I love stepping into paradoxes and celebrating what it means to embrace complexities rather than settling into over simplifications. Finding strength in vulnerability is one of my favorite paradoxes.
For some, the idea of being vulnerable is so unimaginably uncomfortable that it causes a physical reaction – anxiety, fear of rejection, and concern over judgment. For me, stepping into vulnerability is the ultimate demonstration of my strength of spirit and commitment to live a deeply meaningful life.
But I haven’t always been this way.
I have been so fortunate to have other leaders pour into my life in a way that encourages this shameless acceptance of self and willingness to share it with others. One of my most powerful mentors is Jennifer Owen-O’Quill, with Voltage Leadership.
When I met Jennifer I was working at Polymer Solutions Incorporated occupying a big role for a young professional; I was their Chief Growth Officer and responsible for marketing, communications, talent acquisition and facilitation of company culture. I joined a cohort of other young professional leaders and together, under Jennifer’s guidance, we learned the importance of empathetic leadership, how to be effective and above all, how to lead others well.
Jennifer always believed in me and cared about me enough to say hard truth with the end goal of challenging me toward increased greatness. Even after our formal working relationship concluded she has stayed in touch, cheered for me, and recommended me for speaking engagements. Before the Covid-19 pandemic hit we enjoyed lunch together, shared our dreams, goals and struggles. Jennifer is a business relationship that has developed into a deep and meaningful friendship.
And like all friendships, there are ups and downs as we navigate the unexpected aspects of life. Jennifer received a serious cancer diagnosis right around the time the Covid-19 pandemic was beginning to impact our daily lives. A lot has happened over the last few months and recently Jennifer shared just how life-impacting her illness has been and will be.
In a beautiful demonstration of strength and vulnerability she openly shared the struggles and challenges in a blog post. She spoke of the life changes she was making to support her wellness. She shared from a place of deep gratitude. In reading her post, she affirmed exactly why I care so much and value her as a mentor, friend, and human being.
Vulnerability is self ownership in action.
Her blog post was a fighter’s decree that she has a steadfast commitment to herself, her family and her wellness. In ensuring her wellness she knows she can look toward the future of coaching other leaders and elevating their success. It was not a bemoaning of her circumstances, although she would be totally justified in doing so. Rather, it was her speaking honestly about where she finds herself and where she will go from here.
Reading it brought me to tears. It isn’t my diagnosis to cry over but out of love and care for Jennifer, I couldn’t not cry. But part way through reading the post, and as my tears fell, I realized they were also tears of pride. I am so proud of who she is and that I am able to call her a friend.
As I consider the major health battle Jennifer is fighting amidst a global pandemic I am challenged to reframe my perspective. It is not about an “it could be worse” attitude but rather it is about choosing to see goodness, blessings and joy around every corner.
You serve no one well by holding tightly to your challenges.
I shared Jennifer’s story today to remind YOU to not shy from vulnerability. Your story should have depth, edges, struggles and victories! Open up in honest ways about what you are facing and the support you need. In doing so, you allow others to come alongside you, do life with you and affirm you. The paradox of vulnerability is a gift to those who know and love you.
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