Please god, let me never run across one of these quotes again:
You know what else is terrifying? My face as I read yet another one of these sugary-sweet quotes that so many people post about vulnerability.
Is anyone else sick of this shit?
It seems like everyone around us is telling us to be more vulnerable. Share your failures! Be more open! There’s power in being authentic when you share your shame!
But they don’t tell you the full story. Vulnerability can get you a bunch of likes, or it can even get you a TED Talk…
…but you’ll notice these “experts” deliberately leave out one key part of vulnerability.
Nobody ever talks about it.
But I will.
In my 20s I prided myself on being an “unemotional” guy.
Take a look. This is the impression I left on the person who interviewed me for a Fortune Magazine profile:
And it goes back way further than that.
For example, growing up in a middle-class family, I knew I’d have to get scholarships to pay for college. I applied to 65+ and got interviews with a bunch. I thought I did great, but I kept losing to other candidates. Why?
It turns out that when you walk into a room, and they ask, “How are you?” and you respond with a TOTALLY FLAT SERIAL-KILLER AFFECT — “I am doing great” or “I am so excited to be here” — people don’t really like that.
Part of it was being raised as an Indian guy. Indian and Asian guys aren’t raised to show our emotions like other people. It took me years and a lot of hard work to understand this, then work to show my feelings. That practice helped me earn enough scholarship money to pay for college, it helped me get closer to people I love, and frankly, it’s been a lot more FUN.
So trust me when I say this: I know how valuable it can be to show your emotional side every once in awhile. I learned it the hard way.
But when did it become not just acceptable — but COOL — to talk about our most crippling vulnerabilities?
Have you noticed how more and more people on social media and in articles are talking about the importance of vulnerability…and less about excellence? Why is this happening?
Please, can we stop it with every single random blogger, author, and rando on Facebook sharing some random mistake they made in life?
If you ask them, do you notice how people think being vulnerable makes them “courageous”?
- Having trouble in your relationships? Find the “courage” to be vulnerable and everything will be ok.
- Hard time at work? Be strong and open up to your boss about how you’re feeling.
- Kids stressing you out? Sit them down and share with them why you’re having a difficult time.
But today I want to give you a totally new way to look at vulnerability and show you how good people can get suckered into writing about vulnerability and failure all the time. Because contrary to what you hear on Facebook (and even a lot of TED Talks), vulnerability is NOT always the right answer.
The irresistible temptation of vulnerability
There are 3 topics you can write about that guarantee you will get 100+ comments and likes:
- Your opinion on parenting
- How much you spent on your wedding
- Some failure you experienced
For the last topic — failure — readers go absolutely wild.
Here, let me show you how it works.
Recently I wrote about the insecurities that come with being an entrepreneur.
People LOVED it. There were nearly 150 comments. I started thinking…”Should I write more about this? People sure love my stories about failing.”
This is exactly what most people experience: They write a post about failure, get an unbelievable amount of comments and pats on the back, then decide they want to keep a good thing going.
They suddenly embrace The Failure Formula:
Step 1: Write about a mistake they made
Step 2: Get hundreds of supportive/validating comments (“I definitely needed this today!”)
Step 3: Repeat!
There’s a reason almost every self-development article online talks about the writer’s failures: It works. I have never gotten as many comments as when I write about my own failures (see here and here).
And yet, this is why 99% of those commenters will go nowhere.
It’s true — people love when you write about your mistakes and failures. But there’s a serious downside to doing what gets you the most “likes”.
Sometimes it's OK to stop talking about your insecurities and mental barriers and just do the work. You feel better when you win.
— Ramit Sethi (@ramit) October 25, 2016
When you define yourself by your vulnerability, you leave little room for success. Ironically, the people whose approval you will increasingly crave — and you will crave it more and more — are the very people who want to commiserate over others’ failures. They are the last people anyone should seek approval from.
I’d like to present a new way of thinking about vulnerability. It includes something people rarely talk about: status.
The Vulnerability Matrix
There are some well-documented examples of how vulnerability can help you. Being vulnerable and open can be tremendously rewarding and valuable to you.
But in this day of “radical transparency,” what most people won’t tell you is that vulnerability can also hurt you. Nobody ever talks about these nuances.
I want to break down these nuances for you.
The Vulnerability-Status matrix is a very simple way to see what you’ll gain by being more vulnerable. Surprisingly there’s only one case where that will serve you. Check it out.
