Kaylin Zabienski Of Messy Authentic Counseling On How Authenticity and Vulnerability Pay Off and Help You Win Personally and Professionally

An Interview With Maria Angelova


You get to change your mind. When you are authentic, that means that you don’t have to hold on to anything in order to prove yourself. You don’t have to be so rigid that you never change your mind about anything, you can be more curious and explore different options. The vulnerability comes in when you admit “I don’t know” or “I don’t have an opinion on that, I’m still exploring,” and that is a really powerful place to be.

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 Kaylin Zabienski.

Kaylin is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in California, and an emotional wellness coach for first time entrepreneurs. She created the Messy Authentic Newsletter to help others take the chaos in their lives and turn it into an intentional lifestyle that feels good. Kaylin is obsessed with all things wellness and wants to give permission to the world to take a break and take care of themselves.

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 so much for the opportunity! I am the oldest of 3 and spent a lot of my time helping to raise my brothers. I was born and raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which never truly felt like “home” to me. I was always the oddball in a lot of ways, whether it was my values and beliefs, my music taste, my food choices, or the fact that I just don’t love football. My parents divorced when I was 17, after years of me begging them to separate. When you know your parents aren’t happy, it effects the entire home. Looking back, I can see all the ways in which I was destined to be a therapist or healer of some sort. Originally the dream was to be a medical doctor, but as soon as I discovered psychology, I knew that was the route I would take. I joke that as soon as I found out that people would pay me to keep their secrets, I never looked back from chasing therapy as a career. I always wanted to live in California, so finally I moved here to get my master’s and haven’t looked back! The environment feels more like home here, and I’m able to be much more myself and live the lifestyle that fits me without as much pushback or judgement (or weird looks when I say I’m vegan).

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Oooh this is hard for me, I love a good life lesson quote. My mom has always said “Everything will be ok in the end, if it’s not ok, it’s not the end.” I don’t know who actually said it, but it’s often attributed to John Lennon. That one sticks out to me because no matter what difficulties come up, it gives hope that it won’t always stay like that. It’s a good reminder to keep going, keep doing your best and eventually, things will be ok. I actually have the first part tattooed on my back from a break up, someone I never thought I’d get over. But eventually I did, and it was ok. So even if what you originally thought would be the ideal “ending,” isn’t what you get, it is still ok in the end.

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?

Oh goodness, there are so many from each category I could choose. One that comes to mind almost immediately is Irvin Yalom’s book, The Gift of Therapy. All of Yalom’s books that I’ve read have had a great influence one me, but this was my first, so will always have a special place in my heart. I find it almost ironic that Yalom might be one of the most influential therapists and is highly recommended in training programs, but if you really pay attention to how he approaches therapy, he actually goes against so much of the system of therapy. Not in an unethical way, by any means, and that’s part of the beauty of it; he always has the client or patient’s best interest in mind. He truly believes in the autonomy of each individual and doesn’t see his clients as weak. So much of my therapy style and philosophy is influenced by Dr. Yalom.

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 be authentic means to be genuine or true. When a person is being authentic, it means that they are showing their truth, that they are living in accordance with their values and beliefs. I also believe that to be authentic means to allow others to do the same, and to not try and convince them that your version of authenticity is the “right” one.

What does being vulnerable mean? Can you explain?

I love looking up the definitions of commonly used words, and when I looked up vulnerable for a therapy group, I was actually a little surprised. To be vulnerable means to open oneself up to being physically or emotionally attacked or harmed. I was surprised because that seems really intense- “to be open to being attacked,” but also appropriate for how we feel about it in our relationships. Vulnerability is really scary, and when you think about it in terms of authenticity, you are opening yourself up to attack in the form of criticism, rejection, and sometimes actual physical violence just by being true to yourself.

What are the positive aspects of being authentic and vulnerable? Can you give a story or example to explain what you mean?

The most positive aspect that I can think of is having deep, intimate relationships. And not just with others. There is a lot of vulnerability in even finding your authenticity- it can be a messy process. We are told who to be and what to believe almost from the day we are born. The messages come from family, friends, media and society; sometimes the messages all contradict one another. When we start to tune all of that noise out and start to listen to the inner voice, sometimes we don’t know what might come up.

I remember a past coaching client of mine who was working on some identity stuff with me, who was very career oriented and super successful in that way. We started talking about getting married and having children. Without thinking, and almost seeming like she was reciting from a script, she said something along the lines of “Well of course, I want to get married and have kids- that’s what you do.” I looked at her for a minute and let it sink in what she had said. Giving her just that little bit of space to hear what she said, her whole demeanor changed and she said “actually, when I say it out loud, it feels so gross. That’s not what I want right now and I don’t know if I ever do” It was a really cool moment, she had never given herself space to hear her own thoughts and never given herself permission to say it out loud.

