Before I began my studies at University of Santa Monica (USM) for Spiritual Psychology and discovered that vulnerability is key to connections, I was an actress—a somewhat struggling one, just as many actors and actresses are. To support myself, I was a waitress most of the time I was pursuing a career in LA and New York—and a pretty darn excellent one. I always made sure every customer had everything they needed at all times and that every station was clean and fully stocked. I was hard working, efficient and dependable.
What I began to notice, however, is that many of my colleagues who weren’t as efficient and dependable—the ones who seemed to just stand around not doing much, lingering with customers for far too long—were starting to get offered parts from the regulars and I wasn’t. I couldn’t figure it out—it was disheartening and baffling. They all knew I was a great server, so why couldn’t they see that I’d also be great for a part?
Truth is it took me a long while after much life experience, my studies at USM and becoming a coach to have any insight as to why…
Every person who was offered a part was actually just being themselves while taking the time to connect with the customers. I didn’t, at the time, realize how important of a skill that is to possess and that it is a crucial component of being in a business that requires you to interact with people (newsflash—most businesses and jobs require you to interact with people!). I thought that just doing the mechanics of the job and the surface level connection required as a server was enough to be seen by everyone who walked through the door.
Vulnerability and Connection
It seems so obvious to me today, but back then, I didn’t know that the power of letting down my guard, being vulnerable and genuinely connecting with others were keys to being more successful as a waitress, an actress and in every aspect of my life.
Today, there is no way I could be an effective coach and leader without the “people part”. My ability to model my authentic self and my humanness while connecting with my team and coaching clients allows me to connect with them beyond the surface and the mechanics of my “job”. I can connect with myself and them at deeper levels—that’s where the good stuff lies. It’s the space for trust, growth and expansion—key components for navigating change, the unknown, the ups and downs—all of it, especially in the business world.
And, because I am human, I don’t always get it right. There are times when I react in self-protection and become less authentic and less vulnerable. It’s normal and part of navigating life’s ups and downs. We are all learning and doing the best we can with what we know right now.
I have found that one of the biggest ways to help me remain authentic and vulnerable is to remind myself to be curious. Being curious allows the space to be open to possibilities and be genuinely present when connecting with others. When you aren’t leading with curiosity, you may carry judgments and preconceived notions about a situation or person—a space that doesn’t allow much room for trust and authentic exchange.
Here are a few ways and reminders that I use to stay curious and connect with others on my team and while working with clients (things I wish I had known to do when I was a waitress pursuing acting!):
- Am I doing all the talking or am I listening? Yes, part of my job as an executive coach is to listen, but sometimes I might want to drive a teaching point home and forget that I still need to be mindful of whether or not I’m leaving enough space for the other person to talk.
- I actively tell myself to be curious about the other person and be genuinely interested in them. One of my clients loves David Bowie a lot (I learned that by being curious about her) and was having a difficult time in her life. When I was out running errands, I happened to find a cool book on David Bowie that I thought she’d like, so I picked it up and sent it to her along with our CCORE process card. This gesture was a fun and meaningful way to connect with her while she was navigating life’s challenges.
- Connect on the simple and/or neutral things to build trust in the relationship. One of my clients has a younger cat that looks a lot like my older cat, Buddy. We tend to check in about our awesome yellow cats before getting down to business. It may not sound like a huge deal, but it is a fun way for us to remain connected and remain professional. (NOTE: there are times when it feels necessary for me to reveal something about my life that is personal as a way to remind the person I’m working with that they are not alone and that there are others who understand what they may be experiencing.)
Maybe these examples seem straightforward and obvious, but I know they weren’t always obvious to me when I was more concerned with “doing my job” and less concerned with genuinely connecting to others as a crucial part of being great at my job.
Allowing myself to be vulnerable and authentic is key to being successful in my role here at LET and in all of my life.
I’m grateful that I get to practice my “people part” skills!
Here’s to your most empowered success!
– Coach Heather