50 years of dreams, and Oprah and Brene

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. 

Dream come true

Girl, that’s called “visualization”!

I’ve had an amazing weekend. Where to even begin? I met with a healer. We shared stories about how we came to know our gifts. It was interesting how the whole meeting came about, really because it was the result of a simple request. Maybe a year ago I was talking to Terri about how energetically, and spiritually difficult it has been for me during certain times and classes. She insisted that I find a community. I heard her, but as much as I needed it, I was not sure I was ready to be in a community of people who knew me in that way. In other words, I was not sure I was really ready to be seen.

Well, that has since changed and two weeks ago I made a very intentional request for connection and community. So it was beautiful that after making the request, I was having this amazing breakfast with someone who was offering me connection and community. After the breakfast I was enthused to really spend time creating my vision board. So I gathered magazines and pictures, markers, glue, and all sorts of supplies to create. One of the things that I put on there was a picture of Oprah and Brené Brown and I wrote the words “MUST MEET” in gold marker. That was Saturday.

Today I get home ready to work on some stuff for a class I am a TA for, and I get a phone call. Now three weeks ago I saw a tweet from Brené Brown mentioning her going to tape a Lifeclass session with Oprah. I followed the link and wrote a short essay about how much Brené’s work has influenced my own and said a few words about Oprah as well and honestly hadn’t thought much about it since. Until today when on the other end of my phone was Oprah’s audience coordinator asking if I was available for the show. What?! Did I not just speak this into my FUTURE? Oh wow that’s now.

So I racked my brain for how I was going to get to Chicago, who I knew in the area, where I would stay, when I would have to leave, my mind was spinning with all the reality and I just took a moment to breathe and I looked down on my arms to see goosebumps and I cried. I cried and I laughed and I thought about Steel Magnolias… “Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion.” I thought about how awesome this moment was, is, was. I thought about how much I just wanted to thank GOD for my good fortune, no, for my good favor.

During breakfast I told Melissa that I have been trying to get comfortable with being who I am. Because I am a huge presence and I want to own that, I can fill a room. I told her of having to learn my worth, my value, and being able to assure my self that I was deserving of grace not because of incidence or luck but because I am fearfully and wonderfully made. I truly believe that. People listen to me, I quit trying to figure out why and I just accept that they do. And it used to make me want to speak less, because I didn’t want to be responsible for anyone’s misery. But now I want to speak UP and say, God order my tongue so that my words are the message you wish to deliver. I want to get my ego out of the way and be a vessel. Truly. And here we are.

So as I have told all my friends this weekend, be careful what you ask for! Prayers are definitely being answered in my life, scarily fast and it is exciting and terrifying and…wonderful. It’s wonderful. And a blessing and I am filled to the brim with joy. So full.

imageAnd just a quick word about my vision board…it is funny that most of it is full of places I want to see. Africa, the Bahamas, Paris, Joshua Tree, and of course Jamaica. There’s lots of quotes and beautiful reminders like “never hide”. There are four people you’d recognize, Sean Carter (Jay-Z), President Barack Obama, Oprah and Brene Brown as they are the four people I want to meet (really…I want to know them. There is a difference). And I haven’t finished yet but I will post a picture when its done. The process has been interesting because it really makes you focus your attention on the question, “What do you want?” It’s a great process. And one that, apparently, yields results.

Likes on Facebook

I was watching Dr. Brene Brown on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday today which in and of itself was like an academic and spiritual explosion, but something in particular stuck out. Brene mentioned how we measure our self worth on menial things such as twitter followers, likes on facebook and that sort of thing. Because we’re always looking for validation in a society of uncertainty–and uncertainty is the ultimate enemy. It is not okay to not know. And so we need someone, anyone, to tell us we’re funny (enough), pretty (enough), influential (enough). Enough enough. In a culture of scarcity, we just want to feel full and we’ll take whatever we can get to fill us…

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I thought about what’s ‘enough’ for me. And I drew a sketch. Ego me salivated. If I just got there then…and the mind wanders to love in Paris, kisses in rain, cherry wood offices in the perfect brick home, and my cute little puggle named Charlotte. And then the other part of me says no. Because those things are not off limits to me right now and the only reason they feel that way is because I’ve set them up to be that way.

