If you read my blog, chances are you know about Brené Brown. She often pops up in my Seven Things On A Sunday series mainly because she is one of the leading voices in personal growth and development right now. If you haven’t heard of her, go find some of her talks – The Power of Vulnerability and Your Critics Aren’t The Ones Who Count are good places to start. Let her straight talking, empathetic take on vulnerability and bravery take you by force.
Her latest book Rising Strong is another brilliantly helpful piece that gets to the root of a lot of things we all struggle with. Here are seven things I took away from this excellent tome on learning to be vulnerable in work and in life. (N.B. I am paraphrasing Brené here but to get the best from her work I hope this post inspires you to read the full book!).
- THE MIDDLE IS MESSY BUT IT’S WHERE THE MAGIC HAPPENS: Early on in the book Brené talks about a lunch she had with the creatives at Pixar. During that lunch they discuss the creative process and how uncomfortable the messy, middle bit is. That feeling when you’re really far into a project, you’re not sure of your ideas, you don’t have the courage of your convictions, but the only way to move through this uncomfortable bit is to find some grit and keep going. They describe it as ‘You can’t skip day two’ and no amount of experience gives you a free pass from this. This is an idea I’ve shared with my team at work, and the idea of not skipping day two is has become a phrase we use all the time to help each other out, or let others know we’re currently in the dark bit! This can be applied to any difficult piece of work in life, be it creative and work-focussed or personal and emotional.
- RUNNING AWAY FROM FEELINGS WILL CATCH UP WITH YOU: This one is simple, if you try to avoid vulnerability and feeling your feelings, you will never ‘take your car out of the garage’. It’s safe in there, but you’ll never go anywhere.’ Anything worth doing will be uncomfortable at some point. Rumbling with that is the only route to joy.
- WE ARE ALL DOING THE BEST WE CAN: Brené became obsessed with exploring the idea of whether we are all doing the best we can. Instead of judging someone in the queue at the supermarket who is rude to the cashier, or someone who barges past you onto the tube before you’ve had chance to get off, we should remember everyone has their own battles, and we never know what they are. I do this most of the time (I’m only human!) and it’s a nice reminder that people aren’t themselves when they’re scared. Her husband said it best of all: ‘My life is better when I assume people are doing their best. It keeps me out of judgement and lets me focus on what is, and not what should or could be.’ If we all gave more benefits of the doubt, the world would probably be a kinder place.
- I’M NOT THE ONLY ONE WHO DOES THIS: Brené wrote one sentence in the book that really and truly spoke to me, as someone who can be a real worrier: ‘I’m someone who chronically and compulsively rehearses tragedy.’ She was talking about a time when her mother was ill, and she got one of those calls to get to the hospital. I recognised this sentence instantly, my mind has a beautifully imaginative tendency to elaborately think about the worst, the what ifs, the ‘when I’ll feel that awful sadness/fear/pain’ assurances, without much evidence to back it up. She talks about how that worry is a defence mechanism in an attempt to prepare you for what comes. But as Brené says, believing this will lead to less hurt, fear and panic further down the line is wrong. Defence mechanisms only work for so long, before you have to sit down with the emotions behind them, unpick them, and start from something healthier. If you too feel like a chronic rehearser of tragedy, I recommend this book as a good place to start Change Your Thinking With CBT.
- TO LOVE IS TO HURT: I discovered this amazing C. S. Lewis quote which is worth an entry all of its own:
To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries, avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.
- FORGET EVERYTHING YOU’VE BEEN TOLD ABOUT REGRET: Every inspirational quote on regret tells you to ‘have no regrets’ that they’re a ‘waste of time’ and ‘don’t worry, YOLO! J’. These are messages I’ve always struggled to connect with and Brené puts a perfect explanation around why I do. Instead of viewing regrets as something only Eeyore does, instead we should see them as valuable reminders that ‘change and growth are necessary’. In fact dismissing regret can be dangerous, because we can walk through life without reflection. Brené says it perfectly: ‘to live without regret is to believe you have nothing to learn’. The moment we think that, isn’t a moment any of us should aim for.
- NAME YOUR MOST IMPORTANT CRITICS: So many of us sit and worry about our critics, about what people think. Brené unpicks this dangerous habit, brick by destructive brick. Instead of worrying about what these generic ‘people’ think (who are these people anyway?!) she encourages us to name the ones that really matter. Fill a one inch by one inch square piece of paper with the names of people whose criticism you really and truly care about. It might be your family, your partner, your very best friend – the people who love you no matter what flaws you may have. Only the people who fit on that piece of paper count, so the next time you’re worrying about your ‘critics’ – open the piece of paper and sense check whether your critics are on that sheet. If they are, then they will be the ones to help you back up again. Not the nameless ‘people’ we all mindlessly worry about.
Have you read any great, life-affirming books recently? If so I’d love to hear more!