#6 Being Seen



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Paul McAleer: Hi. You're listening to Designing Yourself. My name is Paul McAleer.

Whitney Hess: And this is Whitney Hess.

Paul: Thanks for listening, everyone. This week, we wanted to chat about vulnerability. You know, no big deal. [laughter] We are going for the easiest topics ever on this Podcast.

Whitney: Yeah. This is pretty lightweight topic, vulnerability.

Paul: Yeah, and it's funny because we chatted a little before the show, and you know, one of the things I had said was that I feel - I wouldn't say unprepared, but I actually do feel a little vulnerable talking about this topic.

Whitney: It's absolutely something that brings up vulnerability, I think, in anyone who talks about it. It's not something that we spend a lot of time discussing publicly.

Paul: So, what does it mean to you? What does it encompass?

Whitney: Letting people in on the little secret that I'm not perfect. That's a tough one for me, allowing my flaws to be seen, allowing myself to make mistakes and recognize that that's a natural part of life. Essentially, being human, that's what vulnerability means to me, but it is not an easy thing for me to take on.

Paul: Yeah. I can relate to that as well because, boy, when I think about vulnerability and just the way I feel it, you know, I really do think being human is a really great way of putting it because to me, it is all about the flaws. It's about all these things that, you know, we have inside ourselves, and we carry around, and we know them, whether we're conscious of it or not, but they're us.

When we open ourselves up to other people and expose those vulnerabilities, those things, those qualities about us, then where my mind goes first is, Wow. I'm open to attack. I am open to criticism and feedback on stuff that if I were to get criticism on it or get feedback on it or be attacked on it, it would hurt me. It would really hurt.

Whitney: Absolutely. That's precisely how I feel about it as well. It's something about not being protected, something about exposing yourself to the attacks of others, as you put it, that feels so scary and so outside of the way that we're supposed to present ourselves that I feel as though we're always encouraged to be experts. 

We're encouraged to have our shit together. We're encouraged to present ourselves as professionals, and that compartmentalization that you and I talk about so often, where you're home self is where your emotion lies. It's where your vulnerability lies, and you're questioning, and you're planning your life. That's all at home.

Then, at work, you're this buttoned-up, professional expert who has all the right answers, and the notion of vulnerability in the work place but in the way that it seeps into all areas of my life is accepting that I'm not as buttoned-up as I think I am. I'm not a consummate professional. I'm a whole human being.

There's something that makes me feel very weak about that, and yet, intellectually, I know that when I embrace my vulnerability, it allows me to be more relatable. It allows me to open up to connect with someone else on a level that's much deeper and much more authentic than this image that I'm working so hard to portray.

Paul: Yeah. That makes sense to me, and I'm wondering, too, when it comes to the things that you include in the definition of "vulnerability." Like, the things about yourself that you protect, or you put an image around. You know, are these big things or little things, or is it kind of a combination?

Whitney: Well, let me ask you. What are big things, and what are little things?

Paul: [laughter] Good question. So, the little things are the easy things. To me, those are the little, tiny, tiny quarks of how I am as a person. I call them "quirks." I don't mean to be totally negative, but they are the things about me that some might say are endearing and/or maddening, you know?

It's, like, the way that I load the dish washer might be a little, tiny thing. Like, I have a certain way of doing it, and that's it for me, but the big stuff is more around - and more interesting - and that's around my deepest secrets. That's all, just the easy stuff, you know? My deepest, darkest secrets.

Not necessarily the dark ones, but all of the big thoughts that I have in my head and in my heart, and I've carried around with me, you know, even for just minutes but possibly, you know, years or decades. To me, those are the things that, you know, when I'm entering new relationships, when I'm entering, you know, something new, some new situation, those are the things that get walls thrown up around them, right?

That's that protective element that you were talking about, too. That's just what I do, you know, that's kind of how I react to it. If I feel that I'm in a situation where I could be attacked for those big things, those big dreams, those hopes, those ideas, what have you, then I may shield myself off and not allow anybody or anything in until a time where I'm comfortable to really start having those walls crumble.

You know, it's funny because I'm talking about walls and shields and, of course, I think about "Star Trek," but then I go back to walls, and there have been times when I've had these feelings inside of me that I have, you know, visualized walls in front of and just let them crumble and just see them crumbling.

You know, it's kind of that whole "How well does visualization help you?" thing, and that helps me immensely to see it that way. Now, the context is usually around something that I'm talking about with family or friends, but that's about it. It's not necessarily work. Like, to me, that's still different.

Whitney: I think that's very powerful visualization, and it's not something that I've ever consciously done before, but I'm going to give that a try. I love it.

Paul: I mean, it was really - thank you - something to see it that way because, you know, there were these walls that were around my heart. Some are still there. I mean, it's not like - That's the thing about vulnerability and the way that I see it as well. It's something that I don't think can be turned on and off instantly.

