We all benefit from choosing to be vulnerable and authentic. As we share real bits of ourselves here and there online, we not only increase in self-confidence, but we uplift one another and create more connected, meaningful communities.
A few months ago, a social media scam got many of us sharing a fake, legalistic text. My friend, who does not spend much time online, followed suit by posting the text on her own timeline. She hoped her post would protect her online content from third-party distributors. However, several of her more social media-savvy friends replied:
“Carly, this is a scam. It’s not real.”
“This has been making the rounds lately.”
“Don’t worry; you’re not the first to fall for it.”
Thanking everyone for their responses, Carly (name has been changed) explained, “I just thought that if it was real, I should do what it says.” I was impressed by Carly’s unguarded explanation. She could have blamed whoever started the ruse or made a case for why she was duped. Instead, she shrugged it off and moved on. By acknowledging her error, she demonstrated vulnerability. Her response encouraged me to be more authentic myself. “Hey,” I wanted to say, “I’ve done the same thing!”
People make gaffes all the time, and online is no exception. Even the most prudent people say and do things they regret when faced with emotionally-charged issues. In these cases, some refuse to acknowledge their error. Others become defensive and accusatory. These responses build walls between ourselves and others. Often, our little goofs are no big deal to our friends, but we are ashamed enough to try hiding our humanity by making arguments, having bad feelings, and alienating ourselves from those we love.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are those whose worry about making a mistake hinders them from entering a dialogue or discussing differing points of view. The fear of possible rejection, offense, disregard, or worse can be debilitating. But being too afraid to discuss what truly matters—to be vulnerable—isn’t good for anyone, and it robs all of us a chance to connect with an authentic person.
No one understands this better than me. In the past, I had visiobibliophobia—a fear of posting on Facebook or other social media. I was afraid of making a mistake or regretting something I might post. I worried whether people would like my comments or if I would inadvertently offend others. These concerns kept me away from social media for several years.
However, after moving with my new husband to a new state, I found that social media took on a new importance as I needed to find work, sales, doctors, and other necessities to help my family get settled. A friend suggested that, as part of my search, I join an online network of women who value education and career advancement. I took her advice, and as I read the helpful perspectives of others, I felt more confident to post my own comments, suggestions, and questions. At first, my comments didn’t get much feedback. But as I got better acquainted with the group, I chose to be more vulnerable. I opened up to strangers by asking about how being an HSP (highly sensitive person—a personality trait that up to 20% of the world exhibit) could affect my choice of career. I received an overwhelming response from women whose sensitivity had helped, or hindered, their workplace experience. I was looking at a screen, but I was feeling a very human connection to many others like me. Being vulnerable opened my online presence to greater engagement and social reciprocation.
I am still very cautious about what I post, but I continue to remind myself that it’s impossible to find someone who hasn’t done something online that they regret. From mindlessly typing an ex’s name into a status update to accidentally retweeting an embarrassing post, all of us have made social media blunders. But making mistakes, online and offline, is part of being human. Vulnerability means taking chances by admitting our mistakes instead of retreating in shame. By sharing ourselves openly with others, we gain their trust and solidify our online and offline relationships.
Brené Brown, modern thought leader on vulnerability and authenticity, has beautifully argued that “courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen . . . true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world…” (See Brené Brown, "Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead." Penguin Publishing Group. 2012.)
As a teacher, I encouraged my students to speak up and participate in weekly face-to-face and online discussions. My quiet, introverted students in the classroom would blossom in online discussion boards. Their remarks invigorated the learning process and benefited everyone. If the shy students refused to share their thoughts, the learning of all my students would be affected. The Internet gives many the power to spark change when the spoken word cannot. Just like these students chose to be vulnerable, we too need to take the initiative to share.
We all benefit from choosing to be vulnerable and authentic. As we share real bits of ourselves here and there online, we not only increase in self-confidence, but we uplift one another and create more connected, meaningful communities. Our vulnerability becomes the “birthplace of [our] connection” and binds us all together in an intricate web of human relationships. (See Brené Brown, “The Power of Vulnerability,” TED Talk. June 2010.) That’s the power of vulnerability online: we ourselves can connect in an authentic way, and we invite others to do the same.
“Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen . . . true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world…” --Brené Brown