Jenny Stradling

CEO at Eminent SEO. Working on making the web a better place through design and business sustainability.

A Conversation on Vulnerability

It’s probably safe to say in business the world that vulnerability is not a desirable word. It makes sense too, as vulnerability is said to represent weakness or defenselessness – not something a business owner would want to be.

However, to me, the word vulnerability means and represents something very different: something beautiful and welcomed.

A Hard Lesson To Learn

2016 was an incredibly hard year for me. At the end of every year, I hear people say things like, “This was the worst year ever,” or “the hardest year of my life,” and I have to admit, I internally roll my eyes a little. I hate generalizations that apply to a prolonged, but specific period of time. Like a “bad day” for example. Was the whole day that horrible… really??? Maybe. But, often times, I think it’s just an excuse we use to justify letting ourselves dwell on one negative outcome. I get that. So, this not just something I say.

But, I will when I talk about this year.

2016 sucked.

Of course I can talk about all of the wonderful highlights and find 1,000 things to be grateful for. Don’t get me wrong: I want to focus there (and need to/will soon). But first, I want to talk about vulnerability. And, in order to do that I need to, well, be vulnerable.

At the beginning of the year, I found out I have hypothyroidism. I had no idea what that meant and how it had been affecting me. I am still not 100% sure I know the full extent. But, I do know that it had a crazy impact on my hormones (or, in other words, emotions, yay!) and in order to find a proper balance, I had to go through a lot. I still don’t feel like myself some of the time, but for almost a whole year and a 65-pound weight loss later, I am feeling much closer to my “normal” self than I have for years.

Unwritten Rules

Much like in life, in business, there are rules. Some are written, but often times, there are unwritten rules we choose to follow as well. Call it my hormones or maybe it was the Mars retrograde, but something in me changed this year. Not unlike the many years leading up to this one, I was feeling an undeniable need to change things up and try something new. But, very unlike the last few years of running my company, I was no longer willing to play it safe or play by “the rules.”

I think this all started with the move. When we were asked to leave the house we had been operational out of for several years, it came unexpectedly. Instead of pushing back and prolonging the inevitable, I told myself, “Everything happens for a reason,” and took it as a sign it was time to move on to something better. And, in retrospect, it really was for the best and I am extremely happy with our new location. However, that move sparked something in me. I think it highlighted the fact that I was no longer who I once was and I really was no longer where I once was – physically and mentally.

Suddenly nothing seemed good enough. We had this new office and nothing else was really new, yet somehow it needed to be. All at once, nothing was good enough. I felt that our services were not where they needed to be, the staff needed more educating, and I was no longer where I personally needed to be either.

Nothing was right.

I’ll spare you the details, but let’s just say I lost a few clients, employees and even friends this last year. It was hard. But, you know what they say right? If nothing changes, everything stays the same. Sometimes change is hard. Sometimes it’s really hard. But in my industry, you innovate or you die. There is no getting comfortable if you want to evolve.

So, What Does This Have To Do With Vulnerability?

To me, everything.

As a business owner, it’s scary to get up every day and go to work and have faith that the decisions you are making now will pay off in the long run. But, it’s even scarier when you decide you’re being taken advantage of and you will no longer tolerate it. For several months, I worked day and night, sometimes for several hours long after the last person had left the office. I hardly saw my kids. My relationship had become all business. I wasn’t sleeping or eating well. It got so bad that there was a point I was seriously considering walking away from it all.

But, I didn’t. I stayed. I fought. I cried some real tears. I took the bad with the good.

I’m not proud of every moment, and there are plenty from this last year I wish I could redo. But, one thing I can say I am proud of that came out of this year is I learned to stand up for myself. And, for the first time in a long time, I was true to myself.

I Am Vulnerable

As a young female CEO in a predominantly male-dominated tech world, admittedly there are times I want to hide my vulnerabilities. It’s never been about covering up who I am, but I have purposely kept myself guarded when it comes to dealing with clients and partners. (Who doesn’t?!) But, that can be hard when you are used to being an open book. After a while, you feel like your identity is slowly being taken from you.

I started wondering, what if this is as good as it gets? And that scared the crap out of me.
Why should I have to hide anything about myself or those I love just to make strangers more comfortable, even though they don’t offer the same for me?

Not only was I let down by the behavior of those around me, I realized how much of myself I was putting into the work. And without recognition and appreciation, it had become less and less fulfilling. This made me angry and sad. I was lost.

When we first started Eminent SEO back in 2009, I was in a totally different place mentally. I was desperate, scared and just ready to work. We had no clue what we were doing and we were beat up pretty bad. When you are a new agency and have no history or client success stories to back up your ability, you take what you can get. And, we did. We worked day and night for other agencies, building them up and letting them take all of the credit. It was humbling, but beggars can’t be choosers I would say.

Fast forward to 2016 when we had long since found success, yet I was still feeling stifled, misunderstood and taken for granted. I knew I hadn’t worked for seven years to overcome the dark place I came from, only to fall back into that same dark place. If I wanted something to change, I was going to have to be honest and take a real look at everything, starting with me, and I already knew it wasn’t going to be easy.

I let my guard down and I trusted some people. I spoke of things that matter, even when I knew it might mean losing a friend or a client. And, when my voice shook and the people around me thought I was losing my mind, I showed my vulnerability. Why? Because for the first time in a long time, I stopped caring what people thought about me and starting caring more about how people treated me. I did not want to become a doormat – someone that sits back and lets other people walk all over them to simply avoid conflict. No. Not me.

I got mad. I told some people to take a hike. I said what I felt. I stood up for myself. I stopped letting people take advantage of me. And, even when it hurt, I knew that I was doing the right thing. My vulnerability gave me strength. I am better because of it.

Does Vulnerability Take Courage?

Sometimes it’s easier to see the courage others have, but we don’t give ourselves credit for having courage in the same ways. When someone else shows vulnerability, we applaud them and speak to their courage. So, why then can’t we see that our own vulnerability is a sign of courage and give ourselves more credit?

I will never talk about my own courage unless it is to say that I believe the ability to be vulnerable, or to show vulnerability, in an attempt to connect with others and “do the right thing” does take courage. It’s hard.

“To share your weakness is to make yourself vulnerable; to make yourself vulnerable is to show your strength.”

That is a pretty powerful thought that I intend to keep with me. Maybe next time you are feeling vulnerable, you will remember that we all must accept our weaknesses in order to overcome them. Share your struggles, ask for help, humble yourself and pull strength from your ability to be courageous when you need to be. There’s no shame in showing vulnerability.

Remember, it’s your vulnerability that makes you strong.

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