Many people, particularly those in leadership roles, are so concerned about their reputation and how others may perceive their decisions and actions that their fear, anxiety and lack of vulnerability causes them to suppress their expression of Self and prevents them from being authentic, generating trust and doing what they believe in. They may fear failure or being labelled and judged. They may be anxious about the 'what ifs?' or about needing to be assertive with their team, and so on. Recently, I watched an interview with American entrepreneur Jeff Bezos, and a particular comment he made sparked the urge to write this article. He said, 'One thing I learned within the first couple of years of starting a company is that inventing and pioneering involves a willingness to be misunderstood for long periods of time'. It made me realise that being vulnerable enough to be willing to be misunderstood is a quality many people of influence have in common. Without it, they wouldn't dare move forward. This article examines why the world's highest achievers are willing to be misunderstood in the pursuit of actualising their vision and even judged for sticking to their guns and being true to themselves, especially when working on a vision greater than themselves that they know will have lasting benefits beyond their immediate interests and lifetime. It explores how our Moods, particularly vulnerability, anxiety, fear and care, are profoundly connected to how we participate in life, individually and collectively. I will explain why the health of our relationship with these Moods either suppresses or amplifies us and why failing to master and leverage our Moods costs us dearly and causes many to suppress themselves and live their lives with regret.
When we are born, we are thrown into this world without our consent. Almost completely powerless, we can't take care of our basic survival needs, see properly or make sense of the world around us. With limited means of communication, we have no choice but to rely on our parents or carers to correctly decipher our cries and gestures and provide what we need when we need it. With each passing minute, we enter unknown and unexplored realms, all part of the journey of being 'out there' in the world. We are vulnerable across multiple dimensions: physically, cognitively, emotionally and psychologically. However, vulnerability is not the only Mood we experience from birth and throughout our lives. From the day we come into this world, fear and anxiety may also be present. Given how vulnerable we are, is it any wonder we are anxious and fearful?
As human beings, our Moods are the first layer through which we project who we are to the world. They either suppress or amplify our expression of Self depending on how we relate to them. The four Moods in the Being Framework Ontological Model are vulnerability, care, fear and anxiety. They are four of thirty-one Aspects of Being identified in the model, which maps out the qualities of human beings that are critical to our effectiveness and ability to live a life of success and fulfilment. Moods are critical because they impact the way we express our Ways of Being, such as responsibility, courage, commitment, love, assertiveness and resilience, to name just a few. The health of our relationship with our Moods indicates the extent to which those Moods will affect our ability to make decisions, take action and perform effectively.
Before we were old enough to explore beyond our immediate environment, the world was a vast, unexplored domain. It was up to our parents, carers, teachers and others of influence to expose us to as many things in life as possible. This exposure allowed us to begin forming our own narratives and perceptions of the world around us, building a foundation as we learned and grew. The more authentic those people of influence were when exposing us to new things, the more our conception of the reality of the world, and ourselves, would have equipped us to manage the hardships and adversities of life rather than be crushed by them, to become resilient and effective human beings. This gradually enabled us to become leaders of our own lives, influencing the outcome as much as possible by responding appropriately and effectively to whatever life brings and becoming active agents who dare to grab hold of the reins and steer the course towards the life we want to create. However, much depends on the foundation established from birth. For instance, as children, we can grow up to become adults who are fearful and anxious about matters we were exposed to through no fault of our own when growing up. Examples include war, domestic violence, natural disasters, genetically inherited diseases or being the victim of ineffective and unfair policies, laws or the oppressive regimes in which we were raised. We may have been overprotected, delaying our independence and making us fearful or anxious about things we have not yet been exposed to. Or perhaps we weren't given effective boundaries, leading us to become a victim of our own mistakes and ineffective decisions early in life, and so on. Any unresolved matters from our past are commonly carried into adulthood, and these can manifest themselves as troubled parts or the shadow side of us.
