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I have written three journal entries about meeting Oprah and Brene Brown Monday. What I realized was that I needed to get out of the way of the post and let it come.  The words were ready but per usual when things go awry, I could not let go.  I was blessed enough to have the opportunity to attend a taping of not one but two Lifeclass shows.  The first Brene talked about her book Daring Greatly and the 4 myths about vulnerability, and the second show she talked about shame and becoming shame resilient.

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I thought my arm looked HUGE in this photo on the top and I remember looking at the photo and saying, “Dear arm, you will not be allowed one ounce of the joy of this day.” And I posted it on every social media site I am on. When I see the photo even now, I think of the moment and then of my declaration, and I feel immensely proud of myself.

Who is Brene Brown? I suppose that is easily google-able but I can tell you who she is to me.  She is someone who put her heart into her work. She is someone who defies antiquated mindsets in “The Academy” which do not always prioritize the accessibility of research to the non-academic. She is one of my professional heroines. The thing that I can appreciate most about her is that she is relatable. I know she is a PhD but she does not lead with her degree, she leads with her heart and it is that which allows so many people to be touched and changed by her work. When I think of the kind of impact I want to make both professionally and as a person, she is someone that I can look to and say, She did it and did it well. I have shared my apprehension about being too “academic” or too “poetic” and wondering how the two could possibly exist within the living breathing dynamic creation that will be my dissertation.  What I came to understand is that if it is coming from me then it will have both because both are of and in me.  I am a poet, and I am an academic not always in equal measure, but certainly always both simultaneously, and what I can now acknowledge is that: We cannot help but to be ourselves, even if we do not wish to be.

Everyone knows Oprah, except for that one salesperson in Switzerland, and ever since I first told people that I was going to get to attend the taping I have been getting all sorts of requests of how to let her know just how much she means to people. In reality, I probably said 5 words to Oprah and none of them were life-changing, I’m sure. What I can take from the experience is this: you cannot chase Oprah.  When you look at Nate Burkus, or Dr. Phil, or Suze Orman, or even Brene Brown these are people who allowed themselves to be naked, or on fire, or whatever metaphor suits your minds eye illustration of “in it”; passionate in their own fields and surrendered in their work.  These are not people who wake up saying, how can I be a celebrity? How can I be successful? How can I get Oprah to notice me? That is chasing, and Liz Gilbert bless her beautiful soul has haunted me with the idea that the things we chase like thieves run like thieves.  So why “Chase Oprah?” I think…when I look even at myself and my own goals it is not so much that I want to meet Oprah, it is that I want to be recognized as being a passionate and dedicated educator and leader. What I believe Oprah has come to symbolize in our country and arguably in the world, is the definitive arrival at such a place. If you are meeting Oprah, as a guest in the capacity that Brene is meeting her, then Brene has “arrived”. And, don’t kill me but…Oprah is just a person. I have written before about this, but the things we feel about ourselves, the things we know about ourselves when we see her is what makes her who she is.  The thing I wish we really acknowledged is that we are JUST AS SPECIAL as she is, she just already knows it.

And while I absolutely am thrilled for Brene and her successes that have come and are sure to continue, for myself I see, there is work yet to be done.  When I got home from the taping that night I wrote thoughts of how to make small changes in my classroom as both student and teacher to be more present and apparent in my work.

dreamI am a person who believes whole-heartedly in the power of dreams, and it is no wonder that this post did not show up in me fully until today, the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s I have a dream speech. I believe that dreams are blueprints for the type of world that we are capable of creating. I believe that anything that comes to me (or anyone) in a dream is not only possible but that it has come to us in particular because we have everything that it takes to bring said dream into fruition.  I believe that more often than not we get caught up in our own self doubt, shame, and then the projections that other people place on us of their insecurities.  Somehow it has become far easier to believe the awesomely negative rather than the awesomely awesome. I am a person who anticipates extraordinary.  I wait for it like I wait for the sun to set, and I am person who does not think small of tiny miracles.

When I announced the Brene/Oprah opportunity, I had many people asking how this “stuff” always happens to me.  Honestly? I wait for it to.  But not without work, faith without works is DEAD! I practice gratitude daily, all day beginning with my first morning thoughts, and I pull goodness to me with absolute intention. I foolishly believe that I am deserving of amazing things and experiences and the universe conspires on my behalf.  It is a simple and as complicated as that.  How can we dare to expect extraordinary if we cannot find the beauty, the joy, the grace in the so-called ordinary?

