The Vulnerable Leader

Dis-entangling Our Creative Confidence (a Powerful Reframe and a Potent Practice)

At some point we have to start dis-entangling our creative confidence again. Otherwise, we’ll all end up with all of our genius, our stories and our wisdom locked up and hidden from a world in desperate need of just that.


In these last few days, and through my writing practice, I’ve been reflecting on the ways in which my creativity and confidence in my voice has become a little more guarded (to put it lightly) than when it was, say, in my teenage years.


I’ve always been slightly more introverted and shy in social situations. One-on-one conversation with someone and I love it, room of over 20 or so, and I love it. If I can’t see the people I’m sharing with though, or if it is between 3-16 people, I feel the trembles and end up fumbling from one word to the next carefully choosing my way through my thoughts.


However, I was flung into my public speaking career at the age of 14. You know the high-school ‘motivational speakers’ that give usually overly zealous pep-talks to high-school students about the future, dreaming and following them? That was me. By the time I was 19 I’d done two TEDx talks, and not on ‘motivation’ or  even ‘inspiration,’ but on topics that were close to my heart, they were slightly vulnerable.


My first TEDx, in Boulder, was on designing eco-systems for collaboration and modeling our systems of nature’s brilliance and intelligence. Jason, the curator and I had connected 5 weeks prior to the event and he’d asked if I wanted to be a speaker, if I was ok with only have 5 weeks to prepare. Of course, I said yes!


Every Monday, we’d get on our coaching call to refine and rehearse my talk. Every Monday, I’d let Jason know that I would prefer to only “plan a little structure, and allow the rest to unfold on stage,” much to Jason’s dismay. I had such confidence, such self-belief, ungirded!


On the day, I stood up there, I delivered. Afterwards, I recall going back to the green room and feeling completely surprised, by breath felt steady the whole time, my words clear, my pace even.


Now though – and you may relate to this – even posting this, sharing a Facebook story or speaking into a circle of 30 people and I feel a much greater sense of judgement or expectation right before the words leave my mouth. It feels as though with age, comes the expectation for complexity and for the profound.


“Why are you allowed to be here?”


I love complexity, I appreciate it and appreciate the appreciation of it. Yes, as we age, we do have almost an obligation to refine our worldview, build more robust and wholesome foundations for our opinions, but wow is it paralyzing sometimes.


It’s not surprising to me how confident I was back then. It’s surprising and confronting to me, how quickly this confidence get zapped right from underneath us. I feel it in my naval, my gut, my pelvis.


This is a practice of courage, right? To meet the fear of being seen as we are – human, messy and always changing – and in this still practice telling the story on our hearts. Telling that which needs to be told, in order for us to feel truly in our integrity, and to honour that which is inside us. 


It’s a muscle, it can be trained in the same way we isolate the bicep and do those curls. Although, I do prefer whole-body, body-weight training 😉 


In a world in a complex, ambiguous, volatile and uncertain state, we need complex solutions. The solutions to today’s challenges need to be networked, systemic and integrated across social, political, psychological, ecological and economical. Complexity is required, so too is collaboration and diversity – this is what makes ideas complex. 


We need to return to the playground!


For collaboration and diversity to occur and be practiced, we need to start to bring play and experimentalism to our work and lives. We need to start to learn to face the rumble, notice it and choose to create or share despite it. We need to build a resilience to the rumble. This way we start to unfurl our own ideas and creative genius, and in doing so create spaces for others to do the same.


So, let’s bring it home for you! What is a context or environment that you feel yourself contract and creative confidence a little stifled in? Is it at work, specific friendship circles, a specific person. Choose one context.


Let’s make it a little play-work to bring these practices and reframes to that context for you 😉 


A reframe to help shift the narrative:


When it comes to sharing something vulnerable or creative yourself, you might hear this little birdy, “if I share this, will they still like me?”

When you hear someone else sharing something vulnerable or creative, you might think to yourself, “wow, that was courageous, good on them!”


What does that tell you? We are of course, our worst critic! That swarm of mosquitoes that comes around with us nit-picking and correcting, trying to protect its identity.


So here’s the real reframe:


For most of us, we carry an identity that we’ve crafted to belong, to fit into the culture in which we live. For me, this identity is, “I’m someone who has everything together, has my answers all clear and no real challenges of unknowns.”


So how do you think this makes me feel when I stand at the edge deciding whether to share something or not? My whole identity is at risk. 


What if instead of setting myself up with this large, slightly-unrealistic, and very de-humanising vision of myself, I held myself in this way: “I am a human. I have my flaws, I have my imperfections. I have valuable perspectives, real experiences, and value to add.”


Wouldn’t it be a little lighter to hold ourselves like this? Wouldn’t it make leaning into the unknown a little more human and acceptable?


A whole-body, body-weight practice to help grow that courage muscle:


Ask yourself, where in your body do you feel the nervousness, the contraction, the fear?


Now ask yourself, where in your body do you feel the reframe above, the openness, compassion and playfulness? 


For me, I feel the rumbling in my gut and my mind. I feel confidence and playfulness in my naval and my hips. 


Playtime! So let’s try it out. Next time you are in the context you reflected on and identified above, checkin with yourself. Where am I feeling this contraction? Am I telling a story that doesn’t serve? 


Can I breathe and feel into the part of my body I feel confidence, strong and playful in? Can I reframe this narrative and arrive in a sense of ease and compassion for my very human-nature?


Not only does feeling confident and lively in your creativity feel freeing, liberating and strengthening it will actually make you more lethal, valuable and irreplaceable in the workforce (secret!). It will also bring a greater sense of meaning and fulfillment to your work by being more able to contribute to meaningful challenges and feel a part of solving them. 


Here’s to reframing our creative blocks and rumbles, to strengthening our courage-muscle and bring that playground to back to our work and lives. 


What spoke to you loudest in this piece? Did something resonate strongly or feel most relevant for you? I’d love to hear – leave a comment below, or email me at al@aljeffery.com.

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