This is part 5 in the Voice podcast series. Past episodes include: your work is not your worth. This is what your voice has to do with your work and worth. How to take time off. Nice and kind are not the same. You don’t have to go in order!
When I talk with my coaching peeps 1-on-1 about being a little more vulnerable in business, they usually freak out. They imagine a world in which every secret they’ve ever had is laid bare and then featured on a reality show that’s beamed into every home on the planet — AND it’s shot in HD so that every pore on their face has its own character name and story line. That’s not the case, and I want to address this as an introduction to the sort of brave that affects your voice (or lack thereof) the most: vulnerability.
Let’s dive into what keeps you from being vulnerable, where you’re most likely to waste your vulnerability juice, and what it looks like to turn one of the scariest acts most females can imagine — asking for help — into a fun game. (Yes, REALLY. A fucking fun game.)
First, a word to calm the parts of you that are freaking out when I even mention the word ‘vulnerability,’ let alone begin to talk about it.
Vulnerability doesn’t have to happen all at once.
You don’t have to go from being a master of mystique to spilling your sexiest secrets in one fell swoop. Often, the first steps into vulnerability as a business owner will be fairly mundane. They’ll look like having your face on your website. Your face in a headshot without your partner, your kids, your dog, your tools of the trade, and/or your cat(s). Just you.
Add your full name, your location on the planet, and your phone number and e-mail address so potential clients can actually contact you, et voila! You’re 30% more visible than you were mere moments ago.
When you’re even a shade more visible, you’ll be tempted to retreat and stop making the cutting edge work that’s calling to your spirit at this moment.
Please don’t give in to that temptation to stop making, doing, or calling rad stuff into being. PLEASE don’t download a freebie from the interwebs and build the ‘instant’ product that’s already done for you if you just fill in ‘content.’
Likewise, don’t fall for the trap that you’re already visible enough, and if you were any good everyone would know about you by now. Your asshole brain will try to convince you of the ol’ ‘If you build it, they will come’ mentality and try to tell you that if you were REALLY gifted, you’d have moved one billion dollars’ worth of product in the past four minutes by activating your new Squarespace website. Don’t listen. That’s not true. Overnight successes take, on average, 7 to 10 years to happen.
You’ll naturally want to come up with a 6-step program or a light and airy product that’s ‘easy’ to sell, when what your spirit wants is to combine words and meetings and breathwork and books in ways no one has ever seen before, or hold a workshop that won’t sell nearly as well as one about sales. (At least, that’s how it is for me at the moment.)
Let’s explore a few ways you can be vulnerable without throwing yourself over a metaphorical cliff and getting deeply hurt, thus undoing all your progress and giving another victory to the ‘just sit down and shut up, you’ve got nothing to say’ voices in your brain.
Make the work, even if you don’t show it to anyone.
I write poems that no one sees all the time. (Here are the ones you can see.)
The willingness to be vulnerable with your SELF — with your own feelings, desires, insecurities, fears, and demons — is the only way to be comfortable sharing any of your vulnerable bits with anyone, ever.
Also, let’s talk about Hilma. Hilma af Klint was a Swedish painter and mystic born in 1862, who died in 1944. She was classically trained in art, displaying her landscapes and botanicals widely throughout her lifetime. But her secret work. In secret, she created painting after painting that wasn’t to be viewed until a full TWENTY years after her death. It wasn’t that she was scared, it was that she knew the world wasn’t ready — she was ahead of her time, and her peers wouldn’t have gotten it. She was completely right, and her work is now on display across five floors of the Guggenheim Museum in New York City. In a display called ‘Paintings for the Future.’ The ongoing discovery and study of her work has caused art history books to be rewritten, as the dudes credited for first using x or y technique or modality are no longer accurate. It was Hilma first.
GO BE A HILMA.
In other words: don’t self censor.
Even if you only make stuff that lives in a closet or drawer or under a bed or is kept wrapped in brown paper until twenty years after your death, you’re much further along than those who let their best and most vital work languish in their minds, never to see the light of day. (Or worse, the ones who make mediocre ‘safe’ work while trying to appeal to everyone, ever. Introverts at Work will help you beat your vanilla, appeal-to-everyone impulses.)
This step is impossible to view from the outside and no one can possibly hold you accountable for doing it, so I can only say it here and hope you hear me: don’t self censor.
