Justin Ricklefs

Personal

Vulnerability is the Gateway

In my previous work life, it was common for me to be at a major function once a week-ish.

Either a black-tie deal with Brooke on the weekend, a networking happy hour thing, a client event or some fundraising luncheon with a cool speaker.

Big rooms, lots of well-dressed successful people, neat experiences.

Lots of energy.

Energy I fed off of, and frankly, used to my advantage.

You know the scene probably.

Loads of small talk. Super brief conversations. As fleeting and surface as you can get.

And I was a champ at it.

Loved it in fact. Or at least it looked like I did.

“Hey man, great seeing you. Things good?”

“Oh hey, sure I remember you, congrats on that promotion…”

“Remember my wife Brooke? Yeah, things are great…”

What I didn’t communicate in those types of settings were how:

No one saw me duck into side hallways of the hotel, outside the big ballrooms and check my phone for 10 minutes to avoid more conversations.

Or how I’d get in the car after nights like that and feel like a fraud.

Or how I’d kiss my kids on the cheek when I got home and they were already asleep, I’d feel guilty, then do my best to convince Brooke how much that event would help us get where we wanted to go.

I’m not at all saying those types of parties, events and fundraisers aren’t amazing. They are. We’ve been to several recently and they aren’t the problem.

I was.

I viewed big crowds, dim lights and powerful people as my playground to shine.

Not to be known.

Because being known is scary. So the crowds were safer.

It was far easier for me to have 75 surface conversations than a couple heart to hearts.

The second a pointed question would arise, my insides would squirm then I’d find a polite way to move on to the next inch deep conversation.

I was great at the game. But it’s one that’s exhausting for me to play anymore.

The game I’m taking more at bats in recently (that’s hard but becoming more fun for me) is sitting down with a friend for an hour and going to the rocky, dark, oh boy type places.

A few weeks ago, on a Monday morning, my day started with such a time.

At a little breakfast spot on the Liberty square. The meeting was work related but with a guy who is also becoming a good friend.

We hunkered down near the exposed brick wall, ate our omelets and talked youth sports, the Chiefs and the other stuff that can fill an hour-long meeting with ease.

But about halfway in, I knew I needed to shift gears. I had to open up.

See, the work project we wanted to tackle couldn’t really be discussed without context and a story he needed to know.

So, slightly nervously and awkwardly, I let him in.

I went there with him, not knowing exactly if he’d get up and say “cool, thanks for breakfast, sorry I forgot about this other appointment I have…”

Or if he’d stay in it with me.

He chose option two.

And not only that, when I dumped the truck on him without his prior knowledge, he said,

“Wow, your story is a gift to me. Thank you for sharing. Would you mind if I shared mine?”

Our hour breakfast ran long.

Because we went deep.

I heard this phrase on a podcast sometime in the last couple weeks and have already forgotten the source.

But this is what I scribbled down:

Vulnerability is the gateway.

I think that’s so right on the money.

It’s the gateway to connection. It’s the gateway to change. It’s the gateway to your self. It’s the gateway for others to go next and not be afraid.

That kind of vulnerability can’t (and shouldn’t) exist in a ballroom or even a blog, but for years I found myself mostly being the ballroom guy, not the breakfast conversation guy.

And I’m starting to enjoy the latter, even though it’s not my natural bent.

So go first sometime.

Even when you’re nervous. Even when it’s awkward.

Instead of rejection and a “hey thanks for breakfast, I gotta bounce…”, my hunch is you’ll get a “Me too. Can I tell you my story?”

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