First, you have the … Aspirational Leader
This is who we all aspire to be like. High status and high vulnerability. Not only are they insanely successful and great at what they do, almost everyone likes them.
Examples: Billionaire founder of Virgin Airlines Richard Branson, actress Jennifer Lawrence (here’s an amazing video on why she’s so likable), and The Rock.
People in this category make impeccable use of The Pratfall Effect. This is what happens when a high-status person makes a mistake or admits to some kind of flaw. They do this, and instead of losing respect for them — we end up finding them MORE attractive and MORE likable.
The key here is status. If a low-status person made the same mistakes or admitted the same vulnerabilities, it’s not perceived the same way. It’s not “cool” or even status-enhancing. But for a high-status person, vulnerability is a major plus.
Take away the vulnerability and you get … Accomplished & Aloof
Personally, I’m a good example of this bucket (in the bottom-right). Fortunately, I’ve been professionally successful, but I’m not very vulnerable. That rubs a lot of people the wrong way. And I probably miss out on connecting with a lot of my readers or the people who hear me talk.
In fact, I once spoke on stage at the same event as James Altucher. Someone working for me at the time came up to me after.
“Can I give you some feedback?” she asked. I said “Sure.”
“Why is it that James — who’s made and lost tens of millions of dollars — is WAY more relatable than you are?” she asked me.
She was right. If you’ve ever read or listened to James, it’s pretty clear why.
Former NFL linebacker James Harrison is another example of being completely unrelatable thanks to his insane workouts.
And at the extreme end of this bucket are guys like Elon Musk or Larry Page. They are so successful — and they share so little about themselves — that they seem inhuman.
Personally, I’ve made it a point to be more open to the people around me. If you saw my speech at Forefront, or if you’ve seen my article on shutting down a multimillion-dollar product, you’ll see. But I always prioritize excellence over vulnerability.
Next, you have the … Delusional Wannabe
This was me when I was in my 20s. God, I was so dumb. I remember speaking on a panel with author and venture capitalist Guy Kawasaki. Afterwards, I asked him how I could get more speaking gigs.
He looked at me and said, “Worry about doing something worth talking about first.”
Damn. That felt horrible. And it took me a long time to realize he was right. The Delusional Wannabe has low status, but isn’t vulnerable at all.
And finally, the … Loser
Being open about your vulnerabilities is fine. However, using them as the sole crutch to connect with people — to get more comments and likes — is not. That’s when people go from “open” to needy and pathetic.
Worse, it’s just bad strategy!
If you talk about vulnerability over and over on social media — without balancing it out with your positive thoughts on a topic, or your accomplishments, or some other insight — you attract only people who love talking about failure. Sadly, these people are almost always looking to commiserate, not change. And you never even realize what you’re doing to yourself: creating a self-reinforcing vortex of failures that get reinforced every single time you post them.
So what should you do?
Imagine two people. Same level of skill. Same age. Same job.
One of them spends the next year learning to be more vulnerable. Learns how to “open up” emotionally and share his failures with other people.
The other spends the year doing the opposite. He spends his time mastering his craft and improving his communication skills. (Here are the top 3 skills I recommend you master btw.)
This is the difference between (a) the writer who decides he wants to “help people,” contemplates becoming a life coach, and decides he better first begin by starting a blog where he can write about his “life experiences” and emotions for other people to read…
… and (b) the writer who meticulously studies better writers, practices coming up with and pitching ideas, and spends 3 nights per week writing extra drafts to get feedback on the next day.
At the end of the year, who do you think is going to be further ahead? Who is going to be happier with their life?
The person who focuses on excellence — not vulnerability — will live a Rich Life.
He’ll be earning more. He’ll have more respect at work. He’ll have more OPTIONS and CONTROL over his career and his life.
The other guy?
From the outside, it might seem like he did ok. He might have more followers, and plenty of likes. He might very well FEEL pretty good about himself.
But what has he actually done?
Now if the first guy, who has accomplished some of his goals, wanted to share some of his toughest moments in growing — being truly vulnerable about mistakes he made and lessons learned — that would be awesome.
But notice that excellence comes first. You can always be vulnerable whenever you want. It’s very, very hard to become excellent. But becoming excellent is where the true rewards are.
I will always focus on people who want to be excellent. If you want to be a top performer, this is the place for you.
What about you? After reading this, you know what “good” vulnerability looks like. In the comments, tell me someone famous who is a master of this and why.
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