How Vulnerability Made Tommy Dahlborg Stronger – Episode 099

LFL 99 | Stronger With Vulnerability


It’s often frightening to show people your vulnerable side because of the lack of trust or a traumatic experience. Tommy Dahlborg, the host of Stronger Thru Vulnerability, believes that you can become stronger by being vulnerable. In this episode, he talks about being vulnerable around the people you can trust, and you’re sure loves you. Tommy goes into the details of the impact having someone actually listen to you can have and ultimately give you a sense of belongingness. Learn and understand as he explains why you don’t need to don a mask just to feel like you belong.

Listen to the podcast here:

How Vulnerability Made Tommy Dahlborg Stronger

My guest is Tommy Dahlborg. He is wise beyond his years. He has a podcast himself called Strength Thru Vulnerability. In this episode, he speaks about his own journey and the power that vulnerability had. It, being one of his greatest strengths. Let’s get into it.

Tommy, thanks for being on. I have been looking forward to our meeting. Your dad made the introduction to us based on an article that I had written in your podcast, which is Strength Thru Vulnerability. He said, “You two need to get together.” Once I saw that I was like, “This is going to happen.” I love your enthusiasm in terms of us talking about that. I’d love for you to talk about how did you decide to create that podcast as a name and what do you hope to have other people gain from it?

First off, Patrick, thank you so much for having me on the show. I’m excited to be here. I’m very happy my dad made the connection between us. The Strength Thru Vulnerability Podcast has been an absolute blast making. It’s a long story to say the least about what led me towards making that podcast. I’ll start with, I have grown up dealing with anxiety for my entire life. I didn’t know it and I couldn’t put a name to it until when I was in 7th grade or so. At that point, there are still so few people talking about mental health stuff. There wasn’t as much information accessible, especially for my parents. A lot of parents aren’t equipped for their child coming up to them saying, “I’m struggling with feeling anxious. What should I do about that?”

I continued dealing with it, struggling, being in an internal pain from it. As I get into college, that stuff heightened because there’s so much more going on. Everything is set to a higher level. The highest level I’ve ever been at. It wasn’t until my senior year, I’m in a relationship with this girl. It was a toxic relationship, unfortunately, but she led me towards seeking the help of a psychiatrist. It wouldn’t have been unless I had gone through pain by myself for so long that I would have been willing to give this a shot. Finally, I was like, “This is so awful. I need to see somebody.” I took her advice. I found a psychiatrist. I went to see him, and he was phenomenal.

He helped me so much. He was an amazing listener. If you go into a counseling session, you realized they say a lot less and listen to me talk the whole time. When you’re like, “Please tell me something.” When that happened, I continued learning how to deal with my anxiety. I came across the fact that I struggle with OCD, which was something that my parents wouldn’t have known. I had no idea until I did my own research and talked a little bit more with professionals about it. As I learned and I unpacked more and more of that, I started growing this feeling of I want to share how important it is to talk about these things because when I was dealing with these things on my own, I felt like I couldn’t tell anybody about them.

I felt like I would be judged and to be able to sit in the room with somebody who understood what I was going through and could have empathy towards me was so powerful. After years of wanting to make a podcast and not knowing what I would want to talk about on it, it occurred to me, “Talk about the stuff you deal with every single day and the stuff that you’re passionate about.” That led me to do the podcast as a place where I can share my story and my vulnerability. Allowing other people to know that whatever they’re struggling with, maybe I haven’t gone through but they’re not alone because there’s a bunch of other people who were dealing with the same things. It’s been a real blessing because I’ve had friends and people, I don’t even know that well who reach out to me to be on the show and they come on. They share their stories in a safe place. It’s been a blast and it’s evolving all the time.

Real belongingness happens when we can add that emotional element, be vulnerable, and share who we are. Click To Tweet

Your ability to be vulnerable yourself, I’m guessing people that thought they knew you well when they hear you talk more about that struggle, it’s like a sigh of relief for them too. They’ll go like, “I’ve got issues too that I have bottled up and haven’t talked to other people because I was afraid.” You provide inspiration for them to be able to have those conversations.