Moods can lead us to make it or break it
Our Moods, particularly vulnerability, anxiety, fear and care, determine our relationship with the present and, more importantly, the future. The good news is, they can also come to the rescue, no matter what foundation has been laid early in life. Care as a Mood is particularly profound when it comes to moving forward. Why? Because when we care about something, we pay attention to it and make it a priority in our lives. While no individual human being can know and see it all, we can achieve so much as a collective. When we care as a collective, whether it be as a society or an organisation, we have the power to gather all the parts of the broken mirror and piece them together in a way that enables us to see so much more in the reflection than we ever could hope to as individuals. This is how some have made discoveries in engineering, others in physics, medicine and human behaviour, to name just a few. The critical point to note is that this discovery process depends on the promise that we all choose the pathway of discovery and authenticity when piecing the mirror together. Inauthentic, fabricated mirror pieces will distort the truth and deviate us from the source to be seen and discovered. History has seen many examples of schools of thinking that had little to no root in reality.
We can choose two pathways in life: the pathway of discovery or the pathway of delusion or deception. Those who care enough to select the pathway of discovery are in what I call a 'state of surrender'. In other words, they surrender to the light to seek and discover the truth that is there to be seen and known. Expressing your authentic Self is only possible if you are in a state of surrender, letting the light of reality shine into the prism of your Being. Regardless of their motive, those who choose the other pathway stubbornly resist allowing the light to shine in. Someone who chooses this pathway generally has fixed and misguided perceptions, beliefs and opinions. They steadfastly insist on the validity of their fabricated reality and frequently bury their head in the sand to avoid the truth. Their inauthenticity causes them to have their guard up when questioned, signalling an unhealthy relationship with vulnerability. It may also lead them to be unapologetic when the truth is revealed.
Are you the leader of your life or a victim of circumstances?
Whatever life throws our way, Moods set the context, influence our decisions and drive our behaviours. Life can be as unpredictable as the weather, and we need to respond appropriately. For instance, it would be foolish to go surfing during a thunderstorm or drive through floodwaters. As human beings, we possess a relatively high level of autonomy, making us inherently responsible for making the right choices. So, it's about being responsible by responding appropriately to the prevailing conditions. In the case of Moods, those prevailing conditions are your fears, anxieties, vulnerabilities and what you care about. Moods impact every one of us more than we may realise and throughout our entire lives. The decisions we make and the actions we take directly reflect the health of our relationship with our Moods.
Consequently, these decisions and actions largely determine our results, accomplishments, and fulfilment in life. When we make critical decisions and act upon them by responding to an unhealthy relationship with anxiety, fear, care or vulnerability, it can lead to procrastination, self-sabotage, victimisation, lies and deceit, abuse and misuse, and so on, resulting in suffering, misery and an overwhelming lack of fulfilment and satisfaction in life. Ask yourself, am I intentional in the way I relate to my fears, anxieties, vulnerabilities and what I care about or do I just let the environment and circumstances dictate my relationship with my Moods? In other words, are you the leader of your life, or do you allow yourself to be a victim of circumstances?
Given there will always be matters beyond our control in life, we are all victims in one way or another. This acknowledgement can lure us into choosing the pathway of victimisation and finger-pointing. People living with this mindset are constantly waiting for things to miraculously change or feebly trying to change external factors, which makes as much sense as thinking we can change the weather. Instead, they should be looking within because that's where their true power lies. Paying attention to our Ways of Being and Moods, the qualities we can address and transform, is where we have the most significant influence. In my experience working with many people, directly and indirectly, I know it is far more effective to focus on transforming yourself before attempting to solve external problems, from issues in your family or organisation to societal and global challenges.
