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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."

  • 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