Don’t self censor, don’t self censor, don’t self censor.
The parts of yourself that you’re most afraid to show to others will often be the parts that are embraced with the most love. (Or a retrospective at the Guggenheim.)
I started writing about my struggles with depression in 2013. I was certain that somehow the world would shatter, people would stop hiring me, and I’d be fending off flaming bags of dog turds for writing that article. All roads led to homeless and penniless in my mind.
Instead, people wrote kind notes. Six years later, that original article is the #1 most popular thing I’ve ever written. (Sad. True. Both/and.) Peeps have sent me e-mails and letters and they’ve hugged me upon meeting to let me know that I helped. Years later, I still get thank you notes for that first article.
Oh and, that first article didn’t ‘do’ anything. It didn’t end with 84 Steps to End Your Depression Forever! It didn’t recommend miracle supplements you could buy to solve your life or even conclude with a happy ending, meaning I’d suddenly been cured or fixed and could help you out of the dire, horrible places in your own brain. It simply acknowledged my ongoing struggles with mental illness and let my peeps know that I was still alive. And working. And that continues to give people hope.
Please remember this when you’re tempted to believe you’re not being ‘useful’ enough. Acknowledging what you’re going through without rushing to make it a happy ending is useful.
Further: you can unfold by degrees.
From that first article with depression, it took years for me to go deeper: keeping the wolf at bay, hard-won depression tactics you can actually use, and the depression chronicles. More recently, I’ve talked about suicidal ideations and how I’ve handled them — in the ‘tell on yourself‘ episode of the podcast. Unfolding by degrees means…
You don’t have to share your experiences in the present.
It took a full year for me to talk about my divorce anywhere, in any capacity. It took two years for me to admit the full cost of having hosted Brand Camp publicly.
I had depression for more than a decade before I talked about it with anyone other than my doctor and my best friend.
I still haven’t talked about medical marijuana anywhere. My inner Nancy Reagan is rather strong.
Vulnerability means, in the words of either Brene Brown or Glennon Doyle or both in some class they taught that’s no longer online — writing from our scars, not our wounds.
You don’t have to share your gaping wounds, but you can write/sew/dance/make/leap/film/photograph your way through them. You can take notes to use as fodder. You can keep an open list of ‘This Will Be Funny Someday’ vignettes on your computer. You can move through a tragedy of any kind — from a ruined favorite shirt to the death of a loved one — knowing that someday, somehow, this, too will be a scar.
You don’t have to accept feedback.
When you’re putting work in the world, you’re not required to ask for or to accept feedback of any kind.
This flies in the face of all those who want you to run beta programs and then get feedback before you launch a thing, or put your soul’s work up in simplistic polls on social media — thus letting strangers talk you out of what every fiber of your being wants to make next. This is harmful, uninteresting, and dangerous.
If I followed the advice of even my dearest clients, I would only talk about marketing and sales — NOT about honing your voice, not about vulnerability or depression or the hardest bits of being in business, and certainly not tiny, annoying progress.
You are in no way, not once not ever, required to hear the feedback of critics or total strangers. This especially applies to completely subjective works of all kinds.
The minute you let someone else’s opinions matter more than your own internal barometer, your work gets diluted.
Are you pushing your own limits?
Do you stand beside what you’ve made?
Would your past self be proud of what you’ve created?
The answers to those questions are far more important than whether someone, somewhere, on the internet approves. Personally, I’ve got three people I trust to look stuff over and tell me where/if it’s falling down. I run harsh critique through those same three people to see if it’s valid or if it’s just trolling. I ask my clients for feedback once they’ve worked with me and address their concerns one-on-one. This isn’t to say that I don’t accept feedback, only that you, dear human, are not required to ask for it at any point. Sometimes work is better when it’s yours and only yours.
Too often, we give others’ opinions far more sway than our own at some delicate point when the aliveness of the whole project hangs in the balance.
You can also minimize vulnerability wherever possible.
We all know the nerve-wracking sensation of launching a thing into the world, whether it’s a workshop or a workbook, and whether it took two weeks or two years to bring to fruition. You can absolutely minimize that vulnerability so that it can be used in other places!
When it comes to bringing your work to the public, start with a sure thing.