I appreciate that Patrick. That’s definitely my hope. I’ve even seen that with people myself so far where there was this girl who I grew up without knowing her. It wasn’t until I started putting out this content and connecting with her that we realized we both struggle with OCD, all these intrusive thoughts, and all this stuff. Now, we have that connection where we get each other. We’re not alone, and there’s so much strength in that. It’s been so cool.

As I hear you talk about that, making those connections, and we were talking earlier about this whole social distancing and isolation how damaging that is. It speaks again to belongingness. We need each other. We’re packed animals and I think this could be an event that has people recognize how much we do need each other to get through the challenges that we’re faced with. We can’t do it alone.

We totally can’t. From an emotional perspective and physical perspective like you’re saying too, it’s one thing to be in the room with somebody, which is obviously something that we’re all missing greatly right now. When we can add those emotional elements too, be vulnerable and share who we are, that’s when real belongingness happens. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with Brene Brown’s work. I’m her biggest fanboy. She’s so good. I forget exactly how she puts but she says a lot of us are taught. We’re taught to fit in. To put a mask on is never belonging. It’s not until we’re vulnerable that we can belong. You’re totally right that this is the time where we know that we’ve taken for granted so many of the small things. I wish I can wait an hour in a coffee shop line right now. We miss that and to be able to be back in that situation and share our hearts more is going to be incredible. People are seeing the importance of that.

This is not meant to be patronizing on your age but you were so far ahead of the game being at your age because it was much later in my life that I was able to become more authentic. At times, it’s still difficult and I came from a very loving and caring environment. My parents were very much around the image. What are other people going to think? It was always about how you dressed, is your hair cut right, all of these things. It was like a mask all the time. It was feeling of am I authentic to who I am or am I doing it to be accepted by everybody else? If you’re only going to accept me if I stay in this mold if you know what’s going on in here, maybe you won’t.

That’s the most terrifying thing ever. That’s where I say to the people who come on my podcast, it’s not easy to share who you are and what you struggle with. The people who have come on, they’ve done their work. They’ve gone to therapy. They’ve dealt with these things for so long that they’re at that point where they’re confident enough in themselves that they can share this message. There are so many people who are in the trenches of that stuff. It’s incredibly difficult. Obviously, you’re not alone in the fact that I know a lot of people, a lot of my friends, my generation who have been brought up the same way where it’s all about image. I feel like a lot of times too. Our culture almost put so much emphasis on, what have you done?

LFL 99 | Stronger With Vulnerability

Stronger With Vulnerability: To actually be able to sit in a room with somebody who understands what you’re going through and could have empathy towards you, can be so powerful.


What are your accomplishments? If I don’t have this degree, am I lesser then? Am I not going to be accepted because I didn’t go to college? There are so many different things. To feel like you can’t fully be yourself is one of the most detrimental things to who we are and yet, that’s all around us and rambling a little bit. I think that we all have a bit of impostor syndrome too. I share this message of strength thru vulnerability. I try to share my stories and my struggles but there are so many times I’m in a room with people that I don’t know well. I find myself thinking like, “Am I being me or who is this guy? He’s hilarious but who is he?” We all have a sense of that no matter how vulnerable and real we’re being, but it’s hard.

You bring up a great point on that in terms of this impostor syndrome because I would say the same thing. I put out a lot of content around positive behaviors, positive attitudes, mindset, and vulnerability. I remember I did a post on it. It was saying that I put these out as much for other people as to hold myself accountable as a reminder to what I need to continue to do myself. It’s not as though I’ve already arrived and here’s what everybody else should be doing. It’s that I struggle with the same things and here are the things that I’m doing on a daily basis to try and remind me of the path I want to walk on.

That’s so real and it’s completely relevant to me. I’m laying on my couch trying to find some stillness even though I’m always inside, it’s hard to find stillness. I’m always watching YouTube, Netflix, working, or something. I was chilling out and I was thinking to myself, I share this message of strength thru vulnerability. I have some things in my heart right now. I don’t feel sharing them. They’re causing some stress and some anxiety. I have a little sister right here who I could talk to but I don’t want to. I was like, “Tommy, you got to do what you say. You got to do what you preach.” I ended up talking to my little sister. I shared some difficult things I was going through. Of course, she’s my sister so she’s going to accept me anyway. I knew it was a safe environment but it was still so helpful despite how difficult it was or how much I didn’t want to share those things I needed to. I felt more free after.