You know, it's not one of those things where it's suddenly, Wow. I am invulnerable. Sweet. You know? Everything's set. It's more around that there are things about ourselves that we get comfortable and we know, or we are not comfortable with, but we still know anyway, and we put these things - we put up these walls and these fences around ourselves.

As we know more about what they mean to us, what these things mean, and we own them, disown them, whatever we do, I think that lets us get to a point where we can knock down those walls.

Whitney: Well, you bring up a really interesting point of, being the switch. Are you vulnerable? Are you invulnerable? Immediately, my mind goes to, But I don't want to be invulnerable. I don't want to be in a state where I can't be penetrated, where I can't be influenced, where I can't be, you know, molded in some way. I want to be vulnerable.

I just want to be at peace with that vulnerability, and that's something that I haven't been able to achieve yet. I love the idea of letting the walls come down, and just saying, Here I am. This is me. I'm human. This is me in all of my glory, all of my fabulousness, all of my flaws, and I am real, and I accept them.

That, I think, goes a long way towards helping other people accept the real you, when you can finally come to terms with that for yourself. I think that that's honestly where my fear of vulnerability lies, that I don't want other people to see certain things about me because they're things about me that I don't like, and I haven't come to terms with them yet.

I feel as though a lot of the quote-unquote "success" that I've had - and however you want to define it, let's not go down that road right now - but when I look back on it, I feel as though that success came from projecting an image of confidence to the outside world that was very believable and in many ways enabled others to find their own confidence.

Yet, I wasn't feeling confidence on the inside. So, a long time ago, at, like, a professional development seminar that I attended at one of the companies I used to work for, I learned that there are these three types of confidence. 

There's confidence in yourself. There's exuding confidence to others, and then, there's enabling others to find their own confidence. I feel as though I have the latter two, but I haven't really had self-confidence, in an authentic way, at least to the extent that I would define it.

Other people that know me would say that's not true. You're the most confident person I know. I get that a lot, and I'm, like, No. That's because I'm so good at appearing confident. You know, I think that a lot of people will be surprised to hear that I have challenges with vulnerability because for the last 5-1/2 years, I've lived very publicly.

I write about personal things on Twitter, on my blog. I speak at conferences, and I don't just speak about UX. I speak about very personal experiences that I've had in my career and in my life. I think that I've created this image of being someone who's very comfortable with their humanness and very comfortable with exposing who I am, the real me, the lessons I've learned. That is true to an extent.

However, there is so much about myself that I have kept private, and I actually consider myself to be a very private person. I'm an only child. I'm used to spending a lot of time alone. I'm not really used to having that many confidantes, people that I can go to in a moment's notice with challenges in my life.

I am incredibly blessed to have the friends that I do, and the people that I consider to be my best friends are people that I've known since elementary school, middle school, high school. They've been in my life a long time. They've always been there for me, but I am programmed to take care of myself. 

I am programmed to deal with things on my own, and I feel as though, in a lot of ways, that's allowed me to bury some of the darker things that I don't like and that I don't want to deal with and bring to the surface this stuff about myself that I am proud of.

So, even though I've been very public, and I've exposed a lot of who I am to the community and to a bunch of strangers, basically, it has been conscious. I've been conscious of what I've shared and what I haven't. 

I don't know that that's necessarily been a great thing for me because there are still a lot of trials and tribulations of running my business. There are a lot of things that I worry about where our field is going, and I don't know that I am as willing and as open to share the struggles as I would like to be.

I worry that I've put up a front of looking like I have my act together when I don't, though maybe the joke is on me, and everyone knows that I don't have it together.

Paul: I don't know about that. I mean, I don't know. It certainly, from the outside, it looks like you've got your shit together. So, good job. [laughter] But, no, I know we talked a little bit about this before with regards to, I think - I don't know if it was here or where it was - but when we talked about public speaking and how you did that and how you did project a sense of confidence, but you really weren't at the time.

You know, it makes me think about how this, like so many other things, like balance and fear and everything else, isn't really, it's not a binary thing, right, because in that moment, you can project confidence and, you know, it's not even just projecting confidence because even in those moments of intense vulnerability, like public speaking for goodness' sake, right, you can still be confident at the same time.

You can have both those qualities about you at that same time. You are both because you are still confident enough to go up on stage and talk with people, and yet, you are vulnerable for that exact same reason because you are on stage, talking to people. I think a lot of that's due to the external stimuli, right, because it's, Here are all these people, and they're listening to me.

That is true, you know, on Twitter. That's true on blogs as well, wherever you're at, because people are listening, and that's where I feel that little sense of fear kick in as well with that because wow. It's, like, wow. Am I putting too much out there again? Because, you know, kind of like, like, you - to a degree.

In fact, back when I started a Web site - and a big part of it was my journal, which was the polite way of saying "diary" - that stuff was really personal. You know, any time I go back over it - which I do sometimes. I like to see, you know, what did I write 14 years ago today, which is pretty mind-blowing that I still have it - 

Whitney: Wow. You've been writing for that long?