Transformation begins with awareness, casting light on your troubled sides to reveal the shadow and bringing those aspects to your intentional consciousness. It also starts with care because, without care, nothing of importance can be achieved. Once awareness and care have been firmly established, transformation demands courage, daring to be okay with discomfort despite the many reasons we have to feel vulnerable, fearful and anxious about simply being out there in the world. There is a measure of discomfort associated with anything we do in life, from being in a relationship and bringing a child into the world to being a student, coach, staff member, company director or entrepreneur, and the list goes on. The notion that we can find something in life that provides constant comfort and safety is a myth. There is no 'safe haven', and nobody can guarantee our physical and emotional security. An authentic person committed to being intentionally aware of what's happening around them and the world would not be fooled by such delusions. They would do their best to become emotionally resilient, the result of having a healthy relationship with their Moods, so that whenever they are dealing with the inevitable discomforts in life, they bounce back rather than break under pressure. Instead of succumbing to fear, vulnerability, anxiety and their lack of care with every breakdown, they turn to their strong relationship with all four Moods, particularly care in this example, to break through.
As human beings, we are all vulnerable, so we'd better be authentic about it!
Let's acknowledge that as human beings, we are all vulnerable, from our first breath to our last, because there will always be matters beyond our control. The key to not being crushed by that reality is to live life from the viewpoint of authenticity. When you live authentically, you shape your perceptions, opinions, beliefs, and self-image in a manner congruent with reality and consistently strive to develop your relationship with your Moods, as they will give you access to the deeper qualities within you. Why is this so hard for many people to accept? Because they allow their unhealthy relationship with vulnerability to get in the way of the truth. They do themselves no service by keeping their walls up and lying, even to themselves. A person who has a healthy relationship with vulnerability, on the other hand, would voluntarily acknowledge that they are vulnerable and act accordingly. Below is the ontological distinction of vulnerability, one of the four Moods explored in my book, BEING.
Vulnerability impacts how you relate to the concerns you have with respect to how you are being perceived or thought of in different situations. It is how you are being when confronted or exposed to perceived threats, ridicule, attacks or harm (emotional or physical). Vulnerability is not being weak, agreeable or submissive. It is when you embrace your imperfections. It is considered the quality of being with your authentic self without obsessive concern over the impression you make.
A healthy relationship with vulnerability indicates that you are open as opposed to guarded or closed in receiving unfamiliar knowledge and feedback. You are willing to reveal your authentic self to others, regardless of what they may think of you or the prevailing circumstances. You may often leverage the power of being vulnerable to generate trust and build relationships. You acknowledge and embrace your imperfections to support your growth and influence. Rather than letting other people’s opinions of you hold you back, you learn from them to propel you to wholeness (integrity) and fulfilment.
An unhealthy relationship with vulnerability indicates that you are likely to defer or avoid taking action or making decisions when you feel they may impair your reputation. You may also avoid or put your guard up in situations where you could expose yourself to ridicule or look foolish. You are more concerned with being seen to do the right things, looking good or impressing others than actually doing the things you know to be right. You may be inclined to sacrifice your authentic self or image to project a fake persona that you consider more acceptable and impressive to others. You tend to take criticism personally. Alternatively, you may attempt to create unrealistic boundaries to maintain a ‘safe’ distance, avoiding the unknown and refusing to explore new territories. You may be overly controlling of others or your environment.
Reference: Tashvir, A. (2021). BEING (p. 233). Engenesis Publication.
Being vulnerable is considered a weakness by many. This is quite a common misconception about this Mood. Many people also think a powerful person is fearless and has everything under control at all times. Some authors, coaches and 'gurus' even promote fearlessness and living an anxiety-free life if you want to be successful. In my capacity as an author and researcher who has studied countless leaders to date, I can assure you I have never found a human being who fits this description. On the contrary, when someone voluntarily acknowledges their vulnerabilities and fears, it demonstrates their strength and authenticity. It shows that they are transparent and open; they own their vulnerabilities rather than deny or attempt to hide them. This brings them enormous power when making decisions, generating trust and building relationships. Therefore, vulnerability is a critical quality to possess for anyone who wants to build a business, a team, a community, an audience, or find the right business or life partner. A vulnerable person asks for what they need. They are willing to expose their feelings and express what they think. They listen and are present when communicating with others. Being vulnerable has a positive impact on multiple Ways of Being, including self-expression, presence, courage, and authenticity.
