My Journey to Clarity: Defining the Commitment to My Clients and Myself

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Illustration by Michael Brugman
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Illustration by Michael Brugman

The power of being vulnerable.

As I close out 2018, I am reminded that I started this year with the intent to gain clarity. Clarity at work, at home, in my professional and personal relationships, but mostly within myself.

This journey actually started about two years ago when I was just unhappy in my work situation. In short, I was blaming my agency for my reality. I know that I thrive when there is a beacon that I am aiming towards. I don’t need to be shown the path, but what I do need is to be very clear on where I am headed. I’d lost sight of that beacon and wanted to point fingers elsewhere.

And so began a process of introspection, and working with an executive coach, to truly uncover my “why” and what fuels me daily. To find, understand, and truly embrace the soul of who I am and what matters to me. To know the difference between what I am really committed to, and the stories I tell out there in the world.

What I needed to uncover (on my own) was my commitment to myself, to my agency, to my clients, and in my personal life. The answer I uncovered?

I am committed to authentic, meaningful connections.

You’re thinking, sure, aren’t we all? We don’t want to live in the superficial. But my truth is that when my relationships aren’t for real, I feel out of synch with the world around me.

While I tend towards overconfidence, I wrestle with letting those on the outside really see me. Am I being too personal? Am I letting folks in enough to spark connection?

Throughout my journey, when it comes to inner conflicts like this, I’ve soaked up wisdom and learning from inspiring leaders and thinkers. In her TED Talk on the power of vulnerability, Brene Brown says that “to truly be in relationship with one’s self and others, we have to allow ourselves to really be seen.” She explains that this is the fear, the hard part to reconcile: “Is there something about me that, if other people know it or see it, I won’t be worthy of connection?”

There is something so powerful in truly being seen, and meaningful, authentic relationships require it. Take a look at how “relationship” is defined:

  • An enduring association between two persons. (Reis, 2001)
  • A relationship is characterized by a stable pattern of interaction between at least two individuals. (Asendorpf & Banse, 2000; Hinde, 1993)
  • Two people are said to be in a relationship with one another if they impact on each other and if they are interdependent in the sense that a change in one person causes a change in the other and vice versa. (Kelly et al., 1983)

You can’t “endure” (stand the test of time), you can’t achieve a “stable pattern” (trust each other) or impact each other (spark change) unless the individuals in a relationship are willing to be vulnerable. To be seen. However, this can get tricky in the professional context.

Master of long-term relationships.

I’m proud to build relationships with clients that stand the test of time. While sometimes the lines between personal and professional get blurred, admittedly, I like that way.

In a review, once upon a time, I was told that I tend toward the social and disregard the strategic. This resonated with me and reminded me that these relationships are professional. What I learned was to check myself ever so slightly and ask if my relationships were serving both camps — me and the agency. There’s a necessary tension there. Showing up as myself, while also showing up for the agency.

The “how” of showing up — building a relationship that lasts — applies both at work and in my personal life. I’ve learned that it’s how you ensure someone feels seen, how you create a connection that really means something. Here’s what it looks like:

  • Really being there, making eye contact and truly listening — it’s not always about doing or selling something, sometimes it’s just about being present
  • Asking how they want to be communicated to and meeting them where they are
  • Picking up the phone or meeting in person versus the natural (read: easy) inclination to email or text
  • Diving in, truly getting to know them and what they love, asking questions — the real questions — and being sensitive to the answers
  • Letting them know when you are thinking about them

The true test of an authentic relationship is whether I miss them when I don’t see them. Sometimes, in strong client relationships, I lose sight and forget they are a client — there’s that tension again. But to me, it’s worth it.

Best selves = best client partners.

My advice? Let people in. Give up a little piece of yourself without it draining you. Surround yourself with those who inspire you and give you back the pieces you’ve given away. Build trust, respect, shared purpose. Blur the lines and see what happens. Sometimes it can come back to bite you, but over the long-term, authentic relationships endure and you have much more to gain than lose.

I’ve learned that in order for me to truly be a client partner, I must (not should) let myself be vulnerable and deeply seen. I must believe that I am enough and that I am a commitment to authentic meaningful connections. Knowing this, my direction in life and work is clear.

Matt Stiker, CMO, Garrand Moehlenkamp captured it all so well in a post about how the agency model of the future isn’t about what you do, but about why you do it:

…what if we acted a little bit selfish (and courageous) and recognized that in order for us to bring our best selves to our clients that we must first be our best selves, in whatever that means to us? Don’t our clients want us to inspire them, to bring more to the relationships we have with them? What client would ever complain about an agency partner bringing more wisdom, and more love? To me, being our agency’s best self means being really clear (and comfortable) with who we are and why we do what we do, in what we bring to every conversation, and to every decision we make.
Matt Stiker CMO, Garrand Moehlenkamp

It’s true. I wrap this year with full knowledge of why I do what I do and what truly matters to me. As a result, I no longer rely on my agency, or anyone else, for my reality. My beacon is bright and always within sight, and my relationships are stronger than ever.


Asendorpf, J.B., & Banse, R. (2000). Psychology of relationships. Berlin: Springer
Hinde, R. (1993). On the way toward a science of social relationships. In A.E. Auhagen & M. von Salisch (Eds.), Interpersonal relationships (pp. 7–36). Gottingen: Hogrefe.
Kelly, H.H., Berscheid, E., Christensen, A., Harvey, J.H., Huston, T.L., Levinger, G., . . . Peterson, D.R. (1983). Analyzing close relationships. In H.H. Kelly, E. Berscheid, A. Christensen, J.H. Harvey, T.L. Huston, G. Levinger . . . D.R. Peterson (Eds.), Close relationships: Development and change (pp. 20–67). New York: Freeman.
Reis, H.T. (2001). Relationship experiences and emotional wellbeing. In C.D. Ryff & B.H. Singer (Eds.), Emotion, social relationships and health (pp. 57–95). New York: Oxford University Press.
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