So while I struggle on with writing my own book, here’s a woman whose books I admire hugely! Brené Brown is a researcher-storyteller who has spent the past ten years studying vulnerability, courage, authenticity and shame. It was the publication of her latest book, The Gifts of Imperfection, and the Perfect Protest on her blog, that inspired my recent post about my *ahem* glorious imperfection. She’s inspiring, intelligent, real and doing such important work, and I’m thrilled to have her company in this space today!
Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Dr Brené Brown…
SC: Did you always know you’d teach and write? How did this path begin for you?
BB: The journey that led me to become a researcher was anything but a straight and narrow path, which, ironically, is probably why and how I ended up studying human behavior and emotion for a living. I was a college drop-in and drop-out for a number of years. During my “off semesters,” I waited tables and tended bar, hitchhiked through Europe, partied too much, and played a lot of tennis.
I found the social work profession in my late twenties and knew it was home. I did a two-year stint in junior colleges to raise my GPA enough to get into a big university with a social work program. It was in those junior college classes that I feel in love with teaching and writing.
Why write about imperfection, and why now?
I really started with an interest in studying the anatomy of connection. How do people cultivate genuine connection? About two months into that research I ran into this thing that unraveled connection; it tore relationships apart and fueled isolation. That thing was shame. I thought I’d merely “look into” the shame topic for a few months. Six years later, I finally got my head around shame and how it works.
As it turns out, shame is the birthplace of perfectionism. If we want to understand what drives the “Never good enough” feeling – we have to understand perfectionism. If we want to practice authenticity – a prerequisite for connection – we have to understand how perfectionism gets in our way. Until we start embracing our imperfections and vulnerabilities, we will struggle to engage with the world from a place of worthiness. My new research on wholeheartedness is all about moving from “What will people think?” to “I am enough.”
As you know, courage is a huge theme in my life. It seems that I’m either praying for some, feeling grateful for having found a little bit, appreciating it in other people, or studying it.
The root of the word courage is cor—the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage literally had a very different definition than it does today. Courage originally meant “To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.” Over time, this definition has actually changed, and today, courage is synonymous with being heroic or performing brave deeds.
Heroics and bravery are important, but I think we’ve lost touch with the idea that speaking honestly and openly about who we and about our experiences (good and bad) is the ultimate act of courage. Heroics is often about putting your life on the line. Courage is about putting your vulnerability on the line. In today’s world, that’s pretty extraordinary.
For me, practicing courage means telling my story with all of my heart. It means being honest about who I am, what I believe, and how I feel. It doesn’t come easy for me – I have a tendency to self-protect – but it really is about practicing authenticity and letting myself be seen.
You’re a professor, a researcher, a writer, a mother, a wife. How do you dance with all these roles in a typical day?
Dance is the perfect metaphor for what my life looks like. The original Texas Cotton-Eyed Joe is the dance of my life (not the new techno version with the line dance stuff). In the original dance, you hold on to a bunch of folks you trust, you move forward one step at a time, and every now and then you push back and yell, “Bullshit!”
I have an amazing husband, a strong support network of friends and family, and two awesome kids. I try to set and hold a lot of boundaries. I love my online life and I’m grateful for the opportunity to share my work with the public, but I am an intensely private person and a homebody. I drive carpool, volunteer at the school store, sit in the front yard and talk to neighbors, do art with my kids, and sneak in as many date nights with Steve as possible. I schedule my downtime and family time just like I schedule my work events – they are nonnegotiable.
I’m a deeply spiritual person, so my greatest personal inspiration comes from my faith. I access my faith mostly through nature, prayer, and music. Music plays a huge role in my life – I love everything, but mostly rock, 70s music, and Texas folk music. I’m on a Rolling Stones bender right now.
I’m also inspired by people who share their gifts with the world – folks who are teaching and leading and holding space for others. I have a new “classes” tab on my blog. These teachers and their classes inspire me.
Of course, there are several books that I would say literally changed my life.
What is the message you want to share with the world? (in other words, what do you consider to be your life’s work?)
I really think my research on Wholehearted living is what I’m supposed to be doing right now. Here’s a quote from the new book that explains what I mean by “living and loving with your whole heart:”
“Wholehearted living is about engaging in our lives from a place of
worthiness. It means cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection
to wake up in the morning and think, No matter what gets done and
how much is left undone, I am enough. It’s going to bed at night thinking,
Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t
change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging.”
I want to learn more about this AND I want to live it.
What are you working on next?
I’m working a couple of things right now. A book titled, The Gifts Of Imperfect Parenting, and a memoir titled, Wholehearted: Spiritual Adventures In Falling Apart, Growing Up, And Finding Joy.
You’re having a dinner party and can invite six famous people from the past or present – who would you choose and why?
Dang! I’ve been trying to think of my list and I just can’t make myself do it. I could choose Martin Luther King and Eleanor Roosevelt, and other people I admire, but the truth is that I really don’t want to go to a dinner party. I’d like to cook something and sit down with Steve and the kids, then maybe piddle around the house while Ellen and Charlie play outside.
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Brené, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with us today! Isn’t she fabulous? And as if her fabulousness wasn’t enough, Brené has very kindly given me TWO copies of her new book to give away, so if you’d like to read more about the Gifts of Imperfection, simply leave a comment on this post and I’ll draw two names on Friday :)