In her own words, "Faking it until you make it" didn't work for Zirtual CEO Maren Kate. Just months ago, the virtual assistant startup was worth more than a billion dollars. As quickly as it rose, Kate made a confession: They were out of money. It was a very public flameout, one of the first of many unicorns that would die in the upcoming months.

What's interesting is what Kate is doing now: Discussing brutal vulnerability. As if channeling emotional intelligence expert Brene Brown, Kate has penned a revealing essay, "Silicon Valley Has a Vulnerability Problem". To her, we are obsessed with showing  everything is under control. The issue is that our cool veneer also keeps us isolated and prevents others from helping... until, as Kate discovered, it is well too late:

Faking it doesn't change the reality of any of these situations; it only leaves you and others feeling even more alone. But there's a different option... [and] I must choose brutal vulnerability. The last decade of trying to 'John Wayne it' has worked in some short term ways, but it's also hurt my health, my relationships, and interfered with my success. 

As she seems to imply, being honest about her challenges earlier may have saved the company she built. It actually doesn't fall far from what Brene Brown talks about in her book, Rising Strong:

The more difficult it is for us to articulate our experiences of loss, longing, and feeling lost to the people around us, the more disconnected and alone we feel.

It isn't just a matter of trusting others enough to be vulnerable, but to know your feelings well enough to articulate them. How does the leader of a billion-dollar startup express that she is feeling lost without losing self-confidence in her leadership? Modern day Silicon Valley doesn't have room for gray. You have to create your own.

For me, brutal vulnerability is writing this column: Discussing my own burnout, the struggles at my startup, the mixed feelings with our successful acquisition. But your vulnerability need not be public - instead, it may be confiding in a mentor over a stiff drink, writing confessions on a piece of paper and burning it, or taking extended alone time to talk yourself through your feelings. 

How are you expressing your vulnerability?

Published on: May 5, 2016
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