Vulnerability, Authenticity, and Transparency: What Do These Words ACTUALLY MEAN?!

Vulnerability, authenticity, and transparency. These three buzzwords get thrown around a lot within the personal development world. After reading several articles, blog posts, and Instagram captions chock full of these words, they start to lose their punch.

But these words are important. And I feel the need to define them for myself. I decided to share them with you, dear reader, so we can better reflect on 2017 and look forward to the new year.

Why should we care?

The point of being vulnerable, authentic, and transparent is to cultivate meaningful connections with other human beings. I truly believe that connection, love, and belonging are the reasons we are all here on this giant spinning rock.

Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change. To create is to make something that has never existed before. There’s nothing more vulnerable than that.
— Brené Brown

Vulnerability and authenticity are essential to making meaningful creative work. I am not interested in creative work that is pretty for pretty sake or a copy of what everyone else is doing. Give me the raw, the real, and the opinionated. Good creative work is rooted in our ability to express something about ourselves that resonates with others.


Brené Brown is the Queen of vulnerability. She has been studying vulnerability, courage, authenticity, and shame for over 15 years. You may have seen her popular TED Talk “The Power of Vulnerability”

Brown’s research on vulnerability is rooted in shame, so we first need to dissect where we are experiencing shame in our life. Shame isn’t so much a feeling as it is an identity, which is why “I am” statements are cues pointing to our shame, i.e. I am not enough, I am dirty, I am worthless, I am pitiful, I am weak, I am unwanted, etc.

For a long time, I walked around with a huge shame weight on my shoulders. It felt like this: “I am a disappointment to my parents and a terrible daughter.” This shame made it difficult for me to greet the world with enthusiasm and honesty. I was constantly at odds with my parent’s expectations of me. At a certain point, I had to confront them. It went something like this: “This is me. This is what I believe. Take it or leave it.” It was the most vulnerable I have ever been in my life.

After that, my parents and I didn’t speak for 8 months. I had to do a lot of “soul” work to build back my self-worth, which had previously been tied to my parent’s perception of me. I spent several nights crying myself to sleep, trying to quiet my inner demons, while questioning my understanding of unconditional love.

Being vulnerable is messy. Being vulnerable means risking being misunderstood by people you love.

According to Brené, vulnerability is:

  • Letting ourselves be seen for who we are (authenticity).
  • Loving with our whole hearts, even though there is no guarantee.
  • Practicing gratitude and joy.
  • Believing we are enough. Just as we are right now. Not when we are 30 pounds lighter, our skin is clear, we completed our master’s degree, and we have a fulfilling career that earns us an annual salary of $100,000.

Vulnerability is NOT:

  • Weakness
  • Letting people walk all over you
  • Spilling your guts to every person you meet
  • Live tweeting your laser hair removal procedure
  • Posting all over Facebook about your divorce
  • Recognizing your flaws and expecting everyone else to just “deal with them” rather than working to improve them


Authenticity is letting go of who you “should” be in order to be who you are.

Elle Luna, an artist and writer, published an essay titled At The Crossroads of Should and Must, where she illustrates the concept:

Should is how others want us to show up in the world — how we’re supposed to think, what we ought to say, what we should or shouldn’t do. It’s the vast array of expectations that others layer upon us. When we choose Should the journey is smooth, the risk is small.

Must is different—there aren’t options and we don’t have a choice.

Must is who we are, what we believe, and what we do when we are alone with our truest, most authentic self. It’s our instincts, our cravings and longings, the things and places and ideas we burn for, the intuition that swells up from somewhere deep inside of us. Must is what happens when we stop conforming to other people’s ideals and start connecting to our own. Because when we choose Must, we are no longer looking for inspiration out there. Instead, we are listening to our calling from within, from some luminous, mysterious place.

What would it feel like to release everyone’s expectations of you, and just be you?

What would the bravest, fullest, most vibrant version of your life look like?

Oftentimes, our authentic selves and our soul’s dreams are scary and hard to admit to ourselves, because they go against societal or familial expectations.

This year, I started writing an ebook. Why? Because I felt that’s what I “should” be doing. I thought it would attract more readers to my blog and give me more clout in the writing world. Eventually, I realized that releasing this ebook into the world was more about fueling my ego than anything else. It didn’t feel authentic. So I stopped writing it.

Pay attention to the “shoulds” in your life.


Transparency is moving past fear so we can truly connect with others. This one gets a bit “woo-woo” even for me, but hang in there.

Penney Peirce, an expert on personal transformation and intuition, recently wrote a book about transparency. Here is an excerpt:

Transparency helps you understand how we’ve come to live in an “opaque reality” created by collective beliefs based on fear. In the opaque reality we forget our connection to each other, our soul, and the divine—and feel isolated and stuck. We suffer. To become transparent we must dissolve the “clutter” that’s in the way of our natural, frictionless state, which always exists underneath the commotion.

I love how Penney talks about fear as “clutter” that gets in the way of our ability to make meaningful connections with others. Transparency is all about decluttering the fear that separates us from other human beings.

And as a minimalist, fear is another form of clutter that I do not want in my life.

So there you go—vulnerability, authenticity, and transparency, deconstructed. I hope this helps you dig deeper into your creative process and personal growth in the new year!

Reflection questions:

  1. Where do you experience feeling not enough, worthless, or hyper-critical?
  2. Where and when do you find yourself numbing the hard stuff? (Where are you trying to be perfect or pretending to be someone you’re not? When do you spend more money than you want, overeat, or drink too much?)
  3. Where are the “shoulds” in your life? The things that you feel you “should” be doing, but don’t really want to? What would happen if you stopped doing some of the shoulds?
  4. What kind of life do you dream of having? What is getting in the way of that life? A person? Family? Society? Yourself?
  5. How is fear blocking your ability to connect with people in your everyday life? A good way to identify fear-based beliefs is to explore “black and white” thinking, such as “all homeless people are lazy.”
  6. What is the reason you are making what you’re making? Is it for ego, fame, and success? Or joy, connection, and love?

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Vulnerability, Authenticity, and Transparency: What Do These Words ACTUALLY MEAN?!