking to filter people out of your life who aren’t a good fit for you. This doesn’t mean you have to pick fights with others and have debates. It just means you never lie about what you believe, including lies of omission where you know you should speak out about something but you just don’t.
I like making money. I will be wealthy. To me, building wealth is a vehicle to create freedom. I want to do what I want, when I want, with the people I want to do those things with. Money is a valuable measure of productivity and creativity. Unless you rent seek, you have to provide immense value to the world to make it.
Some people say focusing on money is selfish and greedy. They’re free to believe that, but I’m going to pursue wealth anyway. And I’m not going to be bashful about it either. I’m not going to apologize for achieving goals that mean something to me. I maintain high standards for my life from the goals I have to the values I hold dear to the people I choose to associate with. I won’t lower those standards just because others think I’m arrogant for having them.
I work out five to six times per week — both for health reasons and because I enjoy looking good naked and want to be more attractive. I value attractiveness and beauty. Sexual attraction matters to me in romantic relationships. People are free to do what they want with their bodies, but get to have my choices and preferences, too.
I strive for excellence. I want to be the best writer out there, period. The numbers do matter to me. All four pillars of the good life matter to me — health, wealth, love, and happiness or spiritual contentment. For me, the first three contribute greatly to the last item. I prefer usefulness to contentment.
“Men hate passion.”
If you believe in yourself and have conviction about your mission, it will turn some people off. Truly believing in yourself and acting out your mission means you’re being vulnerable. To carry out your mission, you have to put yourself out there. And most people are afraid of being exposed. If you don’t ruffle some feathers along the way, you’re doing it wrong.
Some people will actively or subconsciously try to tear you down because you won’t compromise your mission for anyone. So be it. It’s my life, not theirs. Your life belongs to you, too. Pursue what you value relentlessly. Don’t try to shrink yourself and dim your light so others feel better.
You have a combination of motivations — some of them meaningful and some of them that might seem petty, materialistic, or vain. Pursue both. You need to pursue both to get a full understanding of life. Challenging yourself to follow your mission and play the games of the world is a spiritual experience. Doing anything less can create apathy.
The answers to these questions will evolve over time, but without a set of guiding principles to work with, how can you ever measure your progress or make sure you’re moving in the right direction? Create your own set of principles and live by them, regardless of what they are.
Be yourself is simultaneously the best and worst piece of advice you can ever receive. Being vulnerable means you are not just yourself, but your authentic self. It means you become the best version of yourself. Most people use ‘being themselves’ as an excuse to never change. They’d rather cling to an identity they think is their real self because, again, it’s an easy place to hide.
Think of how much of your life is geared toward avoiding rejection and embarrassment. Think of how much your life is geared toward fulfilling your need for approval. One of my mentors once said:
Don’t fake it until you make it. Believe it until you become it.
You’re most vulnerable when you put the responsibility for your life squarely on your own shoulders. If you’re not doing what you would do if the approval of others didn’t matter to you, are you really being yourself? If you’re playing the victim and falling short of your potential, you’re protected because you can revel in being less than and excuse yourself from becoming an active participant in the management of your own life.
We live in a society of signaling — status signaling, virtue signaling, tribe signaling. You’re vulnerable when you judge yourself on your own set of principles instead of the ones others try to create for you. You’re vulnerable when you don’t accept your role.
Robert Green said it well:
The world wants to assign you a role. As soon as you accept that role, you’re doomed.
Why do we look up to those who are uncompromising about who they are and what they want? It’s no coincidence that some of the most influential people in the world are also the most controversial. We see in them what we want for ourselves.
Not fearlessness, but courage. You have to pay a price for being vulnerable in a real way. And this doesn’t even guarantee you’ll be successful. You can expose yourself to the world, fully, only to fall flat on your face in front of anyone.
The cost of admission is high. I’m not telling you whether or not you should pay the price, but I am presenting your options to you. It’s a free country. Do what you want. Be who you want. But you also have to live with the consequences of your choices for better or worse.