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  • So, I'll start with this:

  • a couple 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 flyer."

  • And I thought, "Well, what's the struggle?"

  • And she said, "Well, I saw you speak,

  • and I'm going to 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."

  • (Laughter)

  • And I was like, "Okay."

  • And she said, "But the thing I liked about your talk

  • is you're a storyteller.

  • So I think what I'll do is just call you a storyteller."

  • And of course, the academic, insecure part of me

  • was like, "You're going to call me a what?"

  • And she said, "I'm going to call you a storyteller."

  • And I was like, "Why not magic pixie?"

  • (Laughter)

  • I was like, "Let me think about this for a second."

  • I tried to call deep on my courage.

  • And I thought, 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.

  • And maybe I'm just a storyteller.

  • And so I said, "You know what?

  • Why don't you just say I'm a researcher-storyteller."

  • And she went, "Haha. There's no such thing."

  • (Laughter)

  • So I'm a researcher-storyteller,

  • and I'm going to talk to you today --

  • we're talking about expanding perception --

  • and so I want to talk to you and tell 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 a young researcher, doctoral student,

  • my first year I had a research professor

  • who said to us,

  • "Here's the thing,

  • if you cannot measure it, it does not exist."

  • And I thought he was just sweet-talking me.

  • I was like, "Really?" and he was like, "Absolutely."

  • And so you have to understand

  • that I have a bachelor's in social work, a master's in social work,

  • and I was getting my Ph.D. in social work,

  • so my entire academic career

  • was surrounded by people

  • who kind of believed

  • in the "life's messy, love it."

  • And I'm more of the, "life's messy,

  • clean it up, organize it

  • and put it into a bento box."

  • (Laughter)

  • And so to think that I had found my way,

  • to found a career that takes me --

  • really, one of the big sayings in social work

  • is, "Lean into the discomfort of the work."

  • And I'm like, knock discomfort upside the head

  • and move it over and get all A's.

  • That was my mantra.

  • So I was very excited about this.

  • And so I thought, you know what, 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

  • 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 10 years,

  • what you realize

  • is that connection is why we're here.

  • It's what gives purpose and meaning to our lives.

  • This is what it's all about.

  • It doesn't matter whether you talk to people

  • who work in social justice and mental health and abuse and neglect,

  • what we know is that connection,

  • the ability to feel connected, is --

  • neurobiologically that's how we're wired --

  • it's why we're here.

  • So I thought, you know what, I'm going to start with connection.

  • Well, you know that situation

  • where you get an evaluation from your boss,

  • and she tells you 37 things you do really awesome,

  • and one thing -- an "opportunity for growth?"

  • (Laughter)

  • 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 people about belonging,

  • they'll tell you their most excruciating experiences

  • of being excluded.

  • And when you ask people about connection,

  • the stories they told me were about disconnection.

  • So very quickly -- really about six weeks into this 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 thought, I need to figure out what this is.

  • And it turned out to be shame.

  • And shame is really easily understood

  • as the fear of disconnection:

  • Is there 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:

  • 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:

  • "I'm not blank enough. I'm not thin enough,

  • rich enough, beautiful enough, smart enough,

  • promoted enough."

  • The thing that underpinned this

  • was 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, I'm going to figure this stuff out,

  • I'm going to spend a year, I'm going to totally deconstruct shame,

  • I'm going to understand how vulnerability works,

  • and I'm going to outsmart it.

  • So I was ready, and I was really excited.

  • As you know, it's not going to turn out well.

  • (Laughter)

  • You know this.

  • So, 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 that it boils down to --

  • and this may be one of the most important things that I've ever 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 journal pages

  • and sending me their stories --

  • thousands of pieces of data in six years.

  • And I kind of got a handle on it.

  • I kind of understood, this is what shame is,

  • this is how it works.

  • I wrote a book,

  • I published a theory,

  • but something was not okay --

  • and what it was is 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 to,

  • a sense of worthiness --

  • they have a strong sense of love and belonging --

  • and folks who struggle for it,

  • and folks who are always wondering if they're good enough.

  • There was only one variable

  • that separated the people who have

  • a strong sense of love and belonging

  • and the people who really struggle for it.

  • And that was, the people who have

  • a strong sense of love and belonging

  • believe they're worthy of love and belonging.

  • That's it.

  • They believe they're worthy.

  • And 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 better.

  • So what I did

  • is I took all of the interviews

  • where I saw worthiness, where I saw people living that way,

  • and just looked at those.

  • What do these people have in common?

  • I have a slight office supply addiction,

  • but that's another talk.

  • So I had a manila folder, and I had a Sharpie,

  • and I was like, what am I going to call this research?

  • And the first words that came to my mind

  • were whole-hearted.

  • These are whole-hearted 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.

  • In fact, I did it first

  • in a four-day

  • very intensive data analysis,

  • where I went back, pulled these interviews, pulled the stories, pulled the incidents.

  • What's the theme? What's the pattern?

  • My husband left town with the kids

  • because I always go into this Jackson Pollock crazy thing,

  • where I'm just like writing

  • and 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 minute.

  • Courage, the original definition of courage,

  • when it first came into the English language --

  • it's from the Latin word cor, meaning heart --

  • and the original definition

  • was to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart.

  • And so these folks

  • had, very simply, the courage

  • to be imperfect.

  • They had the compassion

  • to be kind to themselves first and then to others,

  • because, as it turns out, we can't practice compassion with other people

  • if we can't treat ourselves kindly.

  • And the last was 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

  • in order to be who they were,

  • which you have to absolutely do that

  • 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 really talk about it being excruciating --

  • as I had heard it 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 your mammogram.

  • They're willing to invest in a relationship

  • that may or may not work out.

  • They thought this was fundamental.

  • I personally thought it was betrayal.

  • I could not believe I had pledged allegiance

  • to research, where our job --

  • you know, the definition of research

  • is to control and predict, to 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