“I have never heard a person speak with such vulnerability at a business conference as you just were.” Really? Moi? My presentation at a national conference of financial and philanthropic professionals carried the title, “What Was and What Will Be: A Client in Transition.” I presented case studies, mine included, to illustrate the best and worst practices of advisors’ vis-a-vis the retention of clients. The audience learned that while some professionals recognized I was as much of their client as my then-husband, others dismissed me as “the wife of the client.” The retelling of my experiences brought audible gasps from the audience. My frame of reference was, “I’m here to tell these people what it is like on the client-side of the table,” and if I was going to share those stories, I need to tell the truth — you couldn’t make up some of these experiences.
When many people echoed the vulnerability aspect of my speech, I was dumbfounded and asked a friend precisely what that meant. She expounded, “You talked about not just what happened to you, but how it felt. You voiced what was going on, intellectually and emotionally.” The view that I am unguarded is a disconnect because my perspective is that I am sharing my truth. It is my nature to include emotions in the equation, so I didn’t think this was anything new or unordinary.
I want to know how people feel, and I assume everyone is like that. In jest, one of my friends introduces me, “This is my friend, Emily. Don’t ask her how she is; she’ll tell you,” For the record, when I ask, “How are you?” I follow it with “That’s a real question.”
I have come to understand that not everyone comes to vulnerability easily. Many people mask their emotions — especially when talking about their feelings regarding their wealth because it is more comfortable, more conforming, and less open to judgment. (factoid: People would rather talk about sex with their children than talk about money).
“The problem is…that you cannot selectively numb those hard feelings without numbing the other effects and emotions. When we numb those, we numb joy, numb gratitude, numb happiness, and then we are miserable and are looking for purpose and meaning.” -Brene Brown
The realization that my inherent superpower, of being vulnerable, led me to a personal and professional transformation. I’m here to tell you there is power in being vulnerable.
Having been both the client and the professional, I know that vulnerability is at the crux of people’s challenges. Many people don’t know how to address their emotional turmoil around their wealth. Clients don’t readily share their emotional sensitivities regarding their wealth or estate plan with their lawyers and advisors, which causes dilemmas or issues for these professionals. Shame and fear are what keep many people from sharing their stories.
Being Vulnerable Means Being Open to Possibilities
An investment manager referred me to his clients, a couple, who were continually battling about their financial needs and wants. After asking each of them about the state of their marriage, what they trusted and liked about each other, we established that their intentions were loving. I clarified that our conversations would occur in a safe space to encourage each of them to let down their guard. The notion of someone hearing you, alone, is a great place to start. Each of them completed my worksheets to define their individual money story and share it only with me. By detailing your money story and saying it out loud, a person can feel acceptance and understanding. When we were all back together, the couple shared their stories. By sharing, they were asking one another for recognition — to listen with empathy and without judgment. We then went over the similarities and differences with both of their stories, acknowledging the source of one another’s emotions around their finances, taking down the barriers that stood between them, and reframing the conversation to one of recognizing different perspectives, options, and compromise.
Vulnerability Brings Resolution
I have come to appreciate that hiding from one’s truth is more painful than accepting it. A client, anxious about his legacy and feeling emotionally misaligned with his estate plan, came to me to discuss possible revisions. Chief among his concerns was his adult children’s futures, and what might transpire upon his passing. He had children with two different women with dissimilar financial capabilities. He realized that the two sets of children would have different inheritances on the maternal side, and he was not sure how to reconcile this fact in his plan. In his plan, he wanted each child to feel equally loved by him and not equate his love with the monetary inheritance they would receive from him.
In a review of the information he had shared, the questions he pondered, and the gaps between what existed and his feelings, it was evident that he wasn’t fully sharing his truth. Our conversations were the perfect opportunities for him to open up about his thoughts and feelings about his legacy. We role-played the dialogues that he could have with his family to gain further clarity. He reported back that each conversation was one of the most meaningful, loving, and informative conversations he has ever had with his children.
From there, we were able to document the changes for his estate lawyer to facilitate the revisions needed in his estate plan.
How to Unleash the Power of Vulnerability
Recognize that your need to protect yourself is limiting you. When we know we are about to be judged, we give the least personal information because we believe we are reducing possible ammunition for others to use. How can you discover the power of vulnerability?
1. Appreciate the journey you are about to take.
The information you will learn about yourself now will enable you to move on. The fear of the unknown is the worst of it. Owning part of the outcome is vital. Vulnerability isn’t happening to you; you are part of the solution and choosing to be vulnerable.
2. Know your audience.
There is space and opportunity to offer your truth. It would help if you appreciate your audience and how much they can take in and how much you can take with their reaction. By knowing your audience, you are no longer hiding when you share. Like wearing a coat in winter and walking out into the cold, you are insulated and prepared for what you might hear.
3. Test the waters.
There is a difference between vulnerability in-the-moment versus in the past. Present and past emotions are on different levels, with the former carrying a more significant sting. Tell a story from your past. You will have fewer feelings about it because it has already happened. By sharing, you will get a sense of whether someone hears what you have to say. Ask yourself, why do you want to share this information? What do you want the outcome to be? Sharing a story can help teach you adaptability and resilience. It will help to reframe your vulnerability.
4. Bring on the power.
The fear of ‘I’m not good enough’ can be top of mind, opening the door for doubt and fear. You have to be prepared to get an unwanted answer. Be resilient by believing in yourself in the face of a challenge. Your wellbeing is not dependent on the response. Learn to be more adaptable by embracing vulnerability, having courage, and “a willingness to do something when there are no guarantees.” If people can adapt, they can resource their strengths and find power in vulnerability.
I explain my professional foundation with the following: Vulnerability is a strength. I believe that people want to matter, be seen, and be heard. Our conversations are confidential and free of judgment. I also come to the conversation curious, which allows me to listen differently and more deeply. This core philosophy encourages trust, which opens the door to a far more emotional conversation about money — where the magic of vulnerability transpires and eventually leads to clarity and peace of mind.