Karen Hoffman On How Authenticity and Vulnerability Pay Off and Help You Win Personally and Professionally
An Interview With Maria Angelova
Empathy is developed out of vulnerability and authenticity. And we all know the brokenness in our world benefits greatly with an increase or infusion of empathy and compassion.
Being vulnerable and authentic are some of today’s popular buzzwords. It may seem counterintuitive to be vulnerable, as many of us have been taught to project an air of confidence, be a boss, and act like we know everything. In Brene Brown’s words, “vulnerability takes courage.” So is vulnerability a strength or a weakness? Can someone be authentic without being vulnerable? How can being authentic and vulnerable help someone grow both personally and professionally? In this interview series, we are talking to business leaders, mental health professionals and business and life coaches who can share stories and examples of “How Authenticity and Vulnerability Pay Off and Help You Win Personally and Professionally.” As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Karen Hoffman.
Karen Hoffman has decades of experience working in nonprofit management and people-focused communities, with a background in both psychology, business management and eduction. Karen is the founder and CEO of Living on Purpose, which she created in 2021, in order to help others navigate life’s challenges and opportunities with a focus on what matters most. At Living on Purpose, she introduces people to the power of words, cultivating practices and moving them into habits that contribute to living life with attention to what matters. Her card decks are called Words that Matter™ and include 52 words to focus on in different ways.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
Thank YOU, Maria. It’s great to have this opportunity to share with you about topics that are so important. Going back to my own childhood, I was always referred to as an “old soul” and while most of the time as a child I didn’t know if that was a good or bad thing — or even exactly what it meant — I learned over time that what people saw in me was a highly sensitive, compassionate and insightful person — “old beyond her years” — as my grandparents used to say. Later in my life, I would use that old-soul description to my advantage in listening deeply, holding space for others, and tapping into my inner voice for guidance. It is through all of this that I have cultivated a presence and reputation for being both authentic and vulnerable — which is why it’s so lovely to be here discussing this with you today.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I am a collector of quotes so it’s really hard for me to narrow down life lessons to one quote. If I really have to, though, I’d say that this quote by Simon Sinek has been a staple when I view life through the lens of authenticity, integrity and vulnerability: “Authenticity is when you say and do the things you actually believe.” He coined this in his book Start with Why and I took it to heart and refer to it often; when I explore the intersection of values, virtues and beliefs — as you’ll learn more in this interview — this quote always rests at the overlap of multiple words that matter in life.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
This may be a little cliche — especially coming from someone who has such a voracious appetite for books and films as I have — but To Kill a Mockingbird may be the most impactful book I can trace back to the essence of who I am. That book (and the film, which in this particular case is almost as meaningful as the book — which I don’t feel about most book-film combos!) has so many elements of living true to your beliefs, living with empathy, compassion, humility, listening and openness, and integrity. My own original copy of the book — now decades old — is still in my home library. When my sons each read it in school, they enjoyed thumbing through my book but nobody risked bringing it to school because it’s been so dog-eared and well-loved. So my household has several editions of Mockingbird and I keep them, knowing and reminding myself of Harper Lee’s impact on me — and others — in the formation of a strong sense of living by a moral compass.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Let’s begin with a definition of terms so that each of us and our readers are on the same page. What exactly does being authentic mean?
To me, authenticity is being true — in the simplest and purest form. To take it a step further, I believe that being authentic is synonymous with living by a moral compass — knowing what you believe and staying true to it in what you do, say, think, share. It’s inextricably tied to integrity; and other values like honesty, truthfulness and consistency are also linked to it.
What does being vulnerable mean? Can you explain?
Vulnerability is a little trickier for me to narrow down. As you mentioned, Brene Brown has done so much research and writing on the topic — and it’s been such a wildly explosive word that people focus on these days. So, I’m not exactly sure where to go with this except to say that being vulnerable is being willing to take a risk by pulling yourself out of a typically hidden or protected place and sharing with others. It’s taking chances that not everyone will intuitively or instinctively take. And it’s sharing parts of yourself, or perhaps deeply-held beliefs, that may allow others to respond in a way that can be uncomfortable.
What are the positive aspects of being authentic and vulnerable? Can you give a story or example to explain what you mean?
In my own life, it is when I live my life with a strong sense of integrity that I find I am most comfortable with who I am; mindful of integrity as a core is when I am both authentic and vulnerable. They go together nicely, when you’ve done a lot of reflection and introspection, as I have. A positive aspect of being both authentic and vulnerable is that people know who you are, what you stand for, and that you are consistent. It’s an important lesson for yourself and others — especially those with whom you live and share your life.
The reliability of a person as genuinely caring, honest and even empathetic can all be traced back to whether there is a basic sense of someone being both authentic and vulnerable in a relationship.
Are there negative aspects to authenticity and vulnerability? Can you give a story or example to explain what you mean?
While being both authentic and vulnerable seem to naturally go hand-in-hand, there can be negative aspects of this because it can be one-sided. Imagine what happens when you have done the work to understand something that is part of your identity — a value, an attitude or a passion — and you share about it. You put yourself at risk, especially if you share with people who have not lived up to the authenticity you may have thought they valued.
From your experience or perspective, what are some of the common barriers that hold someone back from being authentic and vulnerable?
