Perfection is boring


Recently I had the opportunity to speak at the The Gilbert Leadership Conference held for freshmen leaders at Texas A&M. The program is named after David Gilbert who passed away while attending Texas A&M. He was a leader whose legacy lives on today through through the actions of these leaders.

These students have been selected to participate in a program that challenges them to live to a standard that goes beyond themselves, focusing on servant leadership. It is a beautiful organization and I was honored to share my story with them.

I was asked to share my experience as an entrepreneur and how to balance personal and professional needs. I would be given ten minutes to discuss whatever I chose and then the leaders would have five minutes to ask questions. At the conclusion, the students would move to another table, hosted by a different executive.

My identity

Even after hundreds of speeches I still have a bit of an Imposter Syndrome, fearing that the audience will hear the words coming out of my mouth, but know that deep down I am really making it up as I go. To combat this fear, I work hard to understand my audience and then craft a story that I believe will paint a flattering picture of who I am and what I have done, all wrapped up in a pretty little bow.

“If only they knew it’s a facade and it’s exhaustive.”– Eminem

In planning for the event I had created a carefully crafted script designed to make the most of the ten minutes I had been given, however when I opened my mouth to speak, I threw the script out and went with my heart, choosing to be vulnerable.

Courage or weakness — that is the question.

Vulnerability creates a juxtaposition: in you it is courageous and daring, but in me it’s weakness. Put another way, vulnerability is one of the first things I look for in you and the last thing I’m willing to show you. Yet it is the main decision that matters when it comes to relationships.

“Your ability to be loved is directly related to the extent that you are vulnerable.” — Brene Brown

Years ago, when we began RISE, the team discussed what our values should be as a company. We spent many sessions writing words on a board, describing what kind of company we wanted to be and how we wanted to be known. Over 100 words were written down, discussed and debated but we eventually came down to our core values.

We saw a lot of success as a team, launching an airline, rapidly growing and ultimately getting acquired within a few years. There are a myriad of reasons for this success, but one of the main reasons we found success was because of our focus on our values in our day-to-day decisions. These values drove key decisions, that lead to our success.

When it was all said and done we designated Love as our first core value as a business.

Even now, after several years and hundreds of conversations, it still feels a little weird to say that Love is our first core value, but like all truth, it becomes more true over time.

Having faith

In an effort to live more aligned to our core value of Love, I have over the last year, tried to overtly be more vulnerable by telling others about the the things in my life that cause embarrassment and push me into an isolating shame cycle. Up until recently I didn’t share my fears but rather packed them deep down inside hoping with enough time they would just go away. Occasionally, while in the safety of a close friendship, and after a few cocktails, I would spill the details and cower.

With my new found resolve, I started sharing intimate details with close friends, then mere acquaintances and finally with complete strangers. It was simultaneously exhilarating and nauseating.

This leadership conference was the first time ever that I publicly shared, the intimate parts of my story that I have hidden for decades, covered up by ever growing accomplishments, carefully crafted to conceal that which I didn’t want known.

I didn’t plan on being so vulnerable to this large of a group, but when I opened my mouth, I spoke truth.

I chose love.

The end result

The above picture was taken after our session was over and several of the students came back to ask additional questions and discuss what concerns they had.

I was overwhelmed by their response.

They heard an authentic, embarrassing, but true story about my first several decades on this earth. I waited for the condemnation.

The condemnation never came.

They responded with respect and honor to my story.

Ironically, these leaders gave me respect that I have so desperately desired as I spent decades hustling to expand my proverbial trophy room.

Why millienials are my favorite

This generation of leaders is going to be one of the best this world has ever seen, because they can’t be bought cheaply and they can sniff out a fraud from miles away. In a world of ever shortened attention spans, millennials will stop everything to hear a story of purpose, then make concrete changes in their lives.

I leave you with the following quote from one of my all time favorite authors. She’s writing to authors, but it is a universal truth for every human.

“If something inside of you is real, we will probably find it interesting, and it will probably be universal. So you must risk placing real emotion at the center of your work. Write straight into the emotional center of things. Write toward vulnerability. Risk being unliked. Tell the truth as you understand it. If you’re a writer you have a moral obligation to do this. And it is a revolutionary act — truth is always subversive.” — Anne Lamott

According to an app I have on my phone, I have 15,046 days left on this earth. I plan on using every last one of them to connect with humans on a deeper level through truth and vulnerability. I encourage you to do the same. You may be surprised by the respect and honor you receive because of the truth you shared with them.