Embrace fear! Be authentic! Make genuine connections! You've probably heard this sort of entrepreneurial self-help advice about a million times, and probably you agree with it. Few would argue with the idea that dreaming big, being open to failure, and empathetic to others is the best way to make connections and live up to your full potential as a person and a business owner.
But by now you've probably realized this is far easier said than done.
One more article instructing you on the merits of being open and fearless is not likely to help you actually be these things. What will? Perhaps this very honest post from content strategist Sara Wachter-Boettcher for The Pastry Box Project.
"You’ve probably heard about the importance of empathy in design and communication work—of understanding others’ emotions and considering their feelings when we make things for them to use," she writes, noting, "Whitney Hess believes it’s the foundation of an 'environment that encourages collaboration, iteration, and risk.'"
So why are you failing to be fearless when it comes to empathy and risk?
"We can’t begin being empathetic when another person arrives. We have to already have made a space in our lives where empathy can thrive. And that means being open—truly open—to feeling emotions we may not want to feel. It means allowing another’s experiences to gut us. It means ceding control. Empathy begins with vulnerability," she says, and vulnerability is very, very hard.
"There’s a safety in creating distance—in carefully managing perceptions and avoiding the things that make you feel unprepared and unworthy. It’s easier to get by when you have a buffer," she writes, "but that distance not only keeps you from greatness; it also numbs you. It protects you from your own emotions, sure. But it also makes it impossible to feel anyone else’s."
If this sounds at all familiar, the complete post, laying out Wachter-Boettcher's personal quest for empathy is a must read. But she isn't the only thinker stressing the fact that the foundation for connection and boldness—which are very sexy at the moment—is vulnerability, which decidedly is not. A funny but profound TEDx talk by the University of Houston's Brené Brown became a viral hit for making just this point. If you haven't seen it already, check it out below: