| To Be Honest |

Veneer of Vulnerability

Is vulnerability a virtue — or a means to manipulate a fan base?

It’s practically illegal to maintain your respect or your privacy in this country.

It’s the all-in-one cure-all for all political, relational, and financial success. Share your human fallibility in the most vulnerable way to foster connection — or whatever connection means at this point.

Share the color of your slippers and the fact that you’re overly addicted to your slippers with your LinkedIn followers, otherwise how will you get clients to sign up with you? Post about your terrible mood, your delicious new biscotti recipe that made you break your diet, and, of course, what you had for breakfast.

It’s easy enough, just try it: ’Morning, guys! Coming off a delicious acai bowl and rarin’ to go (nothing like berries to wash down a morning loaded with way too much chocolate [and cheesecake]). Because I’m all fired up to bring you the best design concepts to transform your home into a haven. At least till the little guys get home and show you a thing or two about the power of Sharpies in design! If your kids are like mine, that is.

Not that you know if she has kids. Maybe they’re all married or not even born yet. But at least she’s giving you that fuzzy feeling of her being completely open with little old you.

All in the name of gaining trust.

MY friend called me in a panic. Her midwife had “rebranded,” and part of her rebranding was, well, being vulnerable. The rebranded brochure had an entire panel dedicated to the midwife’s passion for avocados and fine art and her love of the color green, and of course, her fear of spiders.

So she’s looking for a new one.

Now, I’m all for you being vulnerable with your midwife.

Not your midwife being vulnerable with you.

I’d like to think of my midwife as someone who spends her free time poring over medical journals, exploring natural cures, attending conferences across the globe, and honing her skills.

Not as someone choosing her avocados in the same grocery as me or shrieking her head off for her husband to rescue her from a spider.

Her goal, presumably, was to foster trust and connection. Not that they were lacking trust in her when they didn’t know she likes avocados.

Now, at the risk of being vulnerable, I’ll share how this long-winded rhetoric connects to me.

So I’m a freelancer.

I’ve been freelancing for years and years and years.

Of course, I’ve had better months and worse months. Happier clients and less happy clients. But the work has been steady. The feedback, too. I’ve learned to choose my clients and dismiss those I didn’t enjoy working with. I’ve signed contracts with some and chose to skip them with those I trusted. I’ve had the liberty of choosing my hours or overworking until the wee hours. I worked when my babies were a week old and then sometimes took off until they were three months old.

But I’ve never shared a single word about myself to my clients, unless I’d truly forged a relationship with them.  Not my passions, my tone-deafness, my recent move, my pimples, my dreams, my likes, my dislikes, my husband’s take on my job, my kids’ take on my job, my use of idioms as a copout, my regrets, my wishes, my four extra pounds (plus the other ten).

Especially since many of my clients are male — and even when the email recipient is a woman, the emails are often forwarded to male colleagues.

I share these things with my family and friends where vulnerability is a virtue, not a means to manipulate a fan base. Because vulnerability is the virtue of opening oneself, admitting to true weakness to  allow for true connection.

The other flavor of vulnerability does the very opposite. It creates the vision of cool humanness. Like, I’m so cool, I don’t even mind sharing that I’m tone-deaf. Or, I’m so successful, I can share the mini flop I had 23 years ago in nursery school (not nursing school).

Ladies! Don’t you love these #photoshoots I did yesterday? This family is totally HEAV! I made a lifelong friend. Right, Leah? Honestly, I was sick with the flu and couldn’t think of holding a camera! But these kids just pumped me and I got my energy back! Hmmm… keep it a secret from my family, because they had to make do with grilled cheese for supper!

And, of course, thanks for all your virtual choc. platters.

Umm… Go browse B&H Photo for their latest photography equipment. And leave me out of your grilled cheese.

Over the years, I’ve helped some of my acquaintances and cousins of acquaintances who were starting out on their freelancing journey. I forwarded leads, critiqued their work, offered free editing services as needed, and tweaked their email pitches. I helped them spot the red flags in job offers and warned them to stay away from new businesses that would make them work for free.

Then, something weird happened. About two years ago, their attitude shifted. They didn’t come with their bumbling emails and super-cheap rates. They all had these coolly crafted vulnerable emails.

Their emails looked something like this: Hi, I’m Ploni Almoni and I’m super pumped about your business. Here’s why: I’ve always dreamed (yeah, glazed eyes included, and some drool on my pillow, too) about being part of your team and bringing you passion that’ll have your customers bouncing on their yoga balls.

I’ve got what it takes to make you bounce, so gimme a buzz.

Okaaay. She’s starting out. Poor her. She’s got a lot to learn. She’s probably unaware that the first email should be short, a hint of friendliness, but the focus should definitely be on coming across professional — especially since she doesn’t know who will be reading this email.

Something like this: Hi,

I’ve heard such nice things about your company and would be honored to join your team. Please see attached résumé and confirm upon receipt. Looking forward to your response.

These new freelancers laughed in my face… and looked at me the same way I look at my grandmother when she talks about the beauty of cobalt dishes. Archaic.

Next thing I know, my accountant will send me my 2023 tax return with an email sounding something like this:

So I hope you guys are happy with the tax rebate you’re getting. I would 😉 I could surely use a vacation, especially after an April such as this one. (insert yawn emoji) I could barely keep up with this taxing month (my wife always complains about my obsession with puns!) due to the overwhelming number of new clients, which is all due to your patronage. See you on the Alaska Cruise.

It sounds bizarre, but who knows? Give it a year of two and he’ll join the league of my real estate agent who sends me a monthly update on her life while throwing in how crazy things have been because of her home renovations, which she could now afford due to my home buying.

So maybe I had it all wrong? Maybe that’s why I’m stuck writing websites for kitchen places and home health aides? Where are my leads to Fortune 500 companies? Mired in my feelings of inadequacy, I almost forgot that I didn’t want the slavery of working for a Fortune 500 company.

So I did the stupid thing and started following some other industry professionals. I began doubting my entire existence — or at least my ability to remain current in the market. I just write copy. I work hard, I research, I think about it while I cook and bake and clean, and then I send a measly Word document with my work.

The best part, these professionals all claim, is even though they are bombarded with work, they all have the perfect home/work balance, or so their vulnerable, sharing posts all read. Like, “Three kids home with the flu, and I can mommy them with hot cocoa and marshmallow fluff.” And of course, they can always attend performances (Just returned from my daughter’s performance! Yes, I was the mom who cried through the Yerushalayim song) and meet friends at cafés.

When did I do that last?

In my naivete, I thought copywriters should give the image of being immersed in Webster’s 2024 Edition, or debating the benefits of Strunk and White versus the Chicago Elements of Style.

Same as how real estate agents should be learning about new mortgage rates and accountants the updated tax laws and photographers browsing B&H.

As for me? Nothing really changed.

I had the same, steady clients. My steady difficult and easy days. I still have to daven, with true vulnerability, that He should provide. Just as before this niche market became a flooded contest of vulnerable wits.

So the reason I’m writing all of this is to… let off steam. And to put it on paper in case… the bug hits again. (Because I’m human like all those vulnerable humans. And sometimes I’m scared of falling off the map by not keeping up with the times. Especially when some of the newbies in the industry post their cool incomes.)

There’s so much talk in history about the strength of a Yiddishe mamma and the nashim tzidkaniyos. There’s talk about their vulnerability to the Ribbono shel Olam, but they showed strength, not vulnerability, to those who depended on them.

I doubt Yehudis went to rescue the Yidden while the town crier went around sharing how she struggles through bedtime and, really, she’s just like you, in a cool and perfect way, before heading out of Yerushalayim.

And neither did Miriam Haneviah tell all the women that she spends her days delivering babies, and in her spare time, she loves percussion, hence the tambourines. (Pals, I hope I got that right, with my tone-deafness and my cluelessness to anything music-related 😉

Because when we join this culture of veneer vulnerability, aren’t we putting ourselves in a truly vulnerable position?


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 888)

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