I believe there is a point where you look at the things that happened in your past and you draw the lines connecting the past to your present. Then, you realize that those things, while they happened, they are no longer happening and while your past may have gotten you to a place but your present choices have kept you there. I’ve arrived in this place.

I wholly admit that I am not very good at gratitude for who I am. What I do for others? Yes. But simply grateful for my own talents, attributes, skills? No. Further, I have worked tremendously hard to maintain a level of distance between myself and others. I do not lean fully into joy. I do not express the depths of pain I feel. I understood the man Brene mentioned who rode the middle…never expecting good and never enjoying it when it came. This alleged “safety”, this neutrality…it is living outside the arena.

What I have decided is that I want to be in the arena. Daring greatly. It means being open to the risk of both joy and failure. It means answering to god and self. It means being clear in my values and my faith. It means showing gratitude at what is.

The day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom. ~Anaïs Nin

There was another Super Soul Sunday I saw where the metaphor of emotional anorexia was mentioned. Living off crumbs and expecting to feel satiated by it. Settling for scraps in relationships or careers because we need, so desperately, to just be full. Or rather to feel full. And some people die chasing the high that was. I don’t want to die chasing what will inevitably always remain just out of arms reach. I want to live, hands to the heavens full of grace at what I have. I am full. And its time I started living that way.

Brene Brown and the entire kitchen sink

I have mini panic attacks that my advisor is going to me angry with me. I keep finding elements that have to be a part of my dissertation. Right now it feels like I’ve got all these extremities of work and yet I sorely need them to be a body. So far I have:

  1. Spirituality
  2. Leadership
  3. Creativity
  4. Grief
  5. Decision Making

While that does not seem like a lot…it’s a lot. What is even more frustrating is that I have become increasingly more patient through uncertainty, despite myself really.  I have developed the ability to sit and wait for things to unfold rather than force them or manipulate them in any way. So, I’m waiting, and in the meantime I think my advisor is going to kill me.

Very few writers, researchers, “storytellers”, have influenced me in the way that Brene Brown has; mind you this is an extremely recent thing, too.  The way that she talks about her work, the way that she conducts her research it does not seem like work! It looks joyous, and fulfilling, and there is so much passion in that work–she’s inspirational on different levels.  And while I realize that she has been researching for many years, it appealed to me, and I cannot do it any other way.  Again, my advisor…

When I think of what I want to do, the outcome of my own work, I want to understand the role that spirituality plays in the decision making process.  In that, I believe I will find themes of guilt, grief, creativity, and self-care practices along with many others–I am open to being surprised. I also assume that as people are more developmentally mature, they will experience and describe spirituality in very different ways. I definitely find that where we are in life greatly shapes the perspective we have on it.

My work is on the individual, but it is about a collective. Are “we” recognizing that “we” are connected to one another? Do I consider this connectedness when I made decisions? Do others? My guess here would be that if there is an external consideration that it is likely family, or if its a professional decision, the system or organization.  However, how many people are thinking globally? Jung describes the presence of a collective unconscious and I wonder how many people not just know about it, but live in constant awareness of it?

Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion. Practicing spirituality brings a sense of perspective, meaning and purpose to our lives.”
― Brené Brown,The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are

When I heard Brene speak about her work, specifically her experience with her research topics, I felt like I was given permission to be present in my own work.  Honestly, how could you not be? There is something in us all that draws us to our passions, our vocations.  I loved that her cognitive aptitude did not excuse her from the very human experience of shame that she was studying.  I love that she admitted that.

