I have spent the last two month’s procrastinating and not writing this post about meeting my personal hero, Brené Brown. Oh the irony of wanting to write a post ‘perfectly’ about this amazing women who has helped me to embrace my imperfections. Clearly I still have work to do! So today I am going to finish this if it’s the last thing I do, I am embracing my lack of perfection, whilst realising I’m not the only one to have ever felt this way. So I apologise if it’s not my best writing, or a bit jumbled, but if I don’t get out of this perfectionist cycle, it will never happen.
You can probably tell from my beaming smile that meeting Brené was an utter pleasure and delight. Just over a year ago I picked up Brené’s book The Gifts of Imperfection and devoured it. It was like liquid sunshine for my hungry and heavy heart. I had lost someone I loved dearly a few weeks before and felt battered and bruised emotionally from the intensity of my grief. I was on holiday and had wisely taken a small selection of books with me to read (so I wouldn’t distract myself with too much choice, something I am terrible at doing). I sank into her book like I was conversing with my oldest friends, it spoke to the very deepest part of me. Prior to discovering Brené I had already been on a long personal journey, reading many self-help books, watching countless inspirational films, listening to mediation CDs, spending thousands on seminars and courses. They all had a part to play in helping me become more comfortable with myself, believing in who I am and realising my dreams, but nothing has had the impact on my life like the work of Brené. I’m not quite sure why I was moved so profoundly, but reading The Gifts of Imperfection was transformational for me. After finishing the book I wasn’t done, and by a wonderful chance of synchronicity Brené was starting an online course with Jen Lemen about shame resilience. I signed up for the Ordinary Courage e-course and had six amazing weeks of listening to Brené and Jen pour their hearts out about building compassion, courage and connection. (In fact I’ve just seen that they are running the course again in 2013 and I may just have to sign up for another dose!)
So when I saw a post on Brené’s blog a few months back about a book tour and that she was visiting London I knew that no matter what I had to go. I asked my lovely husband if we would like to come with me and he said he would support me, knowing how important her work is to me. Honestly, my husband is one of the true blessings in my life.
The weeks leading up to her talk I was so excited, like a small child in the build up to Christmas; until I came down with the wonderful winter flu that seemed to be spreading like the Black Plague around Britain. When the day of Brené’s talk rolled around I truly felt awful. You know how it is, when every breath you take hurts, when you are too tired to sleep and nothing makes you feel better. To boot it was a cold, wet, dark, miserable and windy evening in London. Every cell in my body didn’t want to go and if it had been anyone else, it would have won out, but my mind won out and I dragged my sorry ass there. No crappy chest infection was going to prevent me from seeing my personal hero no matter how much my body coughed and spluttered in protest.
When we arrived the excitement was palpable, there was a heaving throng of people that had collected in the hall of the venue, readily awaiting for the doors to open. The cacophony of sound as people chatted excitedly with each other in small groups rose into a crescendo. I saw plenty copies of Brené’s latest book ‘Daring Greatly’ proudly clasped under people’s arms. It was like being a member of some secret society, people knowingly giving you a smile when they glanced at your book. When the doors opened I made a polite (British) beeline for the front and settled for a spot in the centre of the second row, just about close enough without appearing too stalker like! I was nervous and excited all rolled into one ball of emotion in my stomach and before long my thoughts of being unwell soon vanished. The room swelled to full capacity very quickly and there was an air of eager anticipation. All eyes were glued to the empty stage and glancing around the room I looked up and above the stage and saw the words “To thine own self be true”. The words couldn’t have been more perfect for the evening to come. Brené walked on stage to a rapturous applause and I felt like was going to burst with the excitement of it all, and then like any good obedient student I was taking notes studiously. Sometimes I can be way too serious, but I didn’t want to miss a thing! When Brené described herself as a ‘recovering perfectionist and people pleaser’ and I knew I was in good company.
