In this week’s episode, I want to share an experience that I’ve had in the last week, that has shown me the power of taking a step out of your comfort zone and being vulnerable with your readers. Many of you will know about the article that I published on Medium in the last few days, about having a bit of a midlife crisis. Something a little bit different from my normal publishing schedule, I have to say.
In this episode, I don’t want to talk about the crisis itself as such but rather what happened when I put that article out there with my audience. You can get the show notes and you can find the link to the article that I’m talking about at problogger.com/podcast/255.
Before I get into today’s show, just a brief administrative note. As regular readers know, I’ve been taking a few weeks off this podcast as part of a bit of a mid-year break. I will be coming back in the weeks ahead but I did want to pop in today just to give you an update after that article went live.
When I do come back, we will start out with our blogging breakthrough series. We had a call for submissions, for bloggers to share their stories in the last episode, and had a ton of people submitting amazing stories. We’re currently going through those and we will be getting back to those who submitted shortly, so thanks to everyone who did submit a story. We can’t possibly use them all but we look forward to sharing some of them with you in the coming weeks. Again, let’s get on to today’s show.
When I was a 16 year old, I discovered the power of being vulnerable in communication. I remember it very clearly, I was doing a course in public speaking. As part of that course, I was challenged to do a series of short talks. They were five-minute talks. The first talk I gave, I was very nervous, as you would expect. The talk was overly prepared. I tried to stuff so much into it. It was full of facts and theories, and how-to information. I think the information was relatively good but I distinctly remember looking at my audience and thinking, “Are they even listening to me here?”
I got down after that talk and the feedback from the teacher was, “You need to include something a little bit more personal in your talk, a story. Share something about yourself.” The next time I got up to do a talk a week later as my next class, I shared a story and it was a story about a mistake I’d made. I remember the moment that the story started. The moment that I added a little bit of vulnerability into my talk by revealing that I wasn’t perfect. I remember looking at my audience and almost the whole room leaned forward as I began to talk and share that story.
I realized the power of storytelling for a start but also a storytelling that shows who you are, and shows who you really are, shows an imperfection. That idea, that vulnerability is a powerful thing. I also learnt through that experience and many since, that being vulnerable can feel very risky, takes you out of your comfort zone, and can be hard to do. That first story was hard and many times since have been hard as well.
The last thing I learnt in that instance was that after I was vulnerable, for a moment or two I felt very unsure, how do people receive that. But a few moments after that and seeing the positive reactions to that it was an incredibly freeing experience as well.
As someone who has now been a communicator in different forms for 30 years, I can’t believe I’m saying that, and I’ve communicated in public speaking, in blogging and podcasting, in video, I’ve seen time and time again, I’ve witnessed the power of being vulnerable. I’ve tried to do it at different times in what I do. Even here on the ProBlogger podcast, I’ve tried to teach about vulnerability but also to be vulnerable. I think the last time I mentioned the word vulnerability and I did a search of WordPress to see it, it was back in episode 235 where I talked about authority, how to build authority, and how being vulnerable can actually help to build your authority. But also I try to be vulnerable.
A few episodes come to mind, there’s probably quite a few where I’ve shared my own failings and weaknesses. Like in episode 57 where I talked about nine hurdles I’ve faced as a blogger, episode 38 where I talked about my health. Who would’ve ever thought I would talk about health on a blogging blog? My weight gain and how I moved through into a better place as a result of that. Then episode 167 where I revealed how terrible I am at procrastinating.
There’s been many times where I’ve tried to be vulnerable with you. I know each of those episodes has had really good feedback but they’ve also come with fear every time I’ve done it. Part of me, when I’m preparing to do that type of show worries that showing weakness might eat away my authority. Even though I know at the back of my mind that it helps to build authority, it worries me that maybe being too vulnerable will eat away at that authority. It might hurt the brand that I’ve built in some way, that it might frustrate readers who come looking for how-to content and get me baring my soul. Part of me worries about what people will think. Part of me is probably just scared about admitting to myself, let alone my audience, that I’m not as altogether as I might like to think.
Sometimes, these worries are valid. I’ve built my brand around how-to content. I know that me just sitting here talking about my insecurities, problems, and failures really isn’t going to help many people if that’s all I ever do. But I was reminded this week, again and again, that by allowing yourself to be more vulnerable, good things can happen to you and your blog. That’s what I want to talk about today. I want to share this story of this last week and the story of writing this article and putting it out there. I want to talk about what happened as a result of doing that but I also want to give you some advice on being vulnerable on your own blog because I don’t think it’s just as simple as just baring your soul about anything and everything. I want to give you some advice around and some questions to ask around working at what to share as well.
But first let me tell you about this last week. I learnt this lesson because as I said at the top of the show, I published an article this week on Medium that was about a mid-life crisis that I’m currently finding myself in. The post actually took months to write and took weeks to decide what to decide whether I even wanted to publish it at all.
I’ve been working on it with a friend, Kelly Exeter, who many of you would know because she’s been on this podcast a number of times in the past, and we’ve been talking about doing a project together. Particularly, we’ve been talking about writing a book together. As we have been talking this year, since the beginning of this year about the book, what it’s about, and how we might outline it, what sort of topics we might want to write about, as we talked that through, I’ve realize that if I’m going to authentically talk about the topics that we want to explore, that I’m going to be need to be vulnerable.
I’m going to need to tell my story. I’m going to need to tell things about myself that I’ve never really talked about on a public level before. This is but frightening for all the reasons I’ve already spoken about, worrying about what people would think, but also it’s simultaneously felt really right to me.
So we’ve begun to work on this project. The first thing that we wanted to do is to write this article that went live earlier in the week. The article is largely a story of a series of midlife crises that I’ve had over the years and my first one was when I was 18. Part of the story will be for me to some of you who’ve heard my story before, but the later parts of the story wouldn’t be because I’ve not shared them too much before. I’m not going to go into details of the crisis here because I think it would distract us from what I want to talk about and that’s being vulnerable. You can check out the article if you want. I’ll link to it in the show notes. It’s linked to my twitter account as the latest pinned post.
It was largely written for people who are like me, who see themselves as somewhere in the middle of their life, whatever that might mean for you, and who are asking the kind of questions that I’m asking as well, about how they got to spend the rest of their life, how they ended up in the place that they’re at, I’m wondering if there’s more, wondering if they’re using their time effectively. All of these types of questions that people in the middle of their life at different times like to ask.
I know some of you are probably asking, “Why did you put it on Medium? Haven’t you talked in the past, Darren, about always having control of your content? Putting on the blog where that you have the domain for? That you have a server of? And Medium doesn’t have those things? That’s something I did think about. Should we put it on ProBlogger? But it became pretty clear pretty early that this article is not just for bloggers. It certainly relates to bloggers, I had certainly talked a little bit about blogging in my story because that’s part of my story, but in my hope and Kelly’s hope is that we go beyond just bloggers reading this eventually, and that we want to write a book on a broader topic.
Putting on ProBlogger didn’t seem like a good fit. Medium seem to be a good place. Medium has the type of content that this article is. We looked at a lot of articles that have been written there and the style, the length, the presentation on those types of things, and it felt like a good fit. There are things that I really do like about Medium and there are others that frustrate me like crazy but that’s probably a topic for another episode.
The question that I’ll cover before I talk about what happens as a result of publishing this and why did we write this article. What’s the point of the article if you’re writing a book? I just wanted to cover that because I know a lot of you do have the dream one day of writing a book and maybe this is helpful. But really we wanted to see with this article where it was worth writing the book. On many levels, it’s a test. We wanted to see whether the topic, the themes, the ideas, the language we were using were resonating with people or whether we needed to go back to the drawing board and work more on refining that.
The other part that we wanted from this article was to get feedback. Most importantly to me was to capture the reactions of those who read the articles as well. By their comments, through their ideas and their stories, their experiences, to see how people reacted to it is really important. The reason for that is that we think, I believe, at least that the reactions from this article will shape what we do next, not just if we continue to work on this idea but also what will come next.
Maybe it will inform that we don’t write a book, really do a podcast, or maybe it will inform that it’s a series of articles, or maybe it will inform something else. But already, I can see that the feedback we’re getting is shaping that. To help us gather that type of feedback, we actually setup a little Facebook group for those who wanted to talk more on the topic. We set up a little month long challenge that we’re going to go through as a group as well.
