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A Little Vulnerability Goes a Long Way, We Hope

In early December, I was on a panel entitled Sustaining, Enduring and Thriving Through Crisis at the 2022 Market Counsel Summit. Diana Britton, managing editor of WealthManagement.com, convened us. My fellow panelists were Gavin Spitzner, president of Wealth Consulting Partners, John Hyland, a managing director with Private Advisor Group, and Marc Nichols, a product director with Arbor Digital.

Gavin and John have battled multiple rounds of cancer and Marc is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. I lost my brother in June of ‘2021. We each experienced a specific trauma. Coming together, we shared stories of the many people who have approached us with similar incidents once they knew we held a safe space for others who have had traumatic experiences.

We, men, are all quite literally starved for this type of connection in our industry. As most know, the world of “finance” is still dominated by men – and not always the best kind of men.

We were initiating the discussion around trauma in the largely male advisor community. You could hear a pin drop in the session. It was a first (that I know of), and attendees reviewed it afterwards as “The best panel ever at a financial industry conference.”

One of my braver clients said to me, “Only a group of white male CEOs would need a panel to give themselves permission to feel their pain and grief openly.”

She said it in jest. And, I laughed because it was funny. The humor in the statement is part of the tragedy. She is totally right. It IS absolutely absurd that we need this kind of permission. It is silly that this way has to be paved at all. Yet we do and it does all the same.

Becoming a man in our culture is a confusing process. Ideas of what it means to be strong are muddled at best. I learned as a very young boy (when compliance was an act of self-preservation) to “man-up” in the face of difficulty. This is no joke.

Almost every male role model I had participated in this education. Most women who took part in my education were complicit. If we wish to be rid of “toxic masculinity” then we need to raise boys differently. Expressions of pain cannot be interpreted as weakness. Men should not be forced to endure every slight and difficulty with a “stiff upper lip.”

There shouldn’t be a penalty for gentleness.

Thankfully, in my own life, I have been graced by a few great friendships – Bob F., Gary R., and Scott J. – and some very important mentors – Marvin S., Ernie G., Jim A., and Kathie P. – who showed me it was OK to be myself – that male honesty and vulnerability are strong and courageous.

It is a shame that not all boys find someone to give them the same permission. You’ve heard the phrase, “It is hurt people who hurt people.” There are a lot of men out there who are hurting and who have not learned how to share their pain without being destructive. They are using the only tools they know.

I was proud to move this conversation forward as part of this panel. If you are curious, HERE is a summary.

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