As soon as I learned about Brené’s talk I knew i wanted to write a post about the experience but instead of trying to summarise her talk I want to explore my feelings to some of the things she spoke about.
Brené described vulnerability as;
vulnerability = uncertainty + risk + emotional exposure
Having read her books this wasn’t a new concept for me but the realisation that the emotional exposure is what I find so frightening really struck home. Uncertainty can make me feel crazy and is probably why I’m such a hard-core perfectionist trying to control whatever I can and whilst I might even revel in the thrill of occasional risk at times, but emotional exposure, even the words spread fear into my very core. It all comes down to the same old thing for me. Not feeling good enough, being afraid that if I let people in and see me, the flawed, imperfect me that it will only confirm my fears of being worthless. For me working on my worthiness and ‘enough-ness’ has been and will continue to be the most important thing I will ever do. In fact the more personal work I do on living a wholehearted life, the more I realise it is a skill that I need to practice every single day. It might sound dramatic, and even far too navel-gazing, but if I don’t live from a place of worthiness and enough-ness how can I relate to my husband, my family and friends authentically? How can I perform in my work with integrity and most importantly, when I have a child how can I teach them to believe and love themselves if I can’t show them how. Brené talked about the need to practice the ‘art’ of vulnerability and I couldn’t agree more. I know that I personally need to lean into my vulnerability and allow my courage to well up and let myself be seen, despite the risks.
One message I heard loud and clear is that being vulnerable is completely full of risks and whilst we might get our asses kicked in the process, the biggest myth is that vulnerability is avoidable. I guess it should be added to the list along with death and taxes! Using that analogy though perfectly shows how much more painful our experience can be when we run from or fight the inevitable, by hardening ourselves up against vulnerability all we are doing is excluding the love and joy from life.
I can’t recall the exact question, but Brené was asked something along the lines of what would she would put in a museum of vulnerability. She paused and really thought about the question for a while and said she would celebrate a Museum of Epic Failure. She wanted to celebrate that people tried but failed, that they got their asses in the ring but got kicked anyway. It’s about celebrating the fact that sometimes life doesn’t always work out, that it can be painful but that doesn’t mean we should watch from the sidelines. Having spent more years than I’d like to admit watching life from the sidelines, I can confirm that it is no less painful avoiding life. Pain still happens, but you simply cut off the chance to experience triumph and joy.
When she described the Museum of Epic Failure it made me think about the Olympics. All the athletes who didn’t quite make it, the false starts, the disqualifications, the torn ligaments, the heart ache and disappointments. Living in London it was hard not to be moved and touched by the games, but without these failures and broken dreams, the victories and triumphs would not have been possible. Life isn’t about coasting along trying to avoid getting hurt at all costs, it is totally about putting ourselves out there, risking it all and hopefully every once in a while getting a chance to step on our own podium.
I could have listened to Brené all night. She was funny, insightful, entertaining and so warm. Her authenticity and vulnerability shone through. You know that she truly practices what she preaches. After the talk she was signing autographs and I knew I wanted to meet her. I’m not normally one for doing this but Brené was different, there is something about her that makes you feel like an old friend. I waited patiently in line and could feel my stomach getting more knotted and nervous! Words seemed to come out of my mouth at a hundred miles an hour and I blurted out that I’d taken her online course, but she seemed genuinely delighted. I decided to push against the discomfort and asked for a hug. She gave me a huge bear hug and one of the photographers covering the event that night captured this shot. I am so grateful to Jeremy Gill for the above photograph as it perfectly captures the pure joy and emotion I felt that night.
So here’s to more opportunities of getting into the ring of life and getting my ass kicked, experiencing the highs and lows, the sorrow and the joy and to practicing the art of vulnerability with a little more humour and perhaps finesse. And maybe, just maybe stepping onto my own podium.
To learn more about Brené’s work pick up one of her books or take 20 mins and watch one of her amazing TED talks, and I promise you won’t be disappointed.