Are you afraid of being judged or misunderstood?
We all have an innate desire to be fully understood. In reality, however, this desire is impossible to fulfil. We don't even have the capacity to fully understand ourselves, let alone for others to understand us completely. While it is possible to build relationships and be expressive so that you can be both present and understanding, to expect complete understanding from others, particularly from those closest to you, will only set you up for disappointment. Furthermore, many people focus so much on finding a so-called 'soulmate' that they forget that the key to fulfilment and harmony in a partnership lies in building the relationship. This common misconception leads some people to spend their entire lives searching for the 'perfect partner'. Others may give up on the idea of finding a partner altogether and may even become resentful or sceptical around the notion of relationships. However, it is human nature to want to share our feelings, thoughts, and perspectives with the people closest to us in an overwhelming world, and authentic people understand that relationships are to be built, not found. It's also important to express ourselves, and we all have our own way of doing it. Some of us are 'verbal processors' needing to sort things out as we speak. Others have a desire for emotional release and validation when sharing their thoughts with others. When we sense a lack of understanding, disconnection grows. Have you ever pushed someone away but secretly hoped they understood where you were coming from? It's like playing Devil's advocate. You tell them to go, hoping they don't. The outcome generally backfires, creating confusion and fear on both sides.
Being vulnerable means allowing your partner, in life or in business, to know you fully: your thoughts, feelings, opinions and beliefs, desires, challenges and weaknesses. It can be intimidating to reveal yourself, warts and all, to your partner for fear of being judged or misunderstood. Being vulnerable enough to be willing to be misunderstood or judged is precisely how a genuine connection is achieved. Being vulnerable enables us to be known, accepted, supported and loved. I have coached many people who struggle to start or stay in a relationship, and the root cause is commonly an unhealthy relationship with vulnerability. The power of vulnerability is not limited to partnerships. As a leader, vulnerability builds trust by allowing others to see the real you. It leads to epistemic humility – being humble with your assumptions and open to raising your awareness – the key to being effective in areas where you currently lack knowledge or experience and a critical ingredient for innovation when creating something new. It leads to perseverance and resilience when faced with inevitable backlashes and rejections. Being vulnerable also makes you open to different and unique perspectives, giving you access to the totality of a matter rather than being limited to your own view. It opens your mind to change in the workplace and self-transformation, moving towards a better, more refined version of you. In this way, vulnerability gives you access to wisdom. Imagine the outcome if everyone in your family, workplace, or organisation had a healthy relationship with vulnerability.
Are you a visionary leader with higher purpose, a leader who is committed to a cause beyond yourself and your lifetime? Are you a leader who vividly sees a problem within humanity and has a burning desire to create a conversation around it, sharing the vision that not many others seem to see right now? When this is the case, like Jeff Bezos and other influential leaders, you have no option but to be willing to be misunderstood. I came to this realisation through my studies of high achievers and also as a result of my personal experience as an entrepreneur. I discovered that when we aren't vulnerable, we keep hitting the wall repeatedly when working on something new and getting the scars to prove it. But rather than giving in, there comes the point when we realise that we aren't the centre of the universe and we can't control other people's perceptions of us. Suddenly, we become present to how things really are. The sooner we realise and surrender to it, the easier it is to acknowledge our vulnerabilities and stop consuming ourselves with the perceived need to create and maintain a fake persona. This requires a healthy relationship with all four Moods discussed in this article: vulnerability, fear, anxiety and care.
You need to care so much about the cause that you won't give up when the going gets tough. You must also be prepared to be judged. Some may even call you crazy for pushing on when others would give up. Indeed your level of care may be regarded as irrational by many. But such is the level of care you will need to persevere and withstand the criticism when dealing with a cause close to your heart that serves a burning pain of humanity. You will need to deal with massive anxiety levels around future uncertainties while choosing powerfully to be resilient and remain committed to the very end. At times you may feel lonely and isolated, fearful of the unrelenting darkness of a seemingly never-ending tunnel while staying ever hopeful of finding a shred of light that will guide you towards the opening at the other side. Knowing you can't achieve the vision alone, you will need to bring others on board, doing your best to communicate the possibilities that many others are convinced are impossible to achieve. By being vulnerable, you won't allow yourself to be crushed by rejections and harsh criticism. At the same time, your healthy relationship with vulnerability will ensure you remain open and present to all feedback, choosing powerfully not to take things personally. You will have to manage a level of uncertainty well beyond what most would be willing to endure.