I submitted the story into a publisher on Medium. On Medium, there are publications and magazines that you can be a writer for and I decided to publish it both on my own profile but also in this publication called The Mission, which is a larger publication on Medium and the hope there was to get it to a larger audience. They very quickly accepted the article and they pushed it live very quickly late last Friday night my time. I think it was actually about 7:00 PM my time.
In hindsight, it wasn’t the best time because it didn’t really leave me having a relaxing weekend as this post went live and start to go a bit crazy. But in some ways, it was a good time as well because I was out with friends at the time that it went live and because it went out quickly, I didn’t have time to worry about the article going live at all. As I’ve said, I was out with friends, I didn’t actually get home until about five hours after the article went live. I scheduled some tweets and promotions on Facebook and in email. By the time I got home at midnight that night, it already had some activity on it. I was really anxious to see what that reaction would be. The reactions have been almost 100% positive. In fact, they’ve all been positive really in some ways. People have asked some tough questions and pointed out some things but that’s been positive too.
Before I get into the […], I’ll just talk about what’s happened since it being published. what’s been the positives of being vulnerable. Some of you are probably wondering about the stats. The article’s being viewed, I think it’s been about 8000 times. It’s had 1400 claps which is kind of like a likes. It’s had 38 or so comments on the article, which isn’t a massive amount but you do need to register to leave a comment.
There’s been hundreds of other comments, though, on social networks, on email, via messenger, and in the group itself. There’s been a decent amount of numbers but the stats really for me aren’t what it’s all about. What’s most important to me is that the article seems to resonate with people and there’s been certain parts of the article that have really resonated in as well. I see this in the comments. A lot of people are picking up the same themes and ignoring others, which is really useful. One of the nice features of Medium is that people can highlight the bits that they like. You get feedback on where people actually being drawn to in the article, and that’s interesting to see as well.
The reactions that we’re getting from people are incredible. One of the things I want to say is that when you’re vulnerable, people will be vulnerable back. This surprised me at first. Some of the comments that I received both on the blog post, on social media, and via messenger, particularly, have been very deep. Some of the people have shared personally as well and have been very vulnerable. Some of them have written long amounts of words back and that’s been amazing as well.
Vulnerability is contagious. It’s infectious. When you are vulnerable, people will take your lead and respond likewise. Some people will, not everyone, but some people. This is something I think is both a positive but also you need to be a little bit aware of. You need to be willing to interact with people because when people are vulnerable back and you ignore that, when people are vulnerable back and express painful things, that opens up a can of worms for them. You need to be there to care for them, to respond to them, to acknowledge them, to value them in some way. That’s something I guess I spend most of my weekend doing is trying to be there back for the people who are sharing on those deeper levels as well. That’s a challenge because there’s so many of them.
In terms of the group, we’ve had quite a few people joining our group. I think we’ve had about 350 people join, which is great. I wasn’t sure how that would go. The call-to-action to join the group is right at the bottom of this 2000 plus word article. […] people have responded there and already the interactions there are great.
Interestingly, the group now contains real-life friends, family members, blog readers from ProBlogger, blog readers from Digital Photography School, podcast listeners, probably more of them after this, and complete strangers as well. My worlds are colliding, I guess you could say. That’s a strange feeling to have them in there together, sharing on a deeper level together, talking to each other, and supporting each other. That’s kind of weird but it’s kind of cool as well.
Community seems to be forming, I guess, is the next thing I want to say. This is something I’ve noticed before about. When you’re vulnerable, people don’t just want to be vulnerable with you. They’re seem to be more open to connecting with other people on that same shared journey. There’s a real opportunity there to call people together, to journey together as a result of this vulnerability and community vulnerability as well.
The second last thing that I’ve noticed which has been really interesting to me is that I’ve been getting a lot of comments that are very similar, not everyone expresses, but time and time again I’ve heard people saying things like, “It’s refreshing to see that you don’t have it all together, Darren.” This is kind of a weird thing to hear because I know I don’t have it all together. I guess I’ve realized that because I am a professional blogger, I’m writing about blogging, that it can come across as though I do have it all together. Whilst I know that, my family certainly know that, my friends know that, I guess it’s just been a reminder that, whilst I have tried to be vulnerable along the journey that people build an impression of us that don’t always match with how we feel about ourselves. I think it’s good just to keep in mind.
Not everyone, as much as you think, your insecurities and your failures might be out there for everyone to see. Most people don’t actually see those things. For me, that’s actually a reminder that I need to continue to put myself out there and to be real with people because I don’t want to create those false impressions. I don’t want people to think that I have my blog perfect, my life perfect. It certainly isn’t the case. It should been a good reminder for me.
The last thing I’ve noticed as a result of doing this is that I’ve been incredibly energized by the reaction. Before that post went live and those five hours while I sat at dinner with my friends, I was almost paralyzed. I was always wondering how it was going, how it would go. I was worried, I was fearful. But as soon as I got home, I began to see the reactions. I felt an incredible energy. I couldn’t sleep the night after I got home. In fact, the last two nights, I haven’t really been able to sleep and I’ve been up early in the morning writing. It was something that hasn’t happened for me for a while now, so being vulnerable can actually take you to that place of feeling freedom as well. I’m not saying that it is guaranteed to happen but for me, certainly, that has been a result of that as well.
I’ve come away from this experience again. Again, being reminded to continue to be vulnerable, intentionally vulnerable. The road isn’t over. I know for a fact there are things that I want to share with my readers and listeners. That’s something that will come out in the book. There’s things that I need to share but I need to do in time. This is one of the things I do want to talk a little bit about. Now, I want to put a qualification on this idea, you can probably hear me talking about the pros of vulnerability here. Read someone like Brené Brown. She talks about the reasons why you might want to be vulnerable and has written some great material on this.
I also want to put the qualification out there that just because I’m saying that doesn’t mean you need to go out there and just share everything and anything with your readers. You don’t need to strip yourself bare in every area of your life. There are good things to keep private. Boundaries are a good thing. I know different ones of us will have different boundaries and that there are bloggers out there who share anything and everything. Then there are others who are very private. Where your boundaries will be totally fine but it’s really important to have those boundaries and to know where they will be. There are things that I will never share on my blog in a public setting because they’re private to me and that’s totally fine.
There’s also a time to be vulnerable and probably the right place to be vulnerable as well. Before you put things out there, really I want to encourage you to ask yourself the question, “Is now the right time to actually be vulnerable?” There are things I know that I’m going through right now that I need to process before I will share them. I need to sort through my thoughts. I need to sort through my feelings. I need to have conversations with certain people. I need to be in a better place. I need to have read some books. I need to process some things. The case wouldn’t be the same for each of us. Don’t just rush out and tell everyone anything and everything, at least not yet. Share in the right time.
This leads me to some more advice that I want to give out. I’ve got three things that I really want to say before I give you a few questions to ask, as you think about should I share this or not. The first piece of advice I want to give you is that, and it taps into what I just said, you don’t have to reveal everything at once. Small steps can be a good thing. Get used to the idea of being vulnerable. Maybe just a small step towards vulnerability is what you need to do at the moment. Admitting that you made a mistake.
You don’t have to share that you’re having a mid-life crisis. You can admit that you’ve had hurdles in your life. Even hurdles that you have now completely overcome. That is vulnerability in different ways. Take your time when you are crafting this type of content as well. This article has literally taken months to write and we’ve gone through many versions of it. In fact, it’s been started and rewritten, and started and rewritten, and started and rewritten at least three times, and there’s been many edits along the way. Take your time with it. You don’t have to share it all at once.
Second thing I want to say is that vulnerability takes courage but it also takes practice. If you’ve never gone there with your readers before, it could take you a few gos before you begin to feel a little bit more at ease and begin to trust that process. I’m not saying that you ever feel it’s easy but it does take a little bit of time to get used to it and probably also takes a little bit of time for your readers to get used to it, too. If you’ve got a blog that has stuck to a very narrow niche for a long time, and then you suddenly lay everything bare to your readers, some of your readers will be totally okay with that, but you might need to bring your readers along a little bit on that road as well. Again, small steps can be a good thing there to actually get your readers used to that idea.
The last thing I’ll say is there are things that are really important to involve other people in working out where your boundaries should be and to encourage you in this. We’re all wired differently. I know some of you are listening to this and thinking, “I don’t need to be vulnerable because I’m very vulnerable,” and maybe your tendency is to overshare. Maybe the people around you, you need to give them permission to pull you back a little bit. You need to run your article past them and ask them, “Do you think this is too much?” Others of you who are listening to this thing and going, “It just terrifies me.” Maybe the people around you, you need to give them permission to challenge you, to add a little bit more vulnerability, and to help you shape the vulnerability as well, to bounce the articles that you write around with them before they go live.
