Written by Jenna Cooley, M.Ed., PCC, ELI-MP, Certified Career and Leadership Coach, Consultant and Speaker
Did you hear the news? One of the world’s most famous supermodels of all time, Gisele Bündchen admits she has suffered deeply from anxiety and depression. This incredibly gorgeous woman, who is one of the richest females in the entertainment industry, the wife of NFL star Tom Brady, the mother of two beautiful children, and a woman who clearly looks like she has it all, deals with what so many of us do.
A larger-than-life public figure who stands for all things perfect in womanhood struggles, too.
Gisele is coming out about her panic attacks and suicidal thoughts in her soon-to-be released memoir called, Lessons: My Path to a Meaningful Life. What a bold move! Why would she choose to shatter the illusion?
I can only venture to guess, but I do know one thing for sure. While Gisele and I have little in common on the surface, the paradox she faces is something I can relate to on a much smaller scale. I know a little something about what it’s like to keep up appearances. I know how it can feel to represent one thing on the “outside” while feeling and experiencing the complete opposite on the “inside”.
A relevant example from a couple years ago comes to mind. I was on my way to get a much-needed massage when “Sweet Caroline” came on the radio. Within seconds, I was in tears. It was my mom’s song. It was the song we played at the recessional during her memorial service and it was the song she and I playfully danced to together at the Neil Diamond concert at least seven times. It was our happy song!
In that moment, it was the song that suddenly sent my joy catapulting into a nose dive.
Here’s the ironic part. I had scheduled this massage in the middle of the work day as a deliberate break from the time-consuming preparation I was involved in for my upcoming women’s workshop called “The Joy Project”. It was a workshop I developed to provide women with tools and strategies to capture and maintain joy during their busy lives.
Suddenly, this all felt like a scam. Who am I to be teaching about joy when I’m sobbing on the way to my massage? “Imposter Syndrome” was in full force!
Luckily, my own “inner coach” kicked into gear. Instead of questioning myself and my worthiness any further, I pulled myself together, wiped the mascara from my cheeks and preceded to enjoy a soothing massage. After tipping my therapist, smiling on the way out, and driving myself home, I headed straight to my room for a deep, cleansing cry.
Why am I sharing this? Well, I’m allowing myself to be vulnerable. I’m letting women I coach and speak to in audiences large and small know, that despite the fact I make my living empowering and inspiring others to lead with confidence and joy, I have my big, fat “ugly cry” moments, too.
Yes, it’s true. Super positive and mostly “smiley” life and leadership coaches grieve and despair. They have days where they feel like they just can’t help another person or that they’re the last person who should be helping another person!
Isn’t this true for most of us? When we get real, forthright women leaders will admit that the pressure to hold it all together while they feel like falling apart can sometimes be daunting. Just because we lead doesn’t mean we don’t feel.
This is where the value of vulnerability comes in!
In the words of Brene Brown who wrote, “Daring Greatly”, “”Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity”. Vulnerability is not weakness. In fact, it is the pathway to joy. Dr. Brown also writes, “If we want to reclaim the essential emotional part of our lives and reignite our passion and purpose, we have to learn how to own and engage with our vulnerability and how to feel the emotions that come with it.”
Vulnerability helps us to connect. It helps us to trust.
Each of us has a story. Each of us has pain, challenges, or struggles. We don’t have to pretend we have it all together even when we are the ones teaching and leading others. Instead, we can be open and honest and say, “Hey, my life really stinks at times. I’ve had it bad. But, you know what? I’ve learned how to cope with these things and you can, too.”
I imagine that this is one of the messages in Gisele’s book. She will be letting us know that, even a woman who appears to have the world at her feet faces struggles and pain. Like others that have overcome dark periods of their lives, and who continue to face challenges and uncertainty, Gisele chooses to take them head on, approaching them with increasing self-awareness and strategies for self-care.
My hope is that Gisele’s writing emphasizes the need to give ourselves permission to feel what we feel. When we acknowledge that our feelings are natural, and allow ourselves to experience them, we open ourselves to healing. When we share this experience with others, we open ourselves up to greater connection.
From there, we women can truly support one another. When we say, “I get it. I’ve felt something similar”, we proclaim, “We’re in this together!” and “I’ve got your back!”
Let’s be courageous about sharing our vulnerability with others. After all, it may just be the pathway to greater joy not only for ourselves, but for the women in our workplace, community and lives.