Paul: Well, I've been writing for that long, but I have not had a consistent journal for those 14 years. So, don't give me that much credit. I looked back on that stuff, and it's really personal. Like, it's much more personal than the level at which I write now, way more personal.

It's not necessarily, like, you know, here is what's happening in every relationship in my life, but it's not terribly far off from that. I look back now, with my 35-year-old eyes, and I'm like, Wow. That's putting a lot out there. That's really being vulnerable, but at the time, I totally did not see it that way at all.

So, you can be, I mean, you can be vulnerable, and you can have that confidence, too, or you might even be ignorant of the vulnerability, you know?

Whitney: I think that what you're saying is that at a certain point, naiveté allows us to be more vulnerable, and it opens us up to more possibilities. Almost as time goes on, and you become more aware of the world, more aware of how being vulnerable has its drawbacks potentially, how people can get attacked, and how leaving yourself open for attack can hurt, our willingness to be vulnerable can be diminished.

So, I'm hearing you say that when you were younger, and maybe with less on the line, or you felt that way, but it was easier to put yourself out there. Now, you look back, and you say, Oh, my God. I can't believe that I was like that. I can't believe I was that out there.

Nonetheless, you did it. You did it, and I bet you're still doing it, and probably, ten years from now, you'll look back at the things that you're writing about now, and say, Oh, my gosh. I can't believe how vulnerable I was being.

I hope that I'm able to do the same. I hope that I'm able to find the strength to be more vulnerable and share more of my journey with people, both publicly - on my site and public speaking - but also more intimately when it comes to my one-on-one relationships with people.

I actually feel as though there is something about writing about what you're going through and publishing it online that takes less courage in being vulnerable than sharing your vulnerability with your closest friends. 

I remember when I first started blogging that I realized that there were things that I was sharing on my blog and on Twitter that I hadn't even talked to my best friends about because there was some safety to it in that it was basically perfect strangers, and I was sitting behind the computer.

It was like I was hiding. This was a safe haven. I'm often in the role with my friends where I'm their confidante. I'm the rock. I'm the person to rely on. I am very used to playing that role. So, when it comes to needing them, it's not something that is as easy for me. It's not something that I feel like I can do without being a burden.

So, in my writing, I guess I let that out more because the only person I'm unburdening really is me, and I don't feel as though I'm being a burden to anyone else. If people want to read it, and they can identify with it, then great, but it's really just such a release for me.

I think that sharing that can have so much power.

Paul: It can and does, and you know, I'm really relieved to hear you say that for you that you see it as easier to do online because I am that way as well. It is much easier to Tweet or write about something than it is for me to talk about it with someone in person, and boy, that seems really silly to say out loud.

I'm maybe being a little judgmental, but it's true. Part of it is just that, I think, you know, you're right that there's that element of hiding. There's the element of not having another physical person in front of you. You have more time to compose it. You know, you have more time to collect your thoughts. 

It's not like you go into every conversation with a person blind or without any preparation, but you generally have more time online. Like, you don't have to publish anything today. You can publish it when you feel it's ready, you know? We touched on some of this last week.

I find it's just easier to do that way, and I think it is because there's no person there. It feels like I am less vulnerable. I am still protected in some way.

Whitney: Well, I want to bring up a really amazing article that was written by Sara Wachter-Boettcher - I never know how to say her last name.

Paul: Yes, "Bo-tick-er"? I'm going to go with that.

Whitney: "Boticker”? Maybe.

Paul: I hope so. Sorry, Sara.

Whitney: Yeah, @Sara_Ann_Marie is her Twitter name. She wrote this post a few months ago for The Pastry Box Project, which is an awesome collection of essays if you've never read it before. It was mostly about empathy, but she talks about where empathy comes from and how to allow yourself to have it, how to cultivate it in yourself.

Really, what I think her whole post was about was being vulnerable. There was something about being open to sharing who you are, having that self-awareness - which, of course, we've talked about at length - and having the acceptance that this is who you are as a whole person-flaws, fabulousness, and all - that allows you to be more receptive to another person, which of course, is what empathy is all about.


You can't truly understand another person and put yourself in their shoes if you aren't willing to hear what they're really about and hear who they truly are and allow them to expose themselves to you in a meaningful way and allow yourself to be vulnerable to whatever it is that they're going to share with you and really absorb that.

That's why I was saying earlier that I don't want to be impenetrable. I wouldn't want to be a closed-off box because then I would never really be able to receive another person in a meaningful way. I just would encourage you to read this post. Of course, we'll throw a link up in the episode notes.

She says that a lot of what we do professionally is about putting up a front. I don't think she means it just professionally. I think she goes into this and personally, too, you know? We put up a front with our families. You know, we don't really want to let them know just how much their behavior affects us, and we want to be strong for them.

