Feeling Vulnerable at Work: When Hiding is No Longer an Option
Moving from a job that is “behind the scenes,” maybe something technical, analytical or numbers focused, to a role that is more people or purpose focused can feel uneasy or unnatural. Today we’re talking about feeling vulnerable at work, “hiding in plain sight” and the importance of letting yourself shine.
Hiding in Plain Sight
Last month we replaced the carpet on the front stairs of our home. After 16 years of people and pet traffic – ground in dirt, coffee spots, and puke stains (from cats, not people), the stairs needed a fresh look.
At first I hesitated. The process felt vulnerable. What if we spend money on this brand new carpet only to have the cats puke on it again? My husband argued that installing wood floors would be more expensive. I argued they’d be easier to clean. And since I clean, my argument won.
So, we called a few flooring companies to get a quote. When Phil arrived he looked at the carpet and immediately lifted a corner. To our surprise, Phil said, “You already have wood floors under here.” (Somehow Michael and I missed that when we moved in 2003.)
We were so relieved! We could have wood floors and save money. A week later Phil and his crew came out to do the work. Within days the stairs had been exposed, buffed, cleaned, waxed and the walls around them repainted.
Finding the Shine Wasn’t Clean and Neat
It was a dusty, loud and sometimes distracting process. Especially when the workers plugged in their equipment and blew a couple of fuses in the house that required an electrician to fix.
But once the mess was cleaned up and the paint and finish dried, the stairs shined.
While Michael and I loved them immediately, our cats did not. For about a week they’d approach the newly buffed stairs, pause, sniff and then turn around and take the back stairs. They’ve since learned to trot naturally and be comfortable with the shine.
Feeling Vulnerable at Work
Are YOU hiding in plain site at work?
Right now I’m working with a client who is moving from a one-to-one coaching business to more public speaking and group workshops. She told me, “I’m used to hiding behind different credentials and now I’m creating something that’s all me. I’m feeling vulnerable at work.”
Yup. What she’s doing is very vulnerable. She can’t hide anymore. And after learning about the program she wants to create, hiding would be a disservice to the people she wants to help.
Ways We Avoid Feeling Vulnerable at Work
We hide behind fears, credentials, knowledge, a desk or chair, a lecture or podium, our boss, our excuses, our computers, our tendency towards “busy.” I’ve had clients who tell me they refuse to uncross their arms when they speak because they need to lose weight and don’t want anyone looking at their stomach. Talk about feeling vulnerable at work.
And, look, I get it. I spent a good part of my young adulthood “hiding.” A head-down, mouth-shut mentality earned me the Quietest Girl award in 6th grade. After college, I built a successful career in market research working with data. I mean who can argue with the numbers, right? (People did, though. Unbelievable.)
Then I started a business and all hell broke loose because, if I wanted to make this new business work, I could no longer hide. It’s been a long, messy, rewarding journey that I am still on.
Why Be Dull When You Can Shine?
People avoid feeling vulnerable at work for lots of reasons including fear of judgment, looking foolish, feeling embarrassed.
Yet, if I’ve learned one thing from my own journey over the past 13 years it’s this: When we have the courage to feel vulnerable at work – to take risks, speak up and bring our whole-selves to our work – we shine. And that gives others permission to do the same.
Your clients and employees need you to shine. They need you to peel back the layers of what you’ve been hiding – your vision, story, ideas, passion – even if they are not in perfect form, and share them in more meaningful and engaging ways. Some people will love the transformation and some will not. (Not going to lie, this is perhaps the hardest part.)
And trust me, when the cat does puke, it’ll be a lot easier to clean up.
Your Turn to Talk to Me:
- Do you prefer wood floors or carpet?
- Cats: Love them or leave them?
- How do you deal with feeling vulnerable at work?
Your Voice Matters. Keep Shining.
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About the blog
Insights for leaders who are tired of formal protocols stifling their personality and ideas.
Here we get at the heart of what it means to "be yourself" in any business setting.