Showing Your Scars: How Vulnerability Changed My Business and My Life
Guest Post by Laura Roser
Authenticity” seems to be a buzzword these days. “Just be yourself,” the advice goes. You’ll see the theme in bookstores, gift shops, online and spouted from the lips of countless gurus.
Just yesterday, I was browsing at a clothing store and came upon a T-shirt with the phrase “Be Yourself, Everyone Else is Taken,” printed in black letters across the front. And a little part of me wanted to vomit. Why? Because, like so many things, authenticity is being cheapened by the mere popularity of it. The truth is, being authentic doesn’t come from wearing a T-shirt with an obvious phrase printed across the front or telling everyone you come into contact with that you have integrity. Authenticity is about action. It’s about quietly, confidently staying true to your values—not for the sake of recognition, because it’s the popular thing, or because Tony Robbins told you to do it.
We live in a time where there is a patina of authenticity. People post about their lives on social media. What they ate for breakfast. Who they met at a networking event. Pictures of their dog running through a field. It’s fun and I’m certainly guilty of posting a variety of selfies. But, it’s not real. It’s the airbrushed version of your life.
Just like when you go on a first date, your pictures and posts online are carefully manicured to ensure you make the kind of impression that will connect with the people whose approval you crave. Which is totally normal. I, for instance, want to project a persona of being beautiful (so I definitely don’t take selfies in the morning when my hair’s all messed up and I’m wearing no makeup), artsy (so I post visually intriguing photos and paintings), successful (so I post business projects I’m involved with), heart-centered (so I post interesting articles about charity and spreading kindness) and balanced (so I post pictures of hikes, beach walks and other interesting activities).
It’s all under my control and that’s the way I like it. And… it’s not like it’s fake. It’s just not the whole picture. I don’t post my doubts and fears about dating. I don’t post when I have a fight with my mother. I don’t post when I watch a TV series that is not highbrow. I don’t post when my business ideas fail miserably. I don’t post my self-diagnosed neuroses.
Most people’s scars are hidden. And, truthfully, that’s the way I like it. I don’t like showing others my mistakes. I don’t like being viewed as a screw up. I don’t like talking about my weaknesses. I’d rather keep that all hidden away in hopes that it will go away.
But, life had another plan for me. It forced me to expose my deepest darkest fears.How to Royally Mess Up Your Reputation
Imagine being married to the man of your dreams. You run a business together, make lots of money, go on great vacations, eat out at the best restaurants, live in a beautiful home in the mountains, have fun, interesting friends, give to charity and are deeply in love. That was me in my mid-to-late twenties. Then, after four years of marriage, my life fell apart. The man who was my everything turned out to be the most talented liar I have ever met. It turns out that the FBI had been after him for years because of fraudulent activities in his past.
In April of 2011, when I was thirty-years-old, the SEC shut down my businesses, seized all my assets and bank accounts and accused me and my husband of a Ponzi scheme. Things got quite a bit worse for me when I believed my husband was innocent and I took the fifth to protect him and then was indicted a year and a half later.
Press releases were posted on the government’s websites, in local papers and a variety of other national investment blogs and publications. I, Laura Roser, who had never gotten in trouble (other than a minor traffic ticket or two), was facing years in prison, the annihilation of my professional reputation, the loss of my “perfect” marriage and life, and the pummeling of my self-esteem.
For two years, we were in legal battles. The majority of that time my husband was in prison while I tried to handle it all on the outside. Shame and fear surrounded me. How was I supposed to survive without money or resources? How was I supposed to do business with all this negative information about me online? What was wrong with me? How had I not seen through his lies? How was anyone supposed to love or trust me after this?
For a while, I was stuck in a deep depression. And then something amazing happened. My friends started showing up. My best friend from high school (who happens to be an FBI agent), told me how much she loved me and how she knew I wouldn’t purposefully hurt others. My dear friend from childhood told me she’d do anything to help me. My neighbors brought heart-shaped cookies and showed up to court hearings. My marketing clients kept hiring me, even though the FBI was calling them and asking them all sorts of questions. My parents did everything they could to help. My brothers and sister supported me. My cousin helped me finalize the divorce from my husband and made it so that I didn’t have to go through the emotional pain of trying to get him to sign the paperwork on my own. The prosecutors worked with me and I found an amazing attorney who was able to get the indictment dismissed.
Slowly, I started to let go of the “perfect” persona that had been so important to me in the past. I started sharing my doubts and fears. I started letting others in. I started posting my thoughts about my catastrophe online. In business meetings, I started bringing up my issues with the government upfront. And something strange happened. People opened up to me. I began building better, more authentic, deeper relationships than ever before. My business flourished.
I also learned all kinds of things about people. Everyone, I learned, has scars—some are deep and gnarly—but they hide them for fear of being judged. Unless I was forced to expose my own scars, I never would have discovered that everyone has something they are ashamed of. It is the hiding of that shame that blocks off a true, authentic connection.
Authenticity isn’t about listing off your values or wearing a T-shirt with a catchy phrase. It’s about following your path, one unknown step at a time, doing the best you can, humbly empathizing with others’ shortcomings, and exposing the good and bad sides of you. It’s raw and painful sometimes. Surely, there are people who are judgmental and may not understand your journey, but when you open your heart to those who are loving and accepting, you connect on a soul level. There’s no T-shirt for that.