We put a front up all throughout our childhoods, you know, because we don't want to be vulnerable to our classmates and potential bullying. We put up a front to our bosses because we want to appear worthy of our job positions, and we want to be climbing that ladder and be trusted and what-not.

Ultimately, in order to be great at what we do, given the nature of what we do, we have to allow vulnerability to enter our lives, and we have to be accepting of whatever it is we find in ourselves and in others.


So, when I hear you talk about, you know, being more comfortable online, it's funny because I said that to you, but then, hearing you say it back to me helps me to hear it in another way. That's the reality of why I'm sure, at a very young age, I was attracted to technology.

I have a feeling that many of us who work in technology are attracted to it because it can be a protector, because it can be a shield from a lot of the things that we're going through that we just can't deal with emotionally. 

Yet, technology brings us closer together, and yet, technology needs to have humanity infused within it in order for it to be meaningful and to have an impact and to be worth creating and worth spending our lives on. 

So, if we aren't willing to really create those personal bonds with the people that we work with, with the people that we live with, and exercise those muscles, we're not going to be very good at doing that when it comes to what's necessary to do our jobs well.

Paul: That's so true. You said so much good stuff there. You know, one of the things that I agree with on technology is that, yeah, it's a protector. That's a good way of putting it. I was thinking wouldn't it be something if, you know, people who got in technology young - I did as well - started because it was appealing in that way. It's a shield. 

There is protection. There is no other person on the other end, not that you can see anyway. Back in the olden days, there really wasn't. [laughter] There was no Internet, you know? So, there was that protection.

Wouldn't it be something if the people, you know, who took that same path, ended up being more humane and more connected because of it? Like, to me, that's the thing that technology can help with and, hopefully, not impair because it's entirely possible, kind of, as you say, to, you know, go down a path where you are invulnerable or don't make these deep connections with other people because I see, you know, I see that in order to have those deeper connections, you've got to be vulnerable. You just have to.

You can go through life without that, but I don't know how fulfilling I would find such a life, personally. I say that because, you know, I'm not totally there yet either. I mean, I'm saying it, and I'm, like, yeah, I'm not there yet at all. No. So, don't mistake it for, like, I have got all of this figured out.

It really is about the connections and the humanity. You know, you mentioned also that when being vulnerable that there's a degree of strength that goes with that, and I'm curious what you think about that because I don't know if I see strength as being in the mix, but maybe I just haven't called it that.

Whitney: Well, it's amazing that you picked up on that because this is something that I'm trying to educate myself on right now. So, I've mentioned before that I'm in the midst of this coaching program with New Ventures West. It's a year-long program. It's incredibly rigorous, far more rigorous than I was expecting, which is awesome.

The first quarter of the program focuses on each of our own personal development, which means that this coaching program, part of their philosophy, is that you don't do coaching. You are a coach. Part of what helps you become a coach is doing the hard work on yourself before you can move forward and expect to ask someone else to do it for themselves.

You've really got to walk the walk. So, part of the program is that we spend that first session, that we're in together, it's four days, very long days, each quarter, and then, the rest of the work that we do is remote.

In those first four days - which I'm doing the program in San Francisco, where the school is based, and we did it in June, that's when I started - part of what is, kind of, designed for each of us, individually, is our own custom-coaching program. So, we're being coached while we're learning how to be a coach.

Each person in the "cohort," as it's called - there's 19 of us, I believe - we each have a question and a possibility to ponder for the year. After 1-1/2 days or something of these 4 days of just sharing who we are, why we're in the program, you know, a little bit about our careers, a little bit about our backgrounds, our instructors - who are total pros - come up with a question and a possibility for each of us, and then it's shared with the whole group.

The question that was offered to me - which I have taken on, and I need to explore over the course of this year - is: What is the strength in vulnerability?

Paul: Oh, fantastic. Fantastic.

Whitney: I was floored. I was completely floored when they said that out loud to me because it cut me to the core. It really, first of all, made me feel seen by basically strangers. You know, I had only met them the day prior, and I realized that my willingness to share myself and my story and be exposed to this group of strangers allowed me to be seen.

It felt so good to be seen in that way, where someone says, You don't need to be any more of an expert on user experience. You don't need to be any more of an expert on running a business. What you should spend a year figuring out is how to let yourself be vulnerable to others and how that will be empowering, not how that's a weakness.

That just completely flabbergasted me. It still does, even thinking about it now. So, it's been two months, and I've done a lot of reflecting on what is the strengths in vulnerability. It's [laughter] - I don't know the answer yet. I don't know the answer yet, but I feel as though I've allowed myself to be much more vulnerable on a lot of levels.

I'm kind of unraveling, [laughter] but it's a good thing because I feel as though when I shed this skin, that I have worked so hard to create - and it's so thick, and it's shielded me from so much, even though the shedding process is very, very painful, and it's very new to me, and a lot of things feel upside-down and raw in my life right now - I feel that when this process is done, a weight is going to be lifted.

