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Annotated captions of TEDxHouston - Brené Brown in English

Last Modified By Time Content
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So, I'll start with this... a couple of years ago, an event planner called me

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because I was going to do a speaking event and she called and she said,

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"I'm really struggling with how to write about you on the little flier."

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And I thought, "well what's the stuggle?" And she said, "Well, I saw you speak

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I'm gonna call you a researcher I think but I'm afraid if I call you a researcher no one will come because they'll think you're boring and irrelevant (audience laughter)

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And, I was like "Okay." And she said,

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"Well the thing I liked about your talk

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is that you're a story teller.So I think what I'll do is call you a story teller."

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And of course the academic, insecure part of me was like- "you're gonna call me a what?" (audience laughter)

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"you're gonna call me a what?" (audience laughter)

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And she said, "I'm gonna call you a story teller." And I was like, "Oh,

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pfft why not magic pixie." (lots of laughter)

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I was like-

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"let me think about this for a second."

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And so, I tried to call deep on my courage

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and I thought

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Well, you know I am a storyteller. I'm a qualitative researcher.

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I collect stories, that's what I do.

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And maybe stories are just data with a soul. Ya know and maybe I'm just a storyteller.

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So I said, "You know what?

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Why don't you just say I'm a researcher/storyteller." And she went, "Ah-ha-ha (imitates loud laugh)! There's no such thing."

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(audience laughter)

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So I'm a researcher/storyteller.

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And I'm going to talk to you today, we're talking about expanded perception

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And so I want to talk to you and tell you some stories about a piece of my research

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that fundamentally expanded my perception

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and really actually changed the way that

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I live and love and work and parent.

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And this is where my story starts...

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When I was young researcher/doctoral student.

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My first year, I had a

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research professor who on

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one of his first days of class said, "Here's the thing- if you cannot measure it, it doesn't exist."

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And I thought he was just sweet talking me,

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I was like- "Really?" And he said, "Absolutely."

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And so you have to understand that I have a Batchelors in Social Work, a Masters in Social Work and I was getting my PhD in Social Work.

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So my entire academic career was surrounded by people who kind of believed the whole "life's messy, love it."

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And I'm more the "life's messy, clean it up." (audience giggles)

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"Organize it and put it into a bento box." (more laughter)

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And so to think I had found my way, found a career

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that takes me... you know one of the big sayings in social work is "lean into the discomfort of the work"

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and I'm more "knock discomfort upside the head and move it over and get all A's." That was my mantra. (audience laughs)

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So I was very excited about this and so I thought, this is the career for me because I am interested

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in some messy topics but I want to be able to make them, not messy.

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I want to understand them. I want to hack into these things

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that I know are important and lay the code out for everyone to see.

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So where I started was with connection.

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Because by the time you're a social worker for ten years what you realize is

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that connection is why we're here.

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It's what gives purpose and meaning to our lives.

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It doesn't matter whether you talk to people who work in social justice and mental health and abusive and neglect.

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That connection, the ability to feel connected, is neurobiologically how we're wired. That's why we're here.

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So I thought, "I'll start with connection."

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Well you know that situation where you get an evaluation from your boss...

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And she tells you 37 things that you do really awesome and one thing that you kinda, ya know the "opportunity for growth"?

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(audience laughs)

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And all you can think about is that "opportunity for growth," right?

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Well, apparently this is the way my work went as well.

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Because when you ask people about love

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They tell you about heartbreak.

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When you ask them about belonging,

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They'll tell you about the most excruciating experiences of being excluded.

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And when you ask people about connection,

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The stories they told me were about disconnection.

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So very quickly (about six weeks into my research), I ran into this unnamed thing

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that absolutely unraveled connection. In a way that I didn't understand or had never seen.

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And so I pulled back out of the research and said, "I need to figure out what this is."

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And it turned out to be shame.

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It turned out that -and shame is really easily understood as the fear of disconnection-

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is there's something about me that if other people know it or see it, that I won't be worthy of connection.

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The things I can tell you about it is: - it's universal, we all have it.

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The only people who don't experience shame have no capacity for human empathy or connection.

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- No one wants to talk about it and the less you talk about it, the more you have it.

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What underpinned this shame, this "I'm not good enough" - which we all know that feeling, that "I'm not _____ enough, I'm not thin enough,

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rich enough, smart enough, promoted enough"...

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The thing that underpinned this was, this excruciating vulnerability.

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This idea of "in order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen," really seen.

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And you know how I feel about vulnerability, I HATE vulnerability.

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And so I thought, this is my chance to beat it back with my measuring stick.

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I'm going in. And I'm gonna figure this stuff out, I'm gonna spend a year.

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I'm gonna totally deconstruct shame, I'm gonna understand how vulnerability works and I'm gonna outsmart it.

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So I was ready and I was really excited!

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As you know it's not going to turn out well. (laughter)

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(more laughter) You know this.

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I could tell you a lot about shame but I'd have to borrow everyone else's time.

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But here's what I can tell you it boils down to...

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-and this may be one of the most important things I've learned in the decade of doing this research-

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My one year turned into six years,

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thousands of stories, hundreds of long interviews, focus groups -at one point people were sending me their journal pages, their stories- thousands of pieces of data in six years.

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And I kinda got a handle on it, I understood what shame is, how it works.

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I wrote a book, I published a theory but something was not okay.

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And what it was, was that if I roughly took the people I interviewed,

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and divided them into people who really have a sense of worthiness (that's what this comes down, a sense of worthiness),

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they have a strong sense of love and belonging.

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And then the folks who struggle for it, the folks who are always wondering if they're good enough...

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there was only one variable that separated the people who had a strong sense of love and belonging, and really struggle for it, and that was

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the people who have a strong sense of love and belonging, believe that they are worthy of love and belonging. That's it.

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They believe they're worthy.

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And so to me, the hard part of the one thing that keeps us out of connection is our fear that we're not worthy of connection

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was something that personally and professionally I felt like I needed to understand.

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So I took all of the interviews where I saw worthiness, saw people living that way, and just looked at those.

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What do these people have in common?

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I have a slight office supply addiction...that's another talk (laughter).

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So I had a manila folder and a sharpie and I was like, "What am I going to call this research?"

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And the first words that came to my mind were "wholehearted."

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These are kind of wholehearted people living from this deep sense of worthiness.

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So I wrote at the top of the manila folder and I started looking at the data.

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At first in this very intense, four day long analysis, where I went back and pulled all these interviews, stories asking - "What's the theme? What's the pattern?"

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My husband left town with the kids (audience laughs) because I always kinda going into this Jackson Pollock crazy thing.

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Where I'm just writing and just in my researcher mode.

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And so here's what I found...

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What they had in common was a sense of courage.

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And I want to separate courage and bravery for you for a moment.

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Courage, when it first came into the English language (it's from the latin word - cour, meaning heart), the original definition was to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart.

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And so these folks, very simply, had the courage to be imperfect.

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They had the compassion to be kind to themselves first

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and then others and as it turns out we can't practice compassion with other people if we can't treat ourselves kindly.

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And the last was that they had connection- and this was the hard part- as a result of authenticity.

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They were willing to let go of who they thought they should be

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to be who they were, which you absolutely have to do for connection.

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The other thing that they had in common was this-

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they fully embraced vulnerability.

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They believed that what made them vulnerable, made them beautiful.

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They didn't talk about vulnerability being comfortable nor did they talk about it being excruciating as I had heard earlier in the shame interviewing.

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They just talked about it being necessary.

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They talked about the willingness to say "I love you" first.

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The willingness to do something where there are no guarantees.

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The willingness to breathe through waiting for the doctor to call after their mammogram.

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The willing to invest in a relationship that may or may not work out.

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They thought this was fundamental.

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I personally thought that this was betrayal.

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I could not believe that I'd pledged allegiance to research, where (in our job) the definition of research is to control and predict.

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Study phenomena for the explicit reason to control and predict.

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And now my mission to control and predict had turned up the answer that the way to live is with vulnerability.

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And to stop controlling and predicting.

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This led to

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a little breakdown (audience laughs)

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which actually looked more like this -

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(more laughter)

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And it led to what I called a breakdown and my therapist calling a "spiritual awakening."

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(more laughter)

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Spiritual awakening sounds good but I assure you it was a breakdown.

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I had to put my data away and go find a therapist.

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And let me tell you something, you know who you are when you call you friends and say, "I think I need to see somebody. Do you have any recommendations?"

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Because about five of my friends were like, "Woooh I wouldn't want to be your therapist." (uproars of laughter)

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"What is that?" "You know, I'm just sayin'- don't bring your measuring stick." (more laughter from audience)

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(continues to laugh). And so I found a therapist.

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And in my first meeting with her, Diana, I brought in my list of how the wholehearted live.

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And she sat down and said, "How are you?"

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And I said, "I'm okay, I'm great." And she said, "well what's going on?"

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And this is a therapist who sees therapists because we have to go to those because their B.S. meters are good.

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(laughter)

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And so I said, "here's the thing, I'm struggling." And she said, "what's the struggle?"

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And I said, "I have a vulnerability issue."

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And I know that vulnerability is the core of shame and fear and our struggle for worthiness

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but that it's also the birth place of joy, creativity, belonging, love

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and I think I have a problem and I need some help."

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"But here's the thing, no family stuff, no childhood shit, (audience laughs), I just need some strategies. (more laughter)

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Thank you.

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So then she goes like this [nods head up and down].

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"It's bad right?" And she said, "it's neither good nor bad."

