A lesson from Brené Brown

Seeing this on Tuesday stopped me in my tracks.


Brené Brown posted this in response to the continued aftermath of the mass shootings in Parkland and Newtown. I’m sharing it, because of my response: I was dumbstruck.

I know there is pain in the world. I know I carry my own and deal with it in healthy and unhealthy ways, like I assume many people do. Until I read this though, I didn’t know WHAT TO DO about it.

At first I thought, “How did I not know this? We’re supposed to look people in the eye?”

Then, “I wish I was taught this as a child like she was.”

Finally, “I’m being taught now. I can learn this now.”

Two hours later I had my chance, and to be honest it felt really awkward.

I was parked outside of a Starbucks on my phone, when I noticed two people talking / arguing in the car next to me. It wasn’t loud. I couldn’t tell for sure. When I looked up again, the man was gone and the woman remained in the driver’s seat leaning against the inside of the window in sunglasses, her lips and jaw clenched.

The instant I realized she was crying, my eyes darted away. Because that’s what I’d done my whole life. Assumed it was private and didn’t want to pry. Not wanting to be around difficult emotions is more like it, because even a car away with the windows closed, I could feel her pain. And my own.

Inside my head, the lesson began, “This is what Brené was talking about.”

Now, I didn’t handle it perfectly. I have a lot of learning still to do.

I didn’t leave my car and knock on her window. As a deer-caught-in-headlights sort of person, it’s really hard to remember I have legs at times like these, let alone how to use them.

What I did do was notice what was happening, notice my reaction, and stay present throughout. While she started shaking, the tears streaming passed her glasses and down her face, I looked over several more times. Soft glances to check in while lovingly sending her energy.

I stopped working on my phone and sat with her a car away.

That’s I think what Brené is asking us to do.

Look people in the eye. Acknowledge our mutual, complicated, uncomfortable humanity. Stop hiding behind our phones, or fiberglass.

It’s not going to be perfect, and as an A-student that’s a tough one.

Wanting to know WHAT TO DO so I can get it right. Some people don’t want to be approached, or say they don’t. Some people want it and don’t know how to ask. Some people want to reach out, but don’t know how or are afraid it will be rejected.

We all, everyone, have to push through that and reach out. Be present for each other, and ourselves, with tough emotions. We need to get it wrong, feel awkward, and keep at it.

Yes, be scared & do it anyway.

Thanks for the lesson, Brené.

What to do when you wake-up-and-worry

  Ever woken up in the morning already afraid of a tough conversation you need to have?

That was me the other day. Within a minute of opening my eyes I remembered what I went to bed trying to forget: a call I needed to make and not knowing how the person would respond. My worry joined me under the covers and then followed me through my daily routine. What if I get the words wrong? What if it ruins our friendship? 

In Brené Brown'sThe Gift of Imperfection, she talks about the poo-poo platter of fear, perfection (I may have mentioned that one before), and scarcity.

Underneath whatever you tell yourself is happening is the discomfort of being vulnerable. 

Bingo. My morning wake-up-and-worry was about me not being able to control what would happen with our conversation or how she would react, and feeling vulnerable about it.

In the past when this happened, I would be nearly incapacitated from getting anything else accomplished and would finally succumb to apologizing instead of sharing my point of view, hopeful that the other person didn't notice anything was wrong. 

I'm happy to report how different things went this time. Not so much the conversation (though it went well too!), but what happened inside of me to all that worry.

The antidote to fear, Brené says, is gratitude. Before reacting as I normally would, I took these three steps:

  1. I stopped myself from any knee-jerk reaction.
  2. I acknowledged I was feeling vulnerable.
  3. I looked for something to be grateful for.

This technique worked immediately. The second I said out loud to myself, "I am feeling vulnerable," an unexpected wave of calm washed over me. Seriously, it took one second.

It slowed me down to see what was really happening: fear of the unknown, of being wrong, of losing love and respect. Acknowledging my vulnerability allowed me to be with it in a gentle, kind way.

Exactly the attention I would give someone I care about. This time that someone was me.

The next part was the biggest surprise. 

The third step is gratitude. What did I choose? I was grateful for my vulnerability suddenly appreciative of the role it plays in my life. If this person weren't important to me - if being understood and respected weren't important to me - I would not have been as anxious about our conversation. I love all of those things about myself!

This realization also made me grateful to be afraid, because it means I'm moving into uncharted, worthwhile territory. I needed to hear myself ask for what I needed no matter the outcome. It means I'm building better relationships, and I'm more aware of and sensitive to my own feelings.

It's incredible what happens when you notice anxiousness and see what's really happening.

Do you ever wake-up-and-worry? Try these three steps and tell me what you think, or share what works best for you!