I think Dr. King had to have been one of those people as well, who despite all the negative that other people may have seen in his struggle was so fixed on the end goal, The Dream, that the other things did not mar his spirit.  Did he say to himself, I am in jail but Thank you God, I am not hurt, my family is safe, and my purpose is not lost? I think he must have been because he persisted. Not only that, but it did not tarnish the spirit of the movement. This summer, during the conference one of my group members said, “Sometimes I’m grateful for anger, because it makes people get honest. People get angry and they really show up.” Non-violence did not mean that people were not angry or that they numbed themselves to the human experience of feeling humiliated, angry, frustrated, worn, or deflated. But the absolute belief in this dream of equality, of being Seen, of being Heard…it refocused the energy of an entire generation.

That is where I can draw a parallel in what was happening 50 years ago and what is happening right now on Sunday mornings on OWN across the world.  There is this…space where acknowledgement for the full human experience is not only present but encouraged.  We are invited to be in community with one another as our whole selves, and what Brene’s work speaks to is the challenges we have in doing that and how we can overcome it for this dream…the same one Dr. King had, where people–all people– felt worthy enough to show up and the collective was accepting enough to say, I See You, I hear you, you exist.

It is a beautiful thing…and I see my own place in it all as well. I know that my own work in concurrent individual and systemic development has a lot to do with how people “show up” in groups. It has a lot to do with authenticity, with values, with vulnerability, with shame, with doubt, with trauma, with fear and with judgment.  At the end of the day I want my research to show that, I could not get there myself, but damn it, we got there together.

I wish this for everyone; for everyone to find something that gives them absolute peace and fire at the same time.  Something that keeps you up at night thinking, something that you want to share with your spouse, your neighbor, your children, something that makes you want to live a better life and help others to do the same.  I wish for everyone to find the thing that gives them purpose and to DO THAT THING. Take the time to find what fills you, it is absolutely worth it.  Ask yourself the hard questions, co-conspire with your imagination, indulge your wildest dreams because we are SO worthy to create a beautiful world.

Lastly, and these two I got from Brene explicitly, the first is to give yourself permission to be uncool.  It is why I had to take a step back from social media a few weeks ago, because I found myself becoming increasingly more concerned with other people’s lives, and not only that but I was beginning to define my own life by the standards set by others. My outfit was only as cute as the number of ‘double-clicks’ I received on instagram.  I had to take a pause and say wait, “Does this matter? How does this matter to your life? How does this feed you? How does this nourish others?” It didn’t. And while I did get caught up in it, I also caught myself, and really that is all I can hope for, is to stay aware enough to catch it and to reset.

Second, was that the world needs to hear what YOU have to say and in YOUR voice. Brene said this to an 8-year PhD student who had lost her voice and was deferring to the voice of her faculty members around her.  It is not easy to be yourself, and so many people don’t want you to be.  It makes other people uncomfortable when you are too honest, because it gives them guilt for all the lies they tell daily. The thing is, you cannot carry that with you. I cannot. I cannot write for my advisor or my committee. I cannot teach for the one student who loves me or the one that hates me. And I cannot build my career around trying to meet Oprah.  What I can do, is to follow my heart. I can listen to my inner voice and create a life full of intention, purpose, love, and connection.  I can do my best and forgive myself when I give any less.  That is all I can do.  I think of the quote Donald Miller said of his future wife, “I will give you this, my love, and I will not bargain or barter any longer.  I will love you, as sure as [God] has loved me.  I will discover what I can discover and though you remain a mystery, save God’s own knowledge, what I disclose of you I will keep in the warmest chamber of my heart, the very chamber where God has stowed Himself in me…” and that is what I feel in large part of my work. I will give my voice to it, in language only I have been equipped to offer but it will still remain vastly unexplored yet I will keep it in all in my heart as mine and as me.

It is a bizarre thing when you realize that even when you’re pretending to be someone or something else, you are only–at best– a very good imitation.  I do not want to live my life in costume. I do not want to exist in elaborate baroque garments of society convenience, couture fabrications and designer illusions.  I want to be one-hundred percent me at all times in all spaces. How can I expect or want someone to see me, to acknowledge me, if I am not willing to step out and be who I am?  I have to be willing. We have to be willing because I cannot do it by myself. You’re scared? I am too, but I’m ready.

I prayed this prayer to the night after, I said:

God,

Your will terrifies me. But I trust you, completely. I hear you. I’m ready. Let’s go.

Sincerely,
Jess

Because for as much as this opportunity was about Brene and her work, it was also about me and mine–and everyone else as well. We were chosen to awaken to our own potential and to be in community with one another. We were shown what is possible and because I know of the absolute connection between us all I know that if greatness is possible in one of us it is possible in all of us.  Yes, it may look different for me than it does for LeBron James, but believe me greatness is greatness.  So I said to God, lets go. I say the same to you.

The Lifeclass featuring Dr. Brene Brown will air on Oprah’s OWN on September 22nd, and September 29th, for more information check out Oprah.com.