As I mentioned, I’ve been doing podcasts or webinars. One of the ones that I did before we got on this show was with a group around emotional intelligence. One of the articles, I still have it in front of me here was on emotional agility. It was a Harvard Business Review article I was talking about. It was about the importance of naming what we’re feeling and not to dismiss that it’s not there. I drew off of this. There are fMRI studies that have been done where they have people that sit in functional magnetic resonance imaging machine and they will ask them to talk about certain feelings and that part of their brain lights up. They were talking about this in terms of the importance of being able to talk about how we’re feeling can help lower that level of stress or whatever that feeling is that being able to talk about it is so important to get it out.

I completely agree with that message and to have science back that up is awesome. I mentioned something earlier where I said I knew I was in a safe place with my little sister. I knew I wouldn’t be judged by her. That’s also a message that I share a lot on my podcast too is that you don’t go and be vulnerable by posting all your feelings on Facebook. You find somebody who you love, who you know loves you, and who you know you can trust. Those are the three biggest things. Whether that’s parent, sibling, best friend, or mental health professional, or whatever it is, find that person. That’s the one that you want to share these things with because not everybody deserves to hear your story either. That’s important to share.

Are you familiar with a book called Radical Candor?

Fitting in by putting a mask on is never actually belonging. It's not until we're vulnerable, that we can actually belong. Click To Tweet

I’m not.

Radical Candor is not Brene Brown. It’s in a different way though. It’s more of what is still relevant here. It talks about how we need to be able to be candid with each other but I can only be candid with you if there’s a sense of trust and that I care about you as a person. If not, if I’m going to critique you to make either myself feel better or you look worse, it doesn’t work. I’m not trying to make you better by telling you these things, but it’s almost positioned in a way to say that it’s an obligation that we have. If we really care for somebody else and we want to see them get better, improve, or hear our point of view, then we need to have honest conversations with them and be transparent with each other. Oftentimes we’re not. I don’t want to say something to you because either I’m afraid I’m going to be uncomfortable about talking to you about it or I don’t want you to feel uncomfortable yet that maybe what needs to happen. We need to have an honest conversation and it comes from a place of love, not a place of I’m doing this to make myself look better than you.

I totally agree. That’s a great point. You see both ends of that all the time and with all the work you do in leadership, you see it all the time as well where you can separate the good bosses from the bad bosses mainly with that. I’ve had a few incredible bosses and the biggest thing that stuck out about them was that they could have those difficult conversations with me because they cared. I knew that I was protected and trusted and they were being real with me. They knew that I was doing the same with them because your people are going to reciprocate what you show them. I’ve had a few bad bosses who were completely in it for themselves. They didn’t care about Tommy Dahlborg. You can absolutely see that. That’s why people leave those jobs.

My experience has been, more often than not, that is an individual that’s either unhappy with who they are or insecure with themselves. That’s why they treat somebody else poorly. It’s less about you and more about themselves. That’s why the name of your podcast could be a subtitle for leadership because it is to me. One of the definitions that I will often draw off of is if your actions inspire somebody to dream more, learn more, do more, or become more, you’re a leader, nothing in there about a title. It’s about actions that inspire. Part of that is demonstrating vulnerability. We need that. We’re certainly going to see more of that in the environment that we’re in. I believe that it’s going to be more necessary to see that people can demonstrate that.

We jokingly said before we started here that that doesn’t go to say that I’m not going to follow the person that every day says, “I don’t know what I’m doing again. I’m afraid. Where are we going?” You want to know that that’s in that person’s capacity to be able to do that because you trust them. If I’m reporting to you and you tell me I’d made mistake the other day, I don’t know the answer to this, or whatever, it gives me permission to be able to do the same thing. If Tommy can say it, then I guess I can say when I don’t know the answer to it too. Wouldn’t it be better?