I feel as though I'm going to be able to approach life with so much more possibility, so much less stress, and a lot less self-judgment that has probably held myself back more than I realize.

Paul: Wow. I mean, you said that you're unraveling with such incredible calm. I, kind of, can't - I mean, I was sitting here, and my mouth just opened. I was just stunned at that. Like, wow. Wow. Really. I am, again, I am stunned. It's also extremely inspirational. Like, to hear that is incredibly inspirational to think that you are finding yourself. You are working on becoming an expert in yourself, you know? That is awesome. That is amazing.

Whitney: But you're doing the same thing, Paul. Paul, you inspire me to do that. You give me that courage because you're doing the same thing, and here we are, co-hosting a Podcast, called "Designing Yourself." I'm coming to learn, finally, at 31 years old - and I'm glad that it didn't take me longer than this - I'm finally realizing, like, that's, like, the whole purpose of life. 

It cannot be to make money. It can't be even to get married and make babies. That can't be the purpose of life. I'm really seeing that so much is possible when you learn who you really are, and I always considered myself very self-aware.

I know we talked about this that I've, kind of, surprised myself in the last few months or something learning that I'm a lot less self-aware than I once thought I was, but I am coming to terms with the fact that I was one person before, and I'm a different person now, and that's someone that I'm getting to know.

It's not as though that person that I was in the past isn't real. It's not as though the person that I am now is not real either. They're all parts of me. I just didn't have any awareness or exposure to this other part of me. Maybe it just wasn't there yet, and here it is now.

I see you doing the same thing. I think of you as a totally self-composed, poised, self-assured, calm, Zen person, and I imagine you that way with your wife and your son. You have just such a relaxed tone, and you're very calming. 

I think of myself as totally uptight, you know, moving a million miles a minute, New Yorker to the core, bundle of nerves, stressed-out beyond belief, long-winded, and unsure, and that's how I see myself, but I'm finally - well, no. I shouldn't say "finally" because there's no end to this, but - I'm beginning to start to understand that all that stuff that I would consider negative about who I am is legit. It's real.

I'm allowed to be all of those things. It doesn't diminish all of the really powerful things that I am. It doesn't diminish all that I actually have achieved in my life. That stuff is just as real, but if I want to go through life with less stress and more free-spiritedness, which is something that I have - from a very early age - aspired to but not really been able to achieve, then I need to do some soul-searching to determine what it is exactly that's getting in the way of that.

That's very likely some things about myself that I just haven't wanted to deal with, and I'm going to have to take a really hard look at them. I'm going to have to not try to be perfect. I'm going to have to not think I'm perfect. I'm going to have to not try to make other people think that I'm perfect.

So, it's a lot. It's a whole lot. I feel my body getting warm just by the fact that that I turned off the a/c for the Podcast recording. I feel my body getting warm thinking about this because I know that somebody, hopefully - other than you and me - is going to listen to this, and maybe their opinion of me is going to change, and that scares the living hell out of me.

You know what? If doing this for myself can in any way encourage someone else to come to terms with who they are and accept themselves and love themselves and, therefore, be better for the world because of it, my work here is done.

Paul: Perfect. I mean, I don't even know where to start. You said a lot of incredibly nice things. Thank you so much.

Whitney: It's how I feel.

Paul: Thank you for sharing that. I was [laughter] - As you were saying about, you know, me being poised, and - poised, especially, like, that shocked me - I was just sitting here, with the microphone on mute, just kind of with this dumbstruck look on my face because, much like you were talking about the way that you look and the way that the image is that you put out versus how you feel and how close or far apart they are, I was, like, wow. I do not feel poised at all. [laughter] Not in the least. Not in the least. I was, like, wow. Wow. 

Whitney: I guess we're both pretty good at faking it.

Paul: I guess so. You know, I say that in the context definitely of being vulnerable. You know, the other part of it, too, is the other thing that you touched on, really, is about how putting yourself out there and being vulnerable to some degree is a sign that we're human. It's a sign that we're alive. It's a sign that we're here. There may be a connection that's made. 

I absolutely agree with you on that. It's awesome and inspiring and humbling to think that there could be people listening who take something really, really deep away from this. I know that's happening. Like, that blows my mind. It's because we are being true. It's because we are being vulnerable.

This is a vulnerable frickin' Podcast. [laughter] You know?

Whitney: Oh, it sure is.

Paul: Now, when we go over to the other side, and we start talking about power tips for IOS, then it will be a lot less vulnerable, but you know, it's extremely vulnerable, but it's also been extremely powerful. There's something to that. I don't see that as a fluke at all because the things that I've responded to the most when I think about things I've read or things I've seen or participated in my life, of course, the things that are really powerful and stay with me are the things where one person or more than one person is vulnerable.

