Don’t Airbrush the Messy Stuff

As CEOs and leaders, it’s important to foster a culture where there is no shame in enduring hardships, past or present - and it starts at the top.

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This is me literally airing my dirty laundry at 16 in the backyard of my rent-stabilized, shoebox apartment in Queens. Tighty whities swaying on the clothesline out back, government cheese in the fridge, sleeping on a mattress on the floor. That’s how I grew up. I’ll never forget it, and I’ll never be ashamed of it.

As CEOs and leaders, it’s important to foster a culture where there is no shame in enduring hardships, past or present – and it starts at the top. I believe sharing vulnerabilities signals a willingness to also recognize failure. That means employees will be quicker to acknowledge mistakes rather than internalize or conceal. And the sooner we acknowledge we’re heading in the wrong direction, the more time we have to course correct. 

Yet our Instagram-driven society feeds this impulse to airbrush out the messy parts of our lives and create a perfect Hollywood ending. Tidy up the story for mass consumption. Perfect narrative arc of triumph and redemption.  But doing so gives others the false impression that they either can’t transcend their dire circumstances, or they’re inadequate for having not done so already.

We are all a work in progress. It takes a long time to achieve escape velocity from our material circumstances and our mental anguish. My meandering road to Shark Tank wound through Queens College – seven years of ups and downs working two jobs, with lots of self-inflicted wounds. 

Point is, the only way others can draw inspiration from your trials is to paint a full technicolor picture of your journey – and to occasionally air out some of your dirty laundry along the way for all to see. You’ll be thanked by the ones who now walk in your old shoes and are nourished by hope that better days lie just around the bend.

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