If you’re like me, you’re afraid of being vulnerable. I know I’m especially afraid of being vulnerable on the internet. We believe it to be synonymous with weakness—and no one wants to appear weak. We painstakingly craft our online personas into an ideal image because it provides us a sense of security and control.

I honestly didn’t even like putting a picture of myself as my avatar. It would be much easier to hide behind an icon or logo. I hated the sound of my own voice, I certainly didn’t want to be on video, and let’s not even talk about speaking in front of a crowd!

But this is problematic because we as humans relate to humans. The meaningful connections we make are with people, not machines or websites. When we cease to inject personality into our work we cease to be human.

Instead of focusing on covering up our errors and prettifying our imperfections, what if we highlighted our mistakes? If we show where we messed up and how we learned from those experiences, others can benefit. Simultaneously they’ll be able to connect with us on a very human level.

My mistake was waiting too long to be real. No one likes the sound of their own voice, but one of the best things I did was start a podcast in spite of my own discomfort. And you know what? I’m so glad I did. A recording of your own voice may sound funny to you played back, but to everyone else it sounds human. People can identify with it.

What’s crazy is that it’s the very vulnerability and imperfection we fear that enables us to connect and be relatable. This is why podcasts and video are so engaging! We associate voices and faces with people.

Speaking of video, that’s another thing I was scared about. In the Learn Lettering courses I’m working on, I was initially thinking I’ll just keep the camera on my lettering. That’s what people are interested in, right? There’s no reason to bring my face into this, I told myself.

But I realized putting myself into my videos and injecting my personality was exactly what I should be doing.

When we’ve made it our expressed goal to share what we’re learning so we can help people, they’re not going to be out to get us! They’re not scrutinizing our imperfections or waiting for us to mess up. Putting ourselves out there is just going to help them realize that we’re real and we’re human, and that’s a good thing.

Something I realized is that this is exactly why people like lettering. It’s immediately recognizable as human-made. In fact, it’s the little imperfections that make it so charming and delightful!

The little imperfections.

I think we should embrace these imperfections. My face isn’t perfect. My voice isn’t perfect. My writing isn’t perfect. My lettering isn’t perfect. But that shouldn’t keep me from putting myself out there. It all makes me human.

You know that sense of familiarity you have with someone after listening to their podcast or watching their videos for several years? What’s the first thing almost everyone says upon meeting that person? I feel like I know you. That’s the realness I’m talking about.

Here’s how I’ve enacted this change of mindset:

  • I had some photos taken last month to update my avatar and About page (truthfully, it made me self conscious but I did it anyway). I used to have my logo in half of my avatar and I removed it. It’s just me now. As much as possible, I want to be real.
  • I’m going to record myself in the video courses I’m launching instead of just showing my work.
  • I’m going to continue podcasting. Which, by the way, after 40 episodes I’m to the point where I don’t even think about my voice anymore!

The coolest part is going to conferences or meet ups and meeting people who feel like they already know you. You have such a head start in building those relationships. It’s infinitely better than saying you’re the guy or girl with the icon avatar while trying to explain what it looks like. The puzzled look that encompasses their face while they try to make the connection is downright painful to witness.

sean-off-guardI hope this might encourage you to maybe change your avatar to a real photo or record a video with your face in it(!) where you share something you’ve learned. Maybe start that podcast you’ve been wanting to start but couldn’t get past the sound of your own voice. Go be imperfect, make some mistakes, and create a story. Stories are relatable. A story can be shared.

In the spirit of things, here’s a silly-looking photo of me that I would have been way too afraid to share not that long ago.

Here’s to being human.