“Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.” —Charles Shulz
The book Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown gave me plenty to think about, but two things stand out.
First, she describes how during her childhood in the southern United States she often didn’t receive birthday party invitations, because when the parents of other kids saw her name on the class list they assumed she was black.
I had to work through that story on several levels. The shock of the overt racism and empathy with the feeling of being alone and left out, of course. But then there was this big cultural difference. I am Canadian and I live in Ottawa where francophone culture thrives. My first thought on seeing Brené was, “How interesting that she has a French name.”
Culture affects how we see the world.
Her name, and other factors in her life, led to times on the outside looking in, and led her to research belonging. The responses she received from a group of eighth graders about the topic stunned me with their profound insight. Here’s what they had to say:
Belonging is being somewhere where you want to be and they want you. Fitting in is being somewhere where you want to be, but they don’t care one way or the other.
Belonging is being accepted for you. Fitting in is being accepted for being like everyone else.
If I get to be me, I belong. If I have to be like you, I fit in.
—From Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown
The most jarring sentence for me was, “Fitting in is being where you want to be, but they don’t care one way or the other.”
How often do we do that to ourselves? Choose to be somewhere doing something or being something that feels not quite right when the people around us don’t care one way or the other.
It’s a wake-up call to look around and ask ourselves:
- Do I belong where I am or do I just fit in? Who cares?
- Am I being myself or am I fitting myself?
Many of us spend our whole lives running from feeling, with the mistaken belief that you can not bear the pain. But you have already borne the pain. What you have not done is feel all that you are beyond that pain. –Kahlil Gibran
On Friday I wrote about my empty nest adjustments. This morning—on a day when my Facebook feed is full of “First Day of School” pictures, but we are not sending children off to school for the first time in almost two decades—my neighbour reminded me of the day we sent our youngest off to full-time school.
I was an at-home mom, so the day our son started Grade One, I went from “busy with kid stuff” all day to . . . figuring out what to do with myself. My neighbour asked me how I would deal with the transition. I told him, “I am going to enjoy my grief.”
I did grieve the loss of the treasured pre-school time with my kids. I’d like to say that I “enjoyed that grief” for as long as it took for me to change from feeling sad to feeling comfortable, but it was only a week or two into that school year that I got a puppy to divert my attention. Avoidance? Perhaps.
Now I am enjoying grief all over again. Coincidentally (or maybe not so coincidentally?), the book Rising Strong by Brené Brown came up on my library holds last week. In her section on grief, she describes three elements of grieving: loss, longing and feeling lost. I see those three elements clearly in my situation.
I feel the loss of our family unit, for we will never be “four” in the same way again. I feel the loss of connection, for we know in a general way what our children are up to in their lives, but we don’t know the specifics of where they’re at, who they’re meeting and what they’re doing. I feel the loss of a “job,” for we have raised the children, and they’re doing fine—except in case of emergency—without us.
I feel a longing for something I know I can’t have, and that is the essence of grief. I long for those childhood hugs. I long for a return to innocence. I long to feel useful.
And I have been feeling a little lost. Dinner preparation is different now—cooking for two instead of four. I no longer have to think about school lunch in the morning. Schedules have empty spots that used to be full.
For the next while, it is our time to recognize our loss, acknowledge our longing and reorient ourselves to a quieter household.
And not get a dog.
If you watched the video from my Friday post, this follow-up talk gives a more complete picture of the effects of vulnerability on even the most high-profile “experts.” Brené Brown talks about the repercussions of the first TED talk, and how becoming the “Vulnerability TED action figure”changed her life.
Even she, author of Daring Greatly, had not realized how she had been engineering her life to stay small.
“Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.” —Brené Brown
Click here to see her talk:
“Researcher storyteller” Brené Brown touches on some of my favourite topics in the TED talk link below.
Like many people still learning to feel comfortable with the idea that Darwin and the divine are not mutually exclusive, she had to dismantle her “If you can’t measure it, it doesn’t exist” philosophy. When she wasn’t able to beat back vulnerability and uncertainty with her measuring stick, she had a breakdown/spiritual awakening. (Funny how often those two go together.)
Her research with people who lived wholeheartedly showed four common traits:
- Courage to be imperfect.
- Compassion for others and themselves
- Connections with others made possible because they did not try to be what they thought they should be but lived authentically
- Vulnerability and a willingness to do something with no guarantees even when it was uncomfortable.
When people did not live wholeheartedly, they numbed vulnerability through shopping, food, or addiction. They tried to make the uncertain certain.
She mentions religion. At their best, religious communities show courage, compassion, connection and vulnerability. At less than their best, they try to make the uncertainties of faith and mystery certain.
If you’ve never seen her talk before, I think you’ll find it inspirational. If you have seen it before, watch it again. I think you’ll find it inspirational.
“. . . never wait for science to give us permission to do the uncommon.” ~Dr. Joe Dispenza