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The Courage To Be You

By Ashley Elmer, DC

How Authenticity and Vulnerability Pay Off and Help You Win Personally and Professionally

Being authentic and vulnerable allows you to receive the support and feedback from trusted colleagues and mentors to succeed professionally at a high level.

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?

An interview with Maria Angelova and Dr. Ashley Elmer, DC, CACCP, CPD

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?

As a child of Minnesota, I was born with a passion for the great outdoors: Playing outside on long summer days, downhill ski racing, and sports consumed most of my childhood. I ran varsity track and cross country as a middle schooler and received recruitment letters from colleges at an early age, but my running career was cut short with a severe case of Lyme Disease. This experience put me on a path to becoming a chiropractor and inspired an apprecia­tion for healthy living.

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

“The spiritual journey is the unlearning of fear and prejudices and the acceptance of love back in our hearts.” –Marianne Williamson

I notice that when my nervous system is in fight or flight mode that fear comes up more often. When I can slow down, and relax into the present moment, love is available and it feels so good to be operating from that expansive state. It impacts how I see and relate to the world and this awareness has led me to daily practices that have influenced me as a mother. When I’m coming from a present and loving place even the most ordinary things are beautiful and when I’m stuck in fear it leads to more fear. So, in this way, I view motherhood as a spiritual journey where I get to practice this awareness and choose to come back to presence and love.

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?

Eckhardt Tolle’s book, The Power of Now, has led to more peace and joy in my life. When we can recognize patterns of rumination about the past or future, it is within our power to alter our thoughts and state. I have found that prioritiz­ing wellness routines and practices allows me to access the present moment more easily and often. This is something that I teach expecting and postpartum moms and parents because it significantly increases joy and connection in pregnancy and parenthood.

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?

Showing up and allowing yourself to be fully seen. Having the courage to be imperfect, vulnerable, and open to life. Learning from mistakes and leaning into love instead of fear even in the hard moments. Having the self-compas­sion and bravery to say this is who I am, and in doing so learning how to fully accept and love others as well.

What does being vulnerable mean? Can you explain?

Having the courage to show up knowing that there is unpredictability and in Brené Brown’s words, “risk and emotional exposure.” For me, it is consciously letting go of gripping and the need to know how things will turn out. It is being open and saying yes to life when it involves healing, love and connection.

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

Meaningful relationships require authenticity and vulner­ability. When we operate in this way, it attracts people who love and appreciate us for who we really are. It cultivates trust and inspires others to be open and honest about who they are, leading to depth in relationships.

Professionally, I have found that sharing my postpartum experiences has taken courage, and I’ve seen how it has helped others learn, seek support, and heal. In my postgrad­uate course, titled Postpartum Care: Improving Diaphragm, Core & Pelvic Floor Function, I shared my personal postpar­tum experience with prolapse, an unhealing diastasis, and incontinence. Publicly sharing felt vulnerable but the feed­back has been positive in that it has helped doctors retain the information, resulting in improved postpartum care in their communities. Weaving my personal stories into my courses, speaking engagements and social media has built connec­tion with those that are looking for more than static material from a textbook. Overall, I think one of the most beautiful things about being authentic and vulnerable is experiencing the connection that happens when someone says, “I’ve been there too”. It’s an instant bond.

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

There are risks involved in being authentic and vulnerable. We may get hurt or leave ourselves open to the opinions and judgement of others. It can be retraumatizing to share beyond our closest circle before we have processed an expe­rience. Sometimes our message can lack wisdom or depth when we share publicly before we have started to heal. For example, it took me years to share on a stage that I strug­gled emotionally after the birth of my son. He was born prematurely, and I had a lot of work to do before I could add value by telling my story. One way that I knew I was ready, was that the experience no longer felt charged emotionally. Had I shared earlier, I think it would have come across as an overshare. It still felt vulnerable to tell my story in front of hundreds of doctors recently, but I kept my focus on how it would improve maternal health across the country. And you know what, being vulnerable led to new friendships and connections with those that resonated with my mes­sage. I also want to say that there will always be those that judge, try not to get sidetracked by negativity, keep your focus on the greater good and what lights you up. There are many more people cheering you on.

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

Fear, mistrust, and a lack of safety are all reasons that we hold back from being authentic and vulnerable. If fear is holding us back, checking in daily to see if we are operating from a place of love or fear. Then asking ourselves how we can get back to a loving place where it is easier to connect.

Originally printed in Authority Magazine