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The Necessity of Professionally Productive Vulnerability

Recently, researchers studying the effects of female-only networks on women’s professional development and job placement revealed that these networks are essential to the success of women leaders. Particularly important is creation of a “distinctive inner circle of women in their network.” As a self-diagnosed extroverted-introvert, I have long entertained the aspiration of developing this kind of community of support—while outright avoiding placing myself into the vulnerable situations that are necessary for its creation. This is especially true for connections that could be valuable to my professional identity, an identity still in its nascence (despite my age and experience), and one that I simultaneously associate with equal parts deep devotion and desperate insecurity.

Such tension stems from an indelible case of imposter syndrome, my perpetual straddling of multiple career paths, and the demands of my varied personal and professional roles: wife, mother, full-time worker, part-time worker, and PhD student. The latter often makes it hard for me to find time to fit in the kind of calculated and critical thinking necessary for strategic community-building or career planning. But—in early February, and after reading continued references to this report, I emerged from my complacency cocoon, determined to build my own distinctive inner circle through what I can only describe as an undertaking in professionally productive vulnerability.

Nearly New Networking

To start, I made a small-scale goal: I decided to reach out to a nearly new contact—someone I have worked with for years in the online world, but never interacted with in much depth. By now, it may not surprise you when I say I have always found this person to be extremely inspiring, while also full-on intimidating. She maintains a full-time remote teaching position, publishes prolifically, and continually invokes innovation as part of an ever-evolving online pedagogy and practice.  She’s constantly thinking about the best and most effective ways to engage her students in the classroom, willing to try new things with technology, and not afraid to share her ideas publicly with others. In short, she is a superstar.

For years, I’ve been wanting to pick her brain about some of her specific practices involving classroom video creation and implementation, how she balances work and writing, and where she sees the future of online teaching and learning. However, I’ve always been afraid that the conversation would be rather one-sided, with her offering a wealth of wisdom and me simply staring at the wall as I shrunk into my own inadequacy (oh, hello, imposter syndrome). But—I decided I was tired of missing out on the opportunity to optimize my own teaching/learning practices, so I emailed her and asked if we could talk.

Guess what happened next? She agreed. During our phone call, she shared a wealth of wisdom with me—and admittedly, I did spend a fair amount of our phone call quietly absorbing her advice. However, I did not appear, nor feel, inadequate. Quite the contrary. I was engaged, enthused, and energetic. I asked questions, wrote down ideas, and thought about how I might integrate some of her practices into my own. I felt nourished in a nearly new way, full of inspiration and intention. I had started down the path of professionally productive vulnerability and discovered that it was just that—emphasis on productive.

I encourage each of you to think of someone you have long admired, but never approached. Then, reach out to this person in whatever medium is most comfortable for you. The point of nearly new networking is that it stems from a place of security. Just be prepared to adjust and adapt as needed (I promise—this is part of the fun!).

Click Connect for Community

Attempting to both better articulate—and more clearly realize—my professional goals, I have recently been much more active on LinkedIn. For an extroverted-introvert, this usually means a lot of partial participation, those kinds of appreciation- from- afar activities, such as: liking relevant posts and articles, skimming the progress of my favorite people/organizations, and playing with my own profile to maximize its potential. Although I wouldn’t necessarily describe my process as in-depth engagement, it can still be surprisingly effective.

Case in point: while perusing the post of a current connection, I came across the profile of a woman self-admittedly interested in all of the online innovations I am passionate about. I clicked on her profile and proceeded to read through her insightful posts about online pedagogy, faculty development, and student success. I then noticed we shared rather similar backgrounds, with a versatile professional history that combined student services work with online teaching and administration. Finally, I became privy to her many accolades and accomplishments, including a wealth of publications, associations with some amazing professional organizations, and a clear devotion to a collaborative feminist agenda (something else we have in common). In case you were wondering—she too, is a superstar.

She graciously accepted my invitation, and after a little while, sent me a message pointing out our similar interests, in addition to asking if I’d like to discuss them in more detail at some point. We set up a Zoom call, shared our stories, and are now planning to take our networking to the next level—hopefully helping to create, even on a more micro scale, connections to a larger community of women interested in online higher education. As an example, she has already put me in touch with another like-minded female educator, and I have recently returned the favor. In addition, I now have a new friend and mentor—quite the compensation for a simple keyboard click.

What started as a kind of passive participation on my part has now morphed into a new form of professional agency. And, even if LinkedIn isn’t your thing, you can still reap similar rewards for reaching out. These connections can happen in more than one medium—email, Twitter, blog comments, etc. My advice: let creativity guide your clicks.

You Determine Your Distinctive

My point in sharing my own journey with professionally productive vulnerability is twofold: to encourage others to embrace discomfort as something potentially positive, and to show that small steps can still lead to successes. In essence—you determine your distinctive, be it with your community, your career goals, or your life aspirations. As I write this, I can’t help thinking of Brené Brown’s concept of “rumbling with vulnerability.” For Brown, engaging vulnerability is the first step towards self-actualization and alignment. In my own way, I have rocked this rumbling, creating a potential path forward for my professional fulfillment.  

Are you ready to rock your professional rumble, readers?

Niya Bond identifies as a professional multi-tasker, with a full-time job in academic advising, as well as several part-time positions in online English/Gen Ed teaching, tutoring, and educational contracting/consulting. She is also a Ph.D. student at the University of Maine, where she studies online teaching and learning.


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