I had the honor of meeting the smart, sassy, and gracious Brene Brown last week. If you don’t know who she is, go ahead and spend a few minutes watching her first stunning Ted talk.
I’ve spent the weekend trying to sum up my experience, but it’s still bigger than I am at the moment. I distinctly remember one line that knocked me to my knees, however. (I can quote it word for word because I actually took notes like the true nerd that I am.) And it was this sentence that she spoke in reference to our collective and pervasive feelings of unworthiness:
“We cannot give our children what we, ourselves, don’t have.”
Ouch. Double ouch.
Instead of summarizing my experience in a litany of inadequate words (which I’m not yet ready — and may not ever be able — to do), I’d like to share with you the note I sent her Saturday. She’s following me on Twitter, after all. We’re nearly BFFs.
The moral of this message? Find her. Listen to her. Read her works. Eventually, if we all Get It, we can shift the consciousness of this little blue planet.
How blessed and privileged my husband and I were to hear you speak in Birmingham this week. (I’m Katrina — the one who mentioned that you’d recently followed us both on Twitter and then smiled like the creepy kid who admits to Ralphie in “A Christmas Story” that he’s a fan of the “The Wizard of Oz.”)
It’s taken me a couple of days to reflect, breathe, and ponder. And I’ve spent much of that time reading and re-reading my favorite excerpts from all your books.
I’ll keep this as short as possible because I’m sure you receive 1,000,256 or so emails daily. But to hear the moral, I have to give you the story…
Eighteen months ago, my husband — after being a high school teacher and administrator for 20 years — completed his EdD and decided that academia was his calling. It was, as you so eloquently call it, his mid-life unraveling. In full support of him, his career, and his general sanity, I packed up our 4 kids, 2 dogs, and the guinea pig and moved four states away to a place we’d never seen and where we knew exactly two people (the two Chris had interviewed with in the spring). I’d also add that neither of us — or our children — had ever lived anywhere but Indiana. In our Hoosier state, we had a wide and deep circle of friends, 99% of our many family members, and every single memory we’d ever made.
It’s been a tough eighteen months — for me.
I’ve often described this journey as singular and lonely — courageous at various junctures — but overall, heartbreaking. I’ve sent letters home fraught with “I miss yous” and water-stained with tears. (Dramatic? Yes. I’m a writer of fiction, after all.)
But over the past 72 hours as I’ve pondered your words and your work and your message, I’ve had one of what Oprah so famously calls her “aha” moments.
In Indiana, my self-worth and self-importance hinged on the social circles I ran in, the events I attended, the parties I was invited to. In Mississippi, that societal security blanket was ripped out from under me, and I was left unbalanced, untethered, unhinged.
In Mississippi, it seemed, no one saw me.
But the truth is that in Indiana, I never saw myself.
I have always measured my self-worth in terms of who loves me, who approves of me, who wants to be with me. And I’ve always had that kind of validation, as the athlete, the scholar, the life of the party. For 25 years, my husband — who is truly much more Wholehearted than I — has been trying to help me see myself differently, authentically. Various dear friends have as well. I thought I Got It, but I didn’t. Not really. Not until now.
Ultimately, you were the one who provided me that vision. And when I realized it of late, it was as if a world of weight and unhappiness was lifted from my shoulders.
Today (and I mean that quite literally… today, as in Saturday, January 12), everything looks different. Our Mississippi