This is what certainly happened with this particular article. Kelly’s helped a lot in this. Vanessa, my wife, has helped. We had other friends as well read the article. They’ve helped to pick up mistakes in the articles and proofread it. But they’ve also given advice and feedback on how to craft it, and how to make it appropriate. That’s been very helpful as well.
The last thing I want to leave you with is four questions to ask. As you can see there’s, “Should I share a particular thing?” I actually have borrowed these questions from Aimee Beltran from a blog called BlogPaws, which I came across today as I was about to record this. I saw that it’s four questions and I just thought, “These are brilliant.” I’ll link to the full article in the show notes today. She poses these four questions to ask before you hit publish, before you decide what to share.
The first one is, “Am I ready to share this?” and this taps into what I was saying before. Sometimes, we’re not in a good space. Sometimes, we need to process something. We might need to have a conversation. We need to be ready to share because when we’re vulnerable, that can sometimes bring up pain in ourselves but also other people as well. We need to be in a good place to be able to share this type of thing in many cases. I’m not saying you always have to be in a good place. Sometimes, being vulnerable it’s good to be in a bad place to do that as well but in appropriate situations, but are you ready to share this?
Number two question Aimee poses is, “Why are you sharing this? What’s the reason for the sharing?” There’s no right or wrong reason here but I suspect some reasons are better than others. Are you sharing it to get it back at someone? That’s probably not a good reason. Are you sharing it just to get lots of traffic? Maybe that’s not the best reason. Are you sharing to help someone? Are you sharing because it’s a therapy for you? Maybe there’s a more appropriate place to share it. Why are you sharing it? That’s going to help you to work out if you should share it, but also how you share it, and where you should share it as well. Whether your audience is the right audience for that as well.
Third question Aimee poses is, “Am I oversharing?” This is where maybe friends can help out with that. But if you are in doubt about whether you are oversharing, maybe sit on that article for a little bit, maybe show it to a friend, maybe test it with a smaller group of people and see what the reaction is.
The last question Aimee poses, I think it’s brilliant and I think it’s really important, “Will this hurt someone I love?” It’s so important. This actually factored into my article as well because I was writing about periods of my life that I shared with people along the way, family and friends, and I didn’t want to offend them. I really had to craft parts of it, reword parts of it, expand certain parts so people could see what I was thinking, and delete certain parts. Again, that was helpful to have particularly Vanessa helping me shape that as well.
So, am I ready to share? Why am I sharing? Am I oversharing? And will this hurt someone I love? Four good questions to ask.
I hope this podcast has helped those of you who feel maybe you need to be a bit more vulnerable, or maybe you need to be a little less oversharing, or maybe it’s something you just file away for one day when you do feel that tension inside of you and when you start to think, “Should I be adding a bit more personal story into this content that you’re crafting?” Being vulnerable doesn’t have to be the whole post. It could be just a story that introduces something that you then go to teach on. It could be rather small thing but I hope this podcast does come back to mind as you come to those times where you have the opportunity to add a little vulnerability into your sharing.
Before I finish today, a few quotes of the week. I couldn’t really have a quote of the week this week without quoting Brené Brown who has written a great book, Daring Greatly: How The Courage To Be Vulnerable Transforms The Way We Live, Love, Parent, And Lead. A few little quotes from that book. I could read the whole thing for you, basically, but, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change.” I love that one. And, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It’s the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. It’s the birthplace of a lot of things.” And lastly, “Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.”
Thanks for listening today. You can find today’s show notes. I’ll put those quotes in as well, as well as the link to the article I wrote, and Aimee’s article, as well as some of those podcasts I mentioned earlier. The show notes and a full transcription of today’s show are at problogger.com/podcast/255.
Look forward to chatting with you in the next couple of weeks when we start our blogging breakthrough series. Thanks for bearing with me over this mid-year break. Have been re-energizing myself as you can tell. I’m actually about to just have a short break to Hawaii. Never been there before and very much looking forward to that short break. There will be some podcast in the pipeline and I look forward to chatting with you shortly. Thanks for listening. Hope you have a good week.