Most people don't appreciate or understand visionary leaders. Furthermore, many who aspire to be a leader with higher purpose don't know what they are getting themselves into, at least not in the beginning. Ironically, leaders don't necessarily receive the support they need because there is a misconception that true leaders never make mistakes, are always of the highest integrity and are constantly bearing the burden of their own shadow/troubled sides as well as the collective shadow of their people. In my studies of high-achieving leaders, I learnt that those committed to a cause beyond themselves and their lives are willing to be misunderstood and judged. They are even prepared to be labelled crazy or offensive by some sectors of society. They have what I call 'a polished Being' through their healthy relationship with all Aspects of Being, beginning with awareness and the four Moods of care, vulnerability, fear and anxiety. They care so deeply about the cause they are working on that they can move forward and take action despite their fear and anxiety. They also have the vulnerability and patience that bring courage and the resilience to withstand harsh criticism and be misunderstood, often for long periods.
Being authentic is risky. It takes a great deal of courage to be the tall poppy in a field where everyone else surrenders to the comfort of the status quo. You risk being regarded as an outcast simply because you are prepared to stand tall for the cause you believe in. Others may fear that you are a threat to their lifestyle, organisation or what they stand for, as if your presence is an insult to the way they have set up their lives and that your motive is to destabilise their tribe and challenge them. You may even find yourself being a scapegoat. After all, every society needs someone to blame for their collective shortcomings. Why? Because it's more comfortable to find a scapegoat for a problem than to own it. This stems from a collective unhealthy relationship with vulnerability. Being misunderstood, whether it be by one or many, is painful. It can leave you feeling helpless, shameful, impatient and angry, especially at the person or people with whom you were hoping to share your vision.
When a society or an organisation chooses not to be vulnerable, it can lead to a state of collective psychosis – a condition in which there is a significant dissociation from reality – potentially leading to critical decisions being made in a collective delusional state. Imagine what would happen if the state of collective psychosis were to infiltrate members of parliament, people in positions of power, decision-makers and lawmakers and how this could gradually set the trajectory of an entire nation or culture. It's a recipe for disaster. This is not a new phenomenon. Collective psychosis on a grand scale has occurred many times in history. What's the solution? The integrity of individuals, beginning with awareness and a healthy relationship with our Moods, especially care, vulnerability, fear and anxiety – the gateway to our other Aspects of Being. How individuals relate to vulnerability, in particular, will significantly determine how open they are to what a visionary leader has to say. This may make those individuals less prone to judging or misunderstanding the leader and more willing to align themselves with their leader's vision.
If you are a leader on a mission to achieve a vision that resolves a burning pain within humanity or a sector of your market, I encourage you to value the importance of having and maintaining a healthy relationship with your Moods: care, fear, anxiety and vulnerability. For starters, it takes an enormous level of care and a healthy relationship with fear and anxiety to dare to take this leap of faith into uncharted territory. It takes vulnerability and courage to withstand the criticism, smirks and humiliation, all common at the beginning of a new venture when others don't yet see the possibilities. However, once the seeds you planted start to germinate, don't be surprised if the same people who misunderstood and judged you suddenly want to come along for the ride. It requires compassion, forgiveness and a massive level of care and generosity to share the expanded reality you created for everyone, including the naysayers and haters. Most people are not present to how much they benefit from the hard work, resilience and foresight of exceptional leaders in the world. Polishing your relationship with your Moods is an investment that will pay dividends over time. Failing to do so, on the other hand, will cost you dearly.