If I sit back and think about what got me to this topic it was literally a moment sitting in Terri’s office crying thinking, “How did I get to this place? How did I arrive here?” My answer, that came later, was that a series of very spiritually governed decisions led me here.  And an idea was born. Brene says to “dance with the one who brung you.” And for me it is going to be those two things: spirit and choice.

Perhaps it’ll be as “simple” as this: Understanding the role of Spirituality in Decision-Making: A Comparative study between Student Affairs Professionals, and Tenure-Track University Faculty.  And perhaps it won’t.

One last thought, Brene mentioned that shame will often try to make us question ourselves by asking, “Who do you think you are?” I experienced that earlier this week, and earlier this month. Those moments where I call out my audacity, and side-eye myself.  WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE.  My mind answered in a small tiny quiet faux-humble voice and began, “I am just…” and my heart said with great certainty, NO. You are ANYTHING but “just”.  And I liked that answer. I told it to shame and I haven’t heard anything since.

 

Sincerely, Jess, “Anything but Just” J.

Mile high mind massage

I am currently in Denver for a leadership conference for school…and while originally I wanted to write about all the things that I have learned and that have come up for me here…and perhaps that will come later but what’s alive for me right now is the notion of commanding.

I’d been looking forward to meeting this scholar who studies mindfulness, attention, Buddhism, and leadership for the past month. I walk into her session and she is not there. Not physically, but she’s on a phone which is hooked into a speaker. Not hardly the same. Next we proceed to meditate to which people are coughing (my pet peeve, self admittedly) moving, shifting, coming in and out, etc. I just wasn’t into it, so I left. I thought to myself, “I can (and do) do this on my own and have a much more pleasant experience. That’s the point though.

See…my “work” in this life is to connect to others. I knew that, Jan Spiller reiterated it. And as I literally sit above a mile high mountain top as I did many lifetimes before, I have never hated “connecting” more than I did 20 minutes ago.

When faced with the abrasive reality against my polished expectations it felt so raw and displeasing I left. As I set meditating, whenever someone made a noise it felt as though a noose tightened around my neck. Literally choking the throat; the sound chakra, truth blocked by lies. So what’s the lies? Maybe that I used the noise as an excuse for my disturbed concentration. Maybe that I was connected at all. Maybe both. Or maybe I was annoyed at this demand being made by the noise makers for attention. How dare they ask to be heard, to be acknowledged, to be given attention?

Brene’ Brown said a lot of interesting things this morning but perhaps the most personally provocative was when she said we need to make a bid for connection. I tell my students all the time to say what they mean to say. Think of the answer you want, ask the question that beckons that truth. Its a difficult thing…to be intentional which requires asking yourself what do I want? What do I want in this moment?

What do I want? When I had to think of a word to describe myself yesterday I knee-jerk came to the word:POWERFUL. To be entirely honest I am not sure where that came from. What space or what place produced that? Am I powerful?

I had a conversation with a woman yesterday and she inquired how she might have been “playing small” in various areas in her life. Then today Brene’ iterated how she had previously purposefully engineered her career to stay small. Her viral popularity was much to her chagrin and she was not prepared for neither the negativity nor the positivity that came as a result of her vulnerability. She aptly professed, When [I] stepped into [my] power, [I] became a lightening rod.”

The thing I find interesting about that particular metaphor is that the rod is not the source, it is the conductor, but it attracts the energy of source power and likely outlets alike. Yesterday I was made an example of when describing how to “command presence.” Then last night, Nicole told me that I have a way of commanding attention. Rather than shrug off the attention, I found myself engaging in dialogue around it. I told her that I am learning to hear it, but I will not allow my ego to make this about me. Its really about the source, I am just a conductor. And really, I am not sure that I’ve fully stepped into my power, but I have more incentive than I did yesterday to do so.

And while my mind continues to wrap itself around this entire experience; what it means for my work, my Self, and my way of being I doubt it strays far from this thought. Make a bid for connection. Stop playing small, a beautiful lightening rod once said it does nothing to serve the world. And I am beginning to really think she had a point.