It's simply more true. It's simply more honest. It's simply more relatable. It just makes me feel good, even if it's something - boy, this is going to be the weird part. There's a part of me that still feels good about seeing those vulnerable things and participating in those as well, even if they're embarrassing as hell, you know, because in those instances, it's still true.

Whitney: There is something that can't be described, but I think that as humans, we're able to sense it. It's like an animal instinct that when we see the humanness in someone else, we trust them more. They feel like someone we can connect, someone we can rely on, someone that we want to have in our lives. 

I feel as though, universally, we are turned off by inauthenticity. We don't trust people who act as though they're above everyone else. We don't trust people who don't reveal the trials and tribulations that they've gone through because it makes us feel worse about ourselves.

It makes us feel like they have something that we don't, and even though that has, in some ways, the ability to inspire us, I feel as though it creates more separation than it does connection. I'm reminded right now of Brene Brown. Have you seen her TED talk on vulnerability?

Paul: No.

Whitney: Oh, Paul. You have to.

Paul: Okay.

Whitney: You have to see it. It's called, "The Power of Vulnerability." The reason - It's one of the top 10 TED talks, I think. This woman is a research professor at University of Houston. She has written extensively and studied extensively vulnerability and shame and its relationship to empathy and where worthiness comes from. 

I mean, you're going to just eat her up. You're going to love her, but anyway, what is so amazing about her, as a human being, is that she's an expert. She knows her shit more than anyone. If she's been invited to give a TED talk, you can imagine that she's pretty high up there on the totem pole.

Meanwhile, the two TED talks that she's done - but, particularly, the one on vulnerability - she's standing there, feeling and appearing incredibly vulnerable. She does not look like, you know, Tony Robbins, running around the stage with his bulging muscles and his, you know, face-lifts, whatever. 

No offense to any Tony Robbins' fans. I know that people are crazy for him, but he looks like he's an Adonis. He doesn't look like a human being, and he doesn't have the energy of a human being. He never gets tired. He aims for this image of perfection.

She is the exact opposite. She's a very beautiful woman, but she's not dressed in any particularly, you know, fashionable outfit. She isn't, you know, all coiffed or anything. She's wearing the clothes that you would image she wears to work every day. She has a very relaxed posture.

You can see that she has a command of this information, but she's living it. She isn't just professing. She isn't standing up there as an expert, and you all are students. She has that vulnerability coursing through her veins, and she shows its power more than she's even telling it.

It's so incredible, so, so incredible. What I really respect about her is her willingness to go there and connect with people on a human level where we often try to just be information imparters to one another.

It seems as though a lot of us - that operate in business and technology especially - act as though we are keepers of information, keepers of data, and my role is to impart that information to the appropriate people at the appropriate time. It's something that is separate from me.

She makes it a part of who she is. Her message is just wildly inspiring. I can't wait for you to watch her video. You are going to love it.

Paul: I will absolutely watch it. It sounds phenomenal. I'm absolutely intrigued at the physicality and appearing vulnerable during it as well. Like, you have something really good there because it's potentially easy to give off that sense of invulnerability physically, even though you're quaking inside, you know, or however you're feeling.

Some of that's fear, too, and not necessarily just vulnerability, but it's also fear. That's right there, too, I think. It is for me.

Whitney: Well, it's, in part, admitting to yourself and to the world why what you do matters so much to you. Let's face it. If this woman decided to spend her career studying vulnerability, it must mean something to her pretty deep down.

You know, that's not an everyday job. Yes, you can make the argument that people that clean houses and pick up garbage and, you know, are on the line in your favorite restaurant aren't emotionally moved to do that work - and that's a whole other conversation about privilege - but in business, in academia, a lot of what we do, we're drawn to for very personal reasons.

A lot of us - and a lot of us don't, so I want to be careful to be clear, but - many of us are incredibly fortunate to choose what we do for a living, and to make that choice, there's a purpose there. There's a purpose that is deeply tied to who we are and probably, in many ways, things about ourselves that we don't even know.

They're deep-seated in us, and we probably can't even articulate, but I don't think that it's in any way a coincidence that you have a whole field of practitioners who spend their careers making technology easier for people to use. That's not something you fall into. It's something that you have to be passionate about.

You have to feel as though there's an injustice. Where that feeling of injustice comes from is very likely tied to who we are at our core, our upbringings, our families, and what have you. If this woman's studying vulnerability, she clearly has issues with vulnerability.

What's so amazing is that in her TED talk, she's willing to share that she had to recognize her own vulnerability finally. She had to come face-to-face with it in this research that she was conducting. She says - and you'll hear more about this - that a lot of vulnerability is tied to shame.

Shame is very different than guilt. I'm not going to define it properly, but I'm going to try. From what I understand, guilt is prompted by external issues, like what we haven't done for others and how we haven't served others the way that we wish we could have.

Shame is about how we feel towards ourselves. I don't think I'm defining it well, but a lot of that fear of vulnerability, a lot of that fear of being exposed is probably less about what someone else might do to us, how someone else might attack. 