I sell every single book, program, product, class, whozeewhatzit or thingamabob I make to a sure thing before I release it to the general public. Meaning, I make a thing and then ask one of my favorite peeps to buy it, knowing that the person will say ‘yes.’
In the case of the Voice workshop, I invited my KK on Tap and Steer Your Ship peeps to attend first, knowing the cost is included in their coaching and they were, therefore, more likely to hop on board. That’s how I got the first seven attendees, and how I got past the ‘what if no one signs up ever’ hurdle.
The Sure Thing Method takes away the vulnerability of ‘OH GOD WHAT IF I DON’T SELL *ANY* OF THAT THING’ and frees me up to release my work into the world with less stress about how it will perform financially.
If you want to sell a new thing, start by hitting up the people who told you to make that thing in the first place. If they’ve bothered you to teach yoga for years and now you’ve got classes on the calendar, ask ’em to come. They’ve been hounding you to paint, and you’ve just finished a bunch of pieces? Ask ’em to buy. (Speaking of which: come to Voice. You’ll love it.)
Ask, ask, ask. And, um.
Asking is always vulnerable. And therefore brave.
This is me telling you that you’re not broken or weird if you find asking for help and/or a sale to be practically impossible. The good news is that it gets easier with time and practice. Where once I felt like I was going to puke every single time a person e-mailed to ask about hiring me, I can now report that I feel only a brief wibbliness in my belly before answering the message and signing ’em up for the right offering. (Related: you could probably use this breathwork class.)
Here’s the game part!
Start a ‘no’ collection when you begin to ask for help.
The next time you make a thing, aim to ask for something so outrageous or out of your league that you collect 10 no’s. You’ll get far more yes’s along the way, and you’re mentally prepared to spin every ‘no’ as a good thing. It’s fucking revolutionary.
Can I be on your podcast?
Will you talk about this new thing with your people?
Will you come to my workshop?
Will you hire me?
Can I use your space to meet with people?
Want to talk on the phone?
Want to feature me in an article?
Can you help me plan for X?
Can we get coffee and talk about Y?
Would you be willing to look over _____ and review it before I share it?
Do you have any insights about __________?
The bigger the ask — and bravery involved — the more exciting it is when you get a yes. This also keeps you from giving up on potential clients who have ghosted you, because if you follow up enough to get a ‘no,’ you can add it to your collection.
Finally: there are laws, there are rules, and there are opinions. Distinguish between the three carefully.
People will take it upon themselves to give you advice and to ‘look out for you’ in many ways.
Someone once told me that calling myself an orphan hugger was the most offensive thing she’d ever seen and made me look “hopelessly naive.” I’d just spent months in countries literally hugging orphans and was merely being accurate.
People have told me how inappropriate it was for me to mention the shaving of legs (SUPPORTING THE PATRIARCHY!), how completely wrong it was for me to take products off the market (HOW DARE YOU NOT TAKE MY MONEY), and the ways my use of strong language is offensive (yawn). Related: what to do when strangers are mean to you on the internet.
They’ve sent me long, long lists of reasons they’re unsubscribing.
…and I’m still here.
Still alive, still vulnerable, still doing my best to avoid self censoring.
Still taking a stand for the introverts, those called to the depths, and those who are sensitive AF and learning to live with it.
Still helping creatives do their big important magnificent brutal difficult lovely work in the world.
Still advocating for the use of your voice to brighten the world, starting right now.
If you’re like, ‘YAH KRISTEN BUT HOW DO I ACTUALLY START,’ here we go!
To be more brave, show us your:
Physical location on planet earth
Baby steps into a less vanilla business
Scars, not your wounds
Untouched, raw work
Work you don’t censor
Work you’re called to make
Biggest asks (and build that no collection).
You can feel those getting harder as you go down the list, so begin with the first five and go from there. You’re more than capable of being more brave in business, starting right row.
If you’d like to actively step into the bravest parts of yourself with my support, check out the Voice workshop! The 2-day workshop goes down in Philly on May 20th & 21st!
Your voice will become more wild, kind, brave, and clear during our time together. You’ll unlearn a bunch of asshole brain bits, explore your own edges and the places you’ve suppressed your voice over the years, and meet a bunch of like-minded folks who kick infinite amounts of ass. KK peeps are unfailingly witty, kind, and awesome.
Get a ticket.
P.S. Let out your meows.