Okay, so when people ask me about business-ey things, and — more specifically — how my own thing has gotten all biggified, I have to talk about the weird magical power of being yourself.

And not just being yourself, but being yourself out loud.

Even if that means that people know that I am a total mess talk to ducks, have monsters and completely fall apart sometimes.

Because that stuff is connected to my own bizarre personal success story.

Where’s the but?

Oh. Right. Here it is.

But… and it’s a big one… it is really easy to let this Useful Concept of “being yourself out loud” become the world’s biggest should.

Which will stress you out like crazy. And make your heart heavy. So … not useful for you and definitely not useful for the people who need what you have to give.

An example from the files — one of many:

“Every time I tried to write any part of my ebook, I’d cry … and cry … and cry … because my story comes from a very painful place and I couldn’t put my work out there and work through this grief at the same time.

And it just gets worse (and more complicated) when I’m reading all these marketing authorities who talk about ‘being transparent’, ‘vulnerable’, and ‘authentic’ — for me that means dealing with painful experiences in a public way. And I just can’t.

I know that reading this stuff isn’t helpful because I can’t make it fit who I am right now. And then I also can’t stop reading.”

Man. That sucks.

Oh, sweetie. Hug.

You must feel really frustrated. To be coping with all of this pain and then having to face this idea that you have to share it in order to be successful? That sounds really, really hard. And icky.

I’m sorry.

Some thoughts?

Some thoughts.

No shoulds.

Transparency, vulnerability and authenticity are only useful when they aren’t forced and when they come from the heart.

I mean, yes, sometimes it can’t come from the heart because gah this is hard. Because it still feels strange and new. Because it’s a practice.

But practicing something that challenges you is different than forcing yourself to reveal pain because you think you’re supposed to. You definitely don’t have to do that.

You can be transparent about the fact that you can’t be transparent.

It’s perfectly legitimate — as well as “transparent”, “vulnerable” and “authentic” — to tell your audience that this is a difficult subject for you to write about because of your own personal pain.

That doesn’t mean though, that you have to document that pain. Especially if you don’t freaking feel like it.

Transparency does not mean having to tell people everything.

It really doesn’t.

I kind of have a reputation as someone who is almost astonishingly open about her own stucknesses. But you know what?

There are all sorts of things I don’t talk about. I might mention them. But I’m not going to go into detail or anything

I don’t talk about the experience of my marriage falling apart. I don’t share some of the more painful pieces of my history. About terror and loss and things that are broken. And I don’t really feel like writing about how I cross the street whenever I see a man with a beard.

What people do know is that I know about pain and fear. Just like them.

That’s where the power is.

Transparency just means not wearing the boring-old-expert costume.

Taking off that cloak of expertise you hide behind doesn’t mean — tfu tfu tfu — that you have to show up naked. Not at all.

It just means that you get to wear something that’s comfortable. Something you’d actually wear.

So we can get a sense of who you are and what you’re like.

So we can identify with you and be inspired by the fact that ohmygod a real person who isn’t that different from me actually made a change and maybe the rest of us can too.

Not always being covered up in expert-wear means you’re human. Which means there is hope for me. Ahhhhhhhhh. Hope. Thank you for that.

There are a lot of resources for ways to do this.

For one thing, there are a lot of great people modeling it. Not in a “look at me being authentic” way.

In a “this is hard and I’m doing it my own way” way (yes, I just said way way).

Secret Wormy does it. Pace and Kyeli do it. Emma does it.

Also, the amazing Laura Fitton (@pistachio to you) and I talked in our Not Being Strategic class about how to use non-cheesy non-forced authenticity. And we talked about how people can pick up on cognitive dissonance when something is going on under the surface.

And I’ve written in the Blogging Therapy series about “nooo don’t make me be vulnerable” and “but I’m not an expert!”and “finding your voice“.

Which all focus on different reasons why hiding is not so good but being open about the fact that you really really want to actually is.

The most “transparent” thing that you can do? Not forcing yourself to be transparent.

If you’re clear with yourself that where you’re at right now is not wanting to share the hard, you’re more than allowed to be there.

It’s always okay to say “I don’t want to talk about this” or “this is painful for me so I’m not going to go into it”. Or to sidestep it completely.

The only thing you don’t want to do is pretend that everything is perfect. Because then I can’t trust that you’ll be able to understand me and help me.

But once you’ve acknowledged that you also know about the land of hard, we don’t need you to spill every gruesome detail.

We just want to know that you’re one of us. Someone who has experience with stuff being scary and intimidating and uncomfortable.

The rest is up to you.

Twitter version of this post?

To hell with transparency. Be open about when you CAN’T BE. Do what feels comfortable. Oh, and if you can, don’t worry too much about it.

The Fluent Self