There’s so much to be said about that. In my short experience in the real working world, my first professional boss is somebody who is incredible at being vulnerable and connecting with his people. Throughout this process of COVID-19, this whole pandemic, there’s so much power in somebody being able to say like, “I don’t know what’s going on. I’m a little nervous.” It’s weird to think that the person leading you telling you that they’re a little nervous makes you feel better but it does. You’re like, “I’m not the only one who’s nervous about this. We’re in this together.” I totally agree with that. I love that.

LFL 99 | Stronger With Vulnerability

Stronger With Vulnerability: You don’t just go and be vulnerable by posting all your feelings on Facebook. Find somebody who you love, who you know loves you, and who you know you can trust.


Generationally, you’re on the fringe. Are you considered Millennial still?

That’s a great question. It depends on who you ask.

Generationally, there can be a bias that the younger generation doesn’t want to work. They don’t care as much about doing good work which bores me to know when I hear somebody say that because I’ve got twenty nieces and nephews that are all in that range. All of them are in the positions that they’ve worked very hard wherever they are. I don’t know anybody that’s sitting around binge-watching on anything all day long and they don’t want to work. It’s more an indictment on poor leadership and on the individual. Your generation has done a much better job of saying, “We’re not doing this. We want more.”

To feel like you can't fully be yourself is one of the most detrimental things to who we are, and yet, that's all around us. Click To Tweet

From a leadership perspective, it brings out the importance of being able to adapt. My generation is clearly different from the generation before in a lot of different ways. I know what a lot of my friends’ value and what I value is why are we doing this? I love asking the question of why not just like, “Give me this sheet of numbers. Let me plug in these.” That’s not fulfilling to me but if I know, the end result is to help a family buy a home from a banking perspective. Giving us that why helps motivate us. It helps motivate me. When you see these companies take advantage of their people or take advantage of their customers, my generation has been great about speaking up on that and making sure that people know that we don’t want to work for that. We don’t want to stand for that. The why is so important to us and I’m happy about that. From a leadership perspective, leaders need to know that. They need to be able to adapt and be like, “These kids care about this value.”

It’s going to take some time but I completely agree with what you’re saying. I would say the generation before you thought that they were questioning in their head, why and they were saying this is ridiculous. This is a dumb idea. If somebody didn’t say, you’re going to do it because I’m your boss and I tell you you’re going to do it. If there was more of this is why we’re doing this, you could still disagree with it to some extent but at least, you felt part of it. You were involved in the why. It seems so simple but it’s so powerful on that. As it relates to your podcast, where can somebody go to listen to it?

It’s on any podcast platform you like to use. I try to get it out there as many platforms as possible. Most of my listeners listen through iTunes, Apple Podcast, and Spotify.

LFL 99 | Stronger With Vulnerability

Stronger With Vulnerability: Radical Candor: How to Get What You Want by Saying What You Mean

Is it once a week?

Once a week. Every single Saturday, there’s an episode. As a little note, it’s Strength Thru Vulnerability. I spell thru because that looks better.

Tommy, I love what you’re doing. I have great respect for you just in this conversation that we’ve had in terms of hearing your story and where you want to go with. I’m sure you’re going to be successful.

Patrick, that really means a lot. I appreciate you having me on the show. All the work you’re doing is amazing, too. I hope you keep it up and I’ll be watching it.

This has been my honor.

Thank you.

If you haven’t had an opportunity to listen to Tommy’s podcast, I highly encourage you to do that. You can tell by the conversation that we had when we’re talking about actions that inspire, empower, and compel others to want to follow our lead, Tommy is on the right track. If you know somebody you think would benefit from this podcast, I’d ask you to forward it onto them. If you haven’t subscribed yet, please subscribe. It would mean the world to me if you would leave rating or comment because that is how this message about re-imagining leadership will continue to get out there. Until the next episode, I hope you’re able to go out there and rise above your best.

Important Links:

Love the show? Subscribe, rate, review, and share!
Join the LEARNING FROM LEADERS Community today: