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TEDxHouston - Brené Brown

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So, I'll start with this... a couple of years ago, an event planner called me because I was going to do a speaking event and she called and she said, "I'm really struggling with how to write about you on the little flier." And I thought, "well what's the stuggle?" And she said, "Well, I saw you speak 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) And, I was like "Okay." And she said, "Well the thing I liked about your talk is that you're a story teller.So I think what I'll do is call you a story teller." And of course the academic, insecure part of me was like- "you're gonna call me a what?" (audience laughter) "you're gonna call me a what?" (audience laughter) And she said, "I'm gonna call you a story teller." And I was like, "Oh, pfft why not magic pixie." (lots of laughter) I was like- "let me think about this for a second." And so, I tried to call deep on my courage and I thought Well, you know I am a storyteller. I'm a qualitative researcher. I collect stories, that's what I do. And maybe stories are just data with a soul. Ya know and maybe I'm just a storyteller. So I said, "You know what? 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." (audience laughter) So I'm a researcher/storyteller. And I'm going to talk to you today, we're talking about expanded perception And so I want to talk to you and tell you some stories about a piece of my research that fundamentally expanded my perception and really actually changed the way that I live and love and work and parent. And this is where my story starts... When I was young researcher/doctoral student. My first year, I had a research professor who on one of his first days of class said, "Here's the thing- if you cannot measure it, it doesn't exist." And I thought he was just sweet talking me, I was like- "Really?" And he said, "Absolutely." 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. So my entire academic career was surrounded by people who kind of believed the whole "life's messy, love it." And I'm more the "life's messy, clean it up." (audience giggles) "Organize it and put it into a bento box." (more laughter) And so to think I had found my way, found a career that takes me... you know one of the big sayings in social work is "lean into the discomfort of the work" and I'm more "knock discomfort upside the head and move it over and get all A's." That was my mantra. (audience laughs) So I was very excited about this and so I thought, this is the career for me because I am interested in some messy topics but I want to be able to make them, not messy. I want to understand them. I want to hack into these things that I know are important and lay the code out for everyone to see. So where I started was with connection. Because by the time you're a social worker for ten years what you realize is that connection is why we're here. It's what gives purpose and meaning to our lives. It doesn't matter whether you talk to people who work in social justice and mental health and abusive and neglect. That connection, the ability to feel connected, is neurobiologically how we're wired. That's why we're here. So I thought, "I'll start with connection." Well you know that situation where you get an evaluation from your boss... And she tells you 37 things that you do really awesome and one thing that you kinda, ya know the "opportunity for growth"? (audience laughs) And all you can think about is that "opportunity for growth," right? Well, apparently this is the way my work went as well. Because when you ask people about love They tell you about heartbreak. When you ask them about belonging, They'll tell you about the most excruciating experiences of being excluded. And when you ask people about connection, The stories they told me were about disconnection. So very quickly (about six weeks into my research), I ran into this unnamed thing that absolutely unraveled connection. In a way that I didn't understand or had never seen. And so I pulled back out of the research and said, "I need to figure out what this is." And it turned out to be shame. It turned out that -and shame is really easily understood as the fear of disconnection- is there's something about me that if other people know it or see it, that I won't be worthy of connection. The things I can tell you about it is: - it's universal, we all have it. The only people who don't experience shame have no capacity for human empathy or connection. - No one wants to talk about it and the less you talk about it, the more you have it. 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, rich enough, smart enough, promoted enough"... The thing that underpinned this was, this excruciating vulnerability. This idea of "in order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen," really seen. And you know how I feel about vulnerability, I HATE vulnerability. And so I thought, this is my chance to beat it back with my measuring stick. I'm going in. And I'm gonna figure this stuff out, I'm gonna spend a year. I'm gonna totally deconstruct shame, I'm gonna understand how vulnerability works and I'm gonna outsmart it. So I was ready and I was really excited! As you know it's not going to turn out well. (laughter) (more laughter) You know this. I could tell you a lot about shame but I'd have to borrow everyone else's time. But here's what I can tell you it boils down to... -and this may be one of the most important things I've learned in the decade of doing this research- My one year turned into six years, 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. And I kinda got a handle on it, I understood what shame is, how it works. I wrote a book, I published a theory but something was not okay. And what it was, was that if I roughly took the people I interviewed, and divided them into people who really have a sense of worthiness (that's what this comes down, a sense of worthiness), they have a strong sense of love and belonging. And then the folks who struggle for it, the folks who are always wondering if they're good enough... 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 the people who have a strong sense of love and belonging, believe that they are worthy of love and belonging. That's it. They believe they're worthy. 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 was something that personally and professionally I felt like I needed to understand. So I took all of the interviews where I saw worthiness, saw people living that way, and just looked at those. What do these people have in common? I have a slight office supply addiction...that's another talk (laughter). So I had a manila folder and a sharpie and I was like, "What am I going to call this research?" And the first words that came to my mind were "wholehearted." These are kind of wholehearted people living from this deep sense of worthiness. So I wrote at the top of the manila folder and I started looking at the data. 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?" My husband left town with the kids (audience laughs) because I always kinda going into this Jackson Pollock crazy thing. Where I'm just writing and just in my researcher mode. And so here's what I found... What they had in common was a sense of courage. And I want to separate courage and bravery for you for a moment. 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. And so these folks, very simply, had the courage to be imperfect. They had the compassion to be kind to themselves first and then others and as it turns out we can't practice compassion with other people if we can't treat ourselves kindly. And the last was that they had connection- and this was the hard part- as a result of authenticity. They were willing to let go of who they thought they should be to be who they were, which you absolutely have to do for connection. The other thing that they had in common was this- they fully embraced vulnerability. They believed that what made them vulnerable, made them beautiful. 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. They just talked about it being necessary. They talked about the willingness to say "I love you" first. The willingness to do something where there are no guarantees. The willingness to breathe through waiting for the doctor to call after their mammogram. The willing to invest in a relationship that may or may not work out. They thought this was fundamental. I personally thought that this was betrayal. I could not believe that I'd pledged allegiance to research, where (in our job) the definition of research is to control and predict. Study phenomena for the explicit reason to control and predict. And now my mission to control and predict had turned up the answer that the way to live is with vulnerability. And to stop controlling and predicting. This led to a little breakdown (audience laughs) which actually looked more like this - (more laughter) And it led to what I called a breakdown and my therapist calling a "spiritual awakening." (more laughter) Spiritual awakening sounds good but I assure you it was a breakdown. I had to put my data away and go find a therapist. 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?" Because about five of my friends were like, "Woooh I wouldn't want to be your therapist." (uproars of laughter) "What is that?" "You know, I'm just sayin'- don't bring your measuring stick." (more laughter from audience) (continues to laugh). And so I found a therapist. And in my first meeting with her, Diana, I brought in my list of how the wholehearted live. And she sat down and said, "How are you?" And I said, "I'm okay, I'm great." And she said, "well what's going on?" And this is a therapist who sees therapists because we have to go to those because their B.S. meters are good. (laughter) And so I said, "here's the thing, I'm struggling." And she said, "what's the struggle?" And I said, "I have a vulnerability issue." And I know that vulnerability is the core of shame and fear and our struggle for worthiness but that it's also the birth place of joy, creativity, belonging, love and I think I have a problem and I need some help." "But here's the thing, no family stuff, no childhood shit, (audience laughs), I just need some strategies. (more laughter) Thank you. So then she goes like this [nods head up and down]. "It's bad right?" And she said, "it's neither good nor bad." (laughter) It just is what it is. And I said, "Oh my God, this is gonna SUCK!" (laughter) And it did and it didn't. And it took about a year. And you know how there are people who when they realize that vulnerability and tenderness are important? A) That's not me and B) I don't even hang out with people like that. (audience laughs) For me it was a year long street fight. (laughter) It was a slugfest. Vulnerability pushed, I pushed back. I lost the fight but I won my life back. 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 and what are we doing with vulnerability? Why do we struggle with it so much? Am I alone in struggling with vulnerability? No. So this is what I learned... We numb vulnerability. When we're waiting for the call, when we're waiting... 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?" And in an hour and half I had 150 responses. Because you know I wanted to know... You know, what's out there? "Having to ask my husband for help cuz I'm sick and we're newly married." "Initiating sex with my wife." "Initiating sex with my husband." "Being turned down." "Asking someone out." "Waiting for the doctor to call back." "Getting laid off." "Laying off people." This is the world we live in. We live in a vulnerable world. And one of the ways we deal with it is we numb vulnerability. And I think there's evidence. And it's not the only reason this evidence exists but it's a huge cause. We are the most in debt, obese, addicted and medicated adult cohort in U.S. history. Why? The problem is, and I learned this from the research... is that you cannot selectively numb emotion. You can't say, "here's all the bad stuff- vulnerability, here's grief, shame, fear, disappointment- I don't want to feel these. I'm gonna have a few beers and a banana nut muffin. (laugher) I don't wanna feel these! And I know that's knowing laughter, I hack into your lives for a living (more laughter). That's "ah-ha-ha God!" (more laughter) You can't numb those hard feelings without numbing the other affects. You cannot selectively numb. So when you numb those, we can't numb without numbing joy. We numb gratitude, we numb happiness. And then, we are miserable and we're looking for purpose and meaning 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. One of the things that I think we need to think about is- why and how we numb. And it doesn't just have to be addiction. The other thing we do is make everything that's uncertain, certain. Religion has gone from a belief in faith and mystery to certainty. "I'm right, you're wrong. Shut up." That's it. The more afraid we are, the more vulnerable we are, the more afraid we are. Look at politics today, there's no discourse any more, there's no conversation. There's just blame. You know how blame is described in our research? "A way to discharge pain and discomfort." We perfect. 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. Because what we take fat from our butts and put it into our cheeks. (laughter) Which doesn't work! I hope in a hundred years people will look back and go, "Wow." (more laughter) And we perfect, most dangerously, our children. Very quickly, let me take you through this... Children are hard-wired for struggle when they get here. When we hold those perfect little babies in our hands, our job is not to say, "Look at him/her, their perfect." "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." 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." 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. We pretend that what we do doesn't have an effect on people. We do that in our personal lives, corporate (whether it's a bail out or an oil spill), a recall. We pretend like what we're doing doesn't have a huge impact on other people. I would say to companies- "this isn't our first rodeo, people." We just need you to be authentic and real and say - "we're sorry, we'll fix it." But there's another way... and I'll leave you with this. And this is what I've found- to let ourselves be seen, deeply seen, vulnerably seen. To love with our whole hearts even though there's no guarantee. And that's really hard, I can tell you as a parent, it can be excruciatingly difficult. To practice gratitude and joy in those moments of terror when we're wondering "Can I love you this much? Can I believe in this as passionately? 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." "Because I'm alive, because to feel this vulnerable means I'm alive." And the last, which I believe is most important, is to believe that we're enough. Because when we work from a place that says "I'm enough" then we stop screaming and we start listening. We're kinder to the people around us and we're kinder and gentler to ourselves. That's all I have. Thank you. (applause)

Video Details

Duration: 20 minutes and 45 seconds
Country: United States
Language: English
Genre: None
Producer: TEDxHouston
Views: 612
Posted by: inspired12 on Dec 2, 2010

Dr. Brené Brown is a researcher professor at the University of Houston, Graduate College of Social Work, where she has spent the past ten years studying a concept that she calls Wholeheartedness, posing the questions: How do we engage in our lives from a place of authenticity and worthiness? How do we cultivate the courage, compassion, and connection that we need to embrace our imperfections and to recognize that we are enough -- that we are worthy of love, belonging and joy? Brené is the author of I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn't): Telling the Truth About Perfectionism, Inadequacy, and Power (2007) and the forthcoming books, The Gifts of Imperfection (2010) and Wholehearted: Spiritual Adventures in Falling Apart, Growing Up, and Finding Joy ( 2011).

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