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(laughter) It just is what it is.

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And I said, "Oh my God, this is gonna SUCK!" (laughter)

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And it did and it didn't. And it took about a year.

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And you know how there are people who when they realize that vulnerability and tenderness are important?

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A) That's not me and B) I don't even hang out with people like that. (audience laughs)

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For me it was a year long street fight. (laughter)

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It was a slugfest. Vulnerability pushed, I pushed back.

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I lost the fight but I won my life back.

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Then I went back into the research and spent the next few years really trying to understand what they, the "wholehearted", what the choices they were making

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and what are we doing with vulnerability? Why do we struggle with it so much? Am I alone in struggling with vulnerability?

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No.

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So this is what I learned...

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We numb vulnerability.

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When we're waiting for the call, when we're waiting...

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You know it was funny, on Wednesday I put something out on twitter and facebook that said, "how would you define vulnerability/what makes you feel vulnerable?"

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And in an hour and half I had 150 responses. Because you know I wanted to know...

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You know, what's out there?

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"Having to ask my husband for help cuz I'm sick and we're newly married."

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"Initiating sex with my wife."

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"Initiating sex with my husband."

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"Being turned down." "Asking someone out."

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"Waiting for the doctor to call back." "Getting laid off."

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"Laying off people."

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This is the world we live in.

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We live in a vulnerable world.

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And one of the ways we deal with it is we numb vulnerability.

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And I think there's evidence. And it's not the only reason this evidence exists but it's a huge cause.

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We are the most in debt,

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obese,

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addicted and medicated adult cohort in U.S. history.

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Why? The problem is, and I learned this from the research...

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is that you cannot selectively numb emotion.

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You can't say, "here's all the bad stuff- vulnerability, here's grief, shame, fear, disappointment- I don't want to feel these.

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I'm gonna have a few beers and a banana nut muffin.

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(laugher) I don't wanna feel these!

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And I know that's knowing laughter, I hack into your lives for a living (more laughter). That's "ah-ha-ha God!"

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(more laughter) You can't numb those hard feelings without numbing the other affects. You cannot selectively numb.

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So when you numb those, we can't numb without numbing joy.

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We numb gratitude, we numb happiness.

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And then, we are miserable and we're looking for purpose and meaning

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and then we feel vulnerable and so we look for a couple of beers and a banana nut muffin. And it becomes this dangerous cycle.

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One of the things that I think we need to think about is- why and how we numb.

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And it doesn't just have to be addiction.

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The other thing we do is make everything that's uncertain, certain.

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Religion has gone from a belief in faith and mystery to certainty.

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"I'm right, you're wrong. Shut up."

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That's it. The more afraid we are, the more vulnerable we are, the more afraid we are.

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Look at politics today, there's no discourse any more, there's no conversation. There's just blame.

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You know how blame is described in our research? "A way to discharge pain and discomfort."

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We perfect.

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Now let me tell you, if there's anyone who wants to have their life look like this, it would be me. But it doesn't work.

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Because what we take fat from our butts and put it into our cheeks.

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(laughter)

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Which doesn't work! I hope in a hundred years people will look back and go, "Wow." (more laughter)

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And we perfect, most dangerously, our children.

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Very quickly, let me take you through this... Children are hard-wired for struggle when they get here.

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When we hold those perfect little babies in our hands, our job is not to say, "Look at him/her, their perfect."

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"My job is just to keep her perfect and make sure she makes the tennis team by 5th grade and gets to Yale by 7th grade."

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That's not our job, our job is to look and say, " You're imperfect and hard-wired for struggle but you are worthy of love and belonging."

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That's our job. Show me a generation of kids that grows up like that and we'll end the problems that we see today.

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We pretend that what we do doesn't have an effect on people.

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We do that in our personal lives, corporate (whether it's a bail out or an oil spill), a recall.

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We pretend like what we're doing doesn't have a huge impact on other people.

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I would say to companies- "this isn't our first rodeo, people."

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We just need you to be authentic and real and say - "we're sorry, we'll fix it."

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But there's another way... and I'll leave you with this.

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And this is what I've found- to let ourselves be seen, deeply seen, vulnerably seen.

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To love with our whole hearts even though there's no guarantee.

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And that's really hard, I can tell you as a parent, it can be excruciatingly difficult.

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To practice gratitude and joy

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in those moments of terror when we're wondering "Can I love you this much? Can I believe in this as passionately?

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Can I be this fierce about this?" Just to be able to stop and instead of catastrophizing about this say- "I'm just so grateful."

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"Because I'm alive, because to feel this vulnerable means I'm alive."

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And the last, which I believe is most important, is to believe that we're enough.

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Because when we work from a place that says "I'm enough" then we

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stop screaming and we start listening.

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We're kinder to the people around us and we're kinder and gentler to ourselves.

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That's all I have. Thank you. (applause)