Are there negative aspects to authenticity and vulnerability? Can you give a story or example to explain what you mean?

Keeping the definition of vulnerability in mind, openness to being attacked; if you show too much vulnerability too soon, you might literally be opening yourself up for emotional or physical danger. This can apply to personal relationships, work relationships, or even with your own self exploration. It can cause the person receiving the vulnerability to react strongly. With yourself, it might mean that you put yourself into a stressed or anxious state and intensify the experience. At work, if you show vulnerability too soon, you might be seen as lazy, or not as dedicated or a hard worker. In personal relationships, it might just get “too real too fast,” depending on the person who you are sharing your vulnerability with. These risks are really based on the lack of vulnerability and openness that the other party is capable of giving- which is never your fault.

From your experience or perspective, what are some of the common barriers that hold someone back from being authentic and vulnerable?

Fear. Going back to the definition of vulnerability, it is easy to let the fear of getting attacked take over and hold you back from being vulnerable. Our brains are wired to survive, so opening up to attack is like going against that very wiring.

False sense of isolation. It is really easy to get caught up in thinking that you are too different and you are the only one who feels the way that you do about something. I have never seen this actually be true. If you believe something or if you like something, no matter what it is, there are almost always people out there who feel the same way. And right now, with as much access as we have through social media and the internet, its never been easier to find other likeminded people.

Lack of permission. A lot of people just don’t know that they are allowed to think for themselves. A lot of people are taught one way and never think to go beyond that. I get stuck in this a lot- it’s easy to forget. I get caught up in thinking there’s only one right way to do something, when in reality, there are as many ways to do it as there are people doing it. That’s part of the authenticity journey, is finding the way that works best for you.

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?

1. You get to be fulfilled. It might sound a bit cliche, but if you truly follow your dreams, you can live a life you love! Being vulnerable and authentic will allow you to live in alignment with your own values, and using that as your North Star will always direct you toward fulfillment. You can pick a career path that aligns with what you want in life, you can set boundaries with when and how you want to work.

2. You get to change your mind. When you are authentic, that means that you don’t have to hold on to anything in order to prove yourself. You don’t have to be so rigid that you never change your mind about anything, you can be more curious and explore different options. The vulnerability comes in when you admit “I don’t know” or “I don’t have an opinion on that, I’m still exploring,” and that is a really powerful place to be.

3. You get to deepen relationships. It wouldn’t be appropriate to talk about vulnerability without talking about Brene Brown. Brene says that vulnerability is the key when it comes to intimacy and deepening relationships. Learning who you are and keeping the relationship you have with yourself takes a lot of vulnerability too. Being intimate with yourself, your deepest fears, dreams, and desires, is required before you can share it with anyone else. That’s why they say that you can only be as close to others as you are to yourself; you can’t share anything that you don’t know.

4. You get to grow. Similar to #2, you get to continue to learn and grow as you practice vulnerability and being authentic. When you are vulnerable with someone, and it goes well, you are teaching your nervous system that you can be safe in these situations that used to not feel safe at all. That will expand your comfort zone and help you to continue to grow as a person. This is true at work and in personal life.

5. You give others permission to be themselves. This is my favorite benefit of being authentic and vulnerable. By seeing you do it, someone is lighting the lightbulb in their head that goes “oh, so if they can do it, maybe I can too.” You are proving to them that not everyone is fake, that it is safe to be open, and that anyone can do it.

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?

Ok this is not totally related to authenticity and vulnerability- but in a way it is so wrapped up in those things that it cannot be separated. The movement I would start is a movement of rest and stillness. We are too much on the go all the time in this world, I just want everyone to slow down, maybe take a nap, and really rest. This is vulnerable because many people use the busyness and packed schedule as a way to avoid the uncomfortable feelings that come up when they do actually slow down. Authenticity means feeling and living with the negative and positive emotions- it isn’t just always rainbows and butterflies. So rest, I would encourage the world to rest.

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!

Oh wow, this is a tough one. I was talking to my partner about this the other day, and so many of my heroes have passed away already. I would love to have lunch with David Goggins, to really sit down with him and find out more about the way his mind works. He takes personal empowerment to an entirely different level than many of us think is possible. But he’s the example, it’s the proof that it can work. He pushes himself to extremes, but there’s a vulnerability to it and he knows his limits. I would love to absorb that energy and learn from him.

How can our readers follow you online?

Follow me on instagram at @kzabswellness or send me an email hello@kzcounseling.com

Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you 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 angelova@rebellious-intl.com. To schedule a free consultation, click here.



Maria Angelova, CEO of Rebellious Intl.
Authority Magazine

Maria Angelova, MBA is a disruptor, author, motivational speaker, body-mind expert, Pilates teacher and founder and CEO of Rebellious Intl.