I mean, you can think of wartime. It's, like, you don't let your camp be vulnerable to other people's ill will. I think that's what we, on the surface, think of vulnerability as, that I'm going to be exposed, and someone else is going to be able to hurt me.

Deep down, I think it has to do with the shame that we feel about ourselves, the things that we have not accepted and come to terms with, that we are so afraid of accepting and of allowing to be out in the world because of how we may be perceived by others.

Paul: Is it possible to really accept a part of yourself without sharing it out to somebody?

Whitney: Oh, wow. What a great question. 

Paul: Just an easy one, you know, because what I'm wondering - and now that I've asked you, I'll load the question - is that yes, yes, it is important to understand it and name it and realize it within yourself. That's huge, and that's extremely hard to do, but there's another component of it. 

What if you never share that out with another person? Is that required, or is that just something that, hey, if it happens, cool, and if not, okay. It doesn't have to be black or white either, obviously.

Whitney: I have absolutely no answer for you. That is a question that I am going to have to chew on for a while because I know that I have encouraged others to share parts of themselves that they're at war with as a way of overcoming that struggle. 

I know that that has always been my antidote for myself and what I've encouraged others to do, but I am stopped in my tracks by your question because I'm wondering is the sharing of it necessary? Now, I'm wondering, is the sharing of it a way to not truly accept it because you put it out there for others, they can make of it what they will.

Now, it's become something that's owned by other people in a way that had you just kept it to yourself, you would have really been able to - forced to give yourself the positive answers rather than relying on the outside world.

That is something that has been a lot of what my recent undoing has been or whatever I called it before.

Paul: Unraveling.

Whitney: Unraveling. It has been not to put it all out there, let it all hang out because it's an easy way to divert my attention away from the inside. I start looking to the outside because now I'm getting people's approval and encouragement, and they're relating, and now it's about their story.

It's about how similar something is that they're going through, what have you. My attention is now outside of myself. I'm very used to that. I'm now trying to keep the attention inward for longer periods of time and to really come to my own answers and damn if that isn't impossible for me.

I mean, maybe I'm going to get a breakthrough soon, but it's feeling really, really hard. So, your question is, I think, a brilliant question, and I can't help but wonder if the things that are most important about ourselves that we accept are the things that we really don't need to share because the only person we need acceptance from is ourselves.

Paul: That's awesome. Yes. Yes. I agree. 

Whitney: Maybe. I don't know. I don't know the answer.

Paul: No, I think I get with that because it - No. I'm going to backtrack on myself. So, I don't know the answer either. Spoiler. I think if you get to a point where you understand enough about yourself to share it out, sharing it out is vulnerable. Like, that is. Period. 

In my book, it totally is because, then, you are relying on other people, right, to kind of maybe give feedback and may be allowing yourself to absorb that and take it in, maybe not. I don't know. Just think about the power of all this stuff that each of us figured out on our own about ourselves and told not a soul, right?

For some people, that might be a little sliver. It might be one or two things. For others, it may be a vast gulf of knowledge that just has not been shared out with anybody. I don't think - I mean, I'm not saying there's no value in that because that's certainly not the case.

It's extremely important and really kind of beautiful, but the power, maybe, is when you do share it. Maybe, more importantly than that, is who you share it with, you know? Maybe that's a part of it that's kind of missing from my original question because, you know, kind of touching back to your earlier stuff.

Yeah, sharing stuff on Twitter is pretty easy in theory, right? It's small. It's short, potentially easy to do, but sharing that hard stuff with other people and just allowing them to see you as you are, like, to me, that's almost getting back to what vulnerability really is.

You can be vulnerable with yourself, sure, not to dismiss that, but I've mostly been thinking about it in that external sense.

Whitney: Well, I'm immediately reminded of two movie scenes. Firstly, "Jerry McGuire," where he's trying to win her back in the end, and he says, "You complete me." I think we all know this line. This bothers me and my boyfriend a lot because we don't want to be in a relationship where we are completing each other.


We are two whole human beings. We are not two halves that have been languishing in despair, floating around the universe, looking for our other half. That's just not how we operate, and it's not what we built our relationship on.

So, that notion of "you complete me," is really unromantic to us. You enhance me is closer to it, but then, I'm immediately drawn to "Avatar," where I believe they're in the Enchanted Forest. She says to him, or he says to her, "I see you."

I think that is closer to the kind of relationship that we have and that we actively try to cultivate, that we see each other, and to really be seen, to allow yourself to be seen, and to truly see another person for who they are, I feel, personally, far more moved by that than I do by the idea that I lack something that another person can fulfill for me because that isn't necessary for me.

I don't need to be fixed, and I don't need to fix anyone else. I think part of being vulnerable and part of accepting your flaws is about not needing to be fixed any more. I'm not there yet. There's still plenty about me that I think needs to be fixed.

