The Power of Vulnerability (What I Learned from Being Accused of a Ponzi Scheme)

At a young age I got it stuck in my head that if I didn’t look and act perfect, it was a sign of weakness. This viewpoint followed me well into adulthood, manifesting itself in the form of hyper achievement and perfectionism. Several therapists have tried to help me determine the origin of this uptight personality flaw, but I won’t bore you with the details here. Suffice it to say that being indicted by the Department of Justice and accused of a Ponzi Scheme has an interesting effect on someone who has spent her whole life carefully manicuring her reputation. (Read more about my story here.)

Once at a party a neighbor asked me where my husband was. “Oh, he’s away,” I responded.

“But I haven’t seen him in a long time,” the curious man prodded. “Where is he?”

I backed up. “He couldn’t make it.”

The man followed me into the hallway, leaning forward and invading my personal space. “But where is he?”

My eyes darted in all directions looking for an exit. The man took a hold of my elbow.

“He’s in prison,” I erupted. “He’s not here because he’s in prison. Okay?”

The man sheepishly looked down, wrung his hands and said, “I’m sorry.”

Since then, I’ve personally told hundreds of people about my legal, financial and emotional trials and written about it extensively on my website. And although it still pains me to be so vulnerable, there is power in it.

You Shrink When You Have Something to Hide

For a while, I thought it would be impossible to conduct business after all of my troubles with the Feds. It’s so embarrassing when someone googles you and a slue of court documents and accusations come up. Jeez, I thought, no one is ever going to trust me again.

I would walk around in a state of paranoia, wondering what people thought of me, terrified that they would read the negativity online and judge me as a dishonest scammer.

And then something interesting happened. Instead of hiding behind a mirage of seeming perfection, I started telling every potential new client about my background upfront. “I ran a real estate company,” I would say. “It generated millions and then, unfortunately, my then-husband attracted the attention of the Feds and it was shut down. I thought he was innocent, so things got exponentially worse for me as I took the fifth to protect him.”

Whoa. That was scary the first few times I told it. I figured potential clients would sneer and take off running. But what happened surprised me.

Not only did they not reject me, they opened up. Airing my dirty laundry created a bond that gave them permission to be vulnerable too.

A few months ago, I was on a plane from Salt Lake City to San Diego and I sat by this very successful-looking, stylish woman in her fifties. She said she owned a firm assisting medical spas with their marketing. She told me about her very interesting, accomplished life. This woman had it all together. I was so impressed and intimidated.

Then she asked about me.

“I’m writing a memoir,” I said.

“About what?” she asked.

“It’s… uh… well… about my disastrous experience with the government,” I stammered. “Somehow I managed to marry a man whom the Utah FBI listed as number two on their repeat fraudster list. Anyway, the SEC shut down my real estate company, we were indicted and I was facing six years in prison –”

“I might be indicted,” she cut me off.

I cocked my head. What the hell?

This perfect, accomplished woman looked at me with all the vulnerability in the world. “Yeah,” she said, “I was helping my friend with her payroll accounting and it turns out it was a money laundering scheme. Now the FBI is investigating. I’ve gone from ‘person of interest’ to ‘target’.”

“Wow.”

“Yep. My attorney thinks I will probably be indicted. It’s big too. Over thirty million dollars.”

Holy sh*t.

All of my empathy poured out to her. I felt like crying. She was at the beginning of a horrific journey that may not end nearly as well as mine did. I remembered how scared I felt when the government was scrutinizing my every step. I remembered the crazy nightmares and sleepless nights. I remembered the paranoia.

A Real “Flawed” Connection

When we are vulnerable, we connect in a way that is impossible otherwise. A shiny, polished image simply doesn’t allow for intimate connection. The more I’ve shared my story, the more I’ve come to the realization that everyone is hiding something. Everyone is ashamed of something.

That “perfect” woman on the plane could have easily intimidated me into not revealing myself. I could have impressed her. I could have told her that I was a marketing consultant that had worked with Fortune 500 companies and had generated millions in real estate. It would have been easy. But then I would have never connected with her the way I did. I would have never known that she was just as flawed as I am.

True connection takes courage. It is the opposite of the “fake it til you make it” advice so many business books offer. Sure, you want to be powerful. Sure, you want to be confident. But, I’m only now learning that true power and confidence comes from absolute acceptance of every facet of your experience. Successes and failures.

Please don’t think I’m recommending that when you meet new clients or friends you should list every problem under the sun or play the victim. No one wants to listen to a complainer. I’m talking about owning every part of yourself. Doubt is like a red dot in the middle of your forehead. Everyone can see it. It marks you. When you accept yourself with all of your imperfections, others will accept you too. (And if the occasional unenlightened soul doesn’t, who cares? There are plenty of others who will.)

All my love,

Laura

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