One of the biggest challenges — or barriers as you say — to being either authentic or vulnerable (as well as being both) — is fear. Fear can be a basis for holding back so much and then the masks are on, artificial boundaries may be erected, and people may not be as trusting once that is recognized. There are so many fears linked to being vulnerable and also authentic — fears of rejection, being hurt, being misunderstood to name a few. When our mind tells us something different from our heart or that quiet voice within us, it is often our brain doing its job to protect us. Some psychologists call it the negative bias that humans have — where they can overcome this protective instinct by opening up new neural pathways and taking more chances. It’s hard and it takes work. For many people, it’s not worth the risk and then the barrier is erected — blocking people from being completely authentic and vulnerable.
Here is the central question of our discussion. What are five ways that being authentic and vulnerable pay off, and help you win, both personally and professionally?
Everyone loves lists these days — it reminds me of Reader’s Digest magazine that my grandma loved to quote. And now, here I am, sharing a list of my own — Five ways — wow, Maria — that’s tougher than I imagined in this case. Thanks for giving me a few minutes to really think about this! It’s such a complex issue! There are dozens of books and research studies on this topic — here are my simplified versions based on my own experience, which is what you indicated your readers would be interested in:
- When you are both authentic and vulnerable, you don’t have to be concerned about the tangled spider webs our stories sometimes spin. You know — the old saying — “Oh what a tangled web we weave, when we first practice to deceive” (Sir Walter Scott, 1808)? There’s a lot of truth in that when it comes to authenticity and vulnerability. It’s. Lot easier to speak and do the truth than to start holding back.
- There is greater trust among one and more individuals, groups, teams — when a person is believed to be both authentic and vulnerable. Human beings were not created or “wired” to be totally independent. And yet, interdependence is predicated on trust and honesty — which is developed through a feeling of authenticity and vulnerability.
- Empathy is developed out of vulnerability and authenticity. And we all know the brokenness in our world benefits greatly with an increase or infusion of empathy and compassion.
- When you are aware of yourself being authentic, your self-confidence won’t waiver as much because your presence is anchored at its core by what you believe to be right. This helps in both personal and professional relationships.
- Being vulnerable will pay off if you’ve done the work to assess the situation, know what matters deeply to you, and weigh what the value of sharing is against holding back. To truly be in an authentic relationship with the highest level of integrity and empathy, one needs to feel the sense of trust, care, respect and then being vulnerable comes more naturally.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
Well, first, thank you, Maria, for that huge statement. I don’t know if I would have gone that far, honestly, to say I’m a “person of great influence.” What I will say is that I have done the work of delving deeply into who I am, what matters to me, what I believe, truth, honesty, and other “words that matter.” Not many people either care enough or feel confident enough to take a leap of faith, leave the comfort and convenience of a job, and put themselves out there in a raw, authentic and vulnerable way. I have done that the past few years; and I honestly say that it has been filled with tremendous lessons for which I am eternally grateful. When I’ve been vulnerable, I’ve learned who and what matters most. I hope that through the network of people whose lives I have touched, and through the work I’ve been doing and will continue to do, and the tools I’ve created to help others do the often-challenging personal work of tapping into their truest version of an authentic self, with voice of vulnerability, and living by what matters, a lot more good will take place in this world. My faith tradition teaches that it is not our job to complete all the work in this world; but also, we must not refrain from doing our part. There is so much brokenness, so much needing to be healed in our world; I honestly believe that practicing more vulnerability, being true to self and others, listening to others, being open-minded and open-hearted, and tapping into the definition of being authentically you, we each will contribute to a better world.
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!
No thank you.
How can our readers follow you online?
I am writing more frequently through various publications on the Medium platform. People can find me there and really get a sense of the authentic and vulnerable person I am. I love to live by the example I teach. My Medium link is https://medium.com/@karen-onpurpose1. I chose “on purpose” precisely because of the connection to authentic and intentionality, so that’s a kind of cool connection point to this particular interview, right? I am also available through my website www.livingonpurpose.us where people can see more about me, see and listen to podcasts I’ve been invited to, purchase my card decks, the tools to help you define what matters most; and even some of the workshops and retreats we offer. I’m also available through Instagram and LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/karen-hoffman-670b8a9/. I look forward to hearing from you, sharing, and learning more from your readers and comments. Thank you so much, Maria, for this opportunity. It’s been really fun to deep-dive into these words that matter — especially since they are so intricately a part of my Words that Matter™ work.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent on this. We wish you only continued success.
About The Interviewer: Maria Angelova, MBA is a disruptor, author, motivational speaker, body-mind expert, Pilates teacher and founder and CEO of Rebellious Intl. As a disruptor, Maria is on a mission to change the face of the wellness industry by shifting the self-care mindset for consumers and providers alike. As a mind-body coach, Maria’s superpower is alignment which helps clients create a strong body and a calm mind so they can live a life of freedom, happiness and fulfillment. Prior to founding Rebellious Intl, Maria was a Finance Director and a professional with 17+ years of progressive corporate experience in the Telecommunications, Finance, and Insurance industries. Born in Bulgaria, Maria moved to the United States in 1992. She graduated summa cum laude from both Georgia State University (MBA, Finance) and the University of Georgia (BBA, Finance). Maria’s favorite job is being a mom. Maria enjoys learning, coaching, creating authentic connections, working out, Latin dancing, traveling, and spending time with her tribe. To contact Maria, email her at email@example.com. To schedule a free consultation, click here.