Sometimes, I just wish someone would come along and do it already, but I think that it's much more powerful, much more sustainable, and much more meaningful to be seen for exactly who I am, and I know what it feels like to truly see him in a way that he doesn't see himself, and he sees me in a way that I don't see myself.

That enables us to see things within ourselves that we couldn't otherwise. We want to be that mirror for the other person, but when we talk about vulnerability as a topic, and we just start talking about it. Okay, let's talk about vulnerability. It has this negative connotation. 

I mean, I looked up the definition. If you don't mind, I'm going to read the definition of "vulnerability" after an hour of our conversation: "susceptible to physical or emotional injury," "susceptible to attack," "open to censure or criticism," "assailable," "liable to succumb, as to persuasion or temptation." I mean, it sounds so wrong.

Paul: Yeah, totally.

Whitney: It sounds bad. It sounds painful. It sounds like something you want to go out of your way to avoid, and yet, I don't believe that the best things in life are possible without being open and without being open to whatever that susceptibility is.

For a very, very, very long time, I thought that being susceptible was something I wanted to avoid. I didn't want to be gullible. I didn't want to be someone that could be convinced to be involved in bad things. I had a wall up, even in my adolescence.

There were a lot of fun things that I could have been involved with that I wasn't because I worried about the path it was going to take me down. I regret that because it could have also opened me up to life experiences that would have enriched my life and would have helped me to see people in another light.

Is it possible to be vulnerable, to have connection without vulnerability? I don't know. If life isn't about connecting, what is it?

Paul: I don't know. I mean, I don't want to give a hard-and-fast answer on it. There's a part of me that doesn't, but there's a part of me that really, really does, and the answer is no. No you need to be vulnerable to have those connections. 

You can have connections and be, you know, in a state of apparent invulnerability, but I don't know what the quality of them is going to be. You know, it would be interesting to see, though, if it came down to, Well, in order to get to that place of openness and get to that place of vulnerability that you have to start in "Opposite Land." 

You have to be closed. You have to be, you know, you have to pretend or put up a facade or put up a wall or a shield of, you know, impenetrability. Oh, I think I got that word right. [laughter]

Whitney: You did.

Paul: Wow, but you have to put up that wall. Maybe you have to do that first before you can actually get to the point where you can open it up. Maybe that's just how it goes for a lot of people. I don't know, but I feel that, too. I feel that way as well.

Like, in order to get to a point where I can be open, I have to know what it's like to be closed. I have known that very well, but I'm kind of done with it, you know? I'm just kind of done, kind of done, kind of tired of it.

Whitney: I hear you, and you know, today is the fifth anniversary of my independence, my professional independence of self-employment. I was reflecting on everything that has gone on in the last five years. You know, I have a lot of people to thank.

That's natural, but the people that stand out the most are the ones who have really hurt me. They know who they are. They did it on purpose, but those people have given me so much strength because I could have shut down.

I know, and I know that you know, and I bet that everyone listening knows what it's like to make yourself vulnerable and then to have someone take advantage of that. For many of us, that's all the evidence we need to never do it again.

I am really, really grateful to the people who have attempted to take advantage of my vulnerability because somehow, some way, I was able to overcome it. I was able to find strength in myself and recognize that what I was doing had meaning and had purpose, despite what they thought.

So, maybe that's my strength and vulnerability. Maybe I have to focus on that, that the worst thing that could happen - being open to attack, being open to injury, censure, criticism, all the things that that definition says - it's not that bad.

Paul: What doesn't kill you - 

Whitney: It's really not that bad.

Paul: What doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

Whitney: Yeah. It doesn't kill you. Yep. Phew. This has been a tough one for me, Paul.

Paul: Yeah. Me, too. Me, too, but wow. What a great conversation. Thank you so much. This has been wonderful.

Whitney: Thank you. Thank you, Paul, and thank you to everyone who listens. We are so grateful for you, and we allow ourselves to be vulnerable on this Podcast and be as real as we possibly can. We don't plan what we're going to say. We just choose a topic, and we go. We do that for ourselves and for you. Thank you so much for being a part of it.

Paul: Thank you for listening. Boy, that would have been an awesome place to sign off if I didn't have some stuff to say at the end. So, as always, please let us know what you think of the show. We do love feedback. We are vulnerable in that regard.

We love getting your feedback, so, please, Tweet at us, any of us. You can Tweet @DesigningYou, which is the show. You can Tweet @PaulMcAleer, which is me. You can Tweet @WhitneyHess, which is Whitney. Feel free to e-mail us. Contact us in any way you deem fit. We'd love to hear from you.

If you love the show, let other people know. Go ahead and give us a rating on iTunes. Yes, I'm going to ask for it again. It's only the second time, though. Rate us on iTunes if you dig us, or spread the word as you see fit, but you know, I know that for us, we get a lot out of these conversations, and we really hope you do, too.

Thank you so much for listening, everybody.

Whitney: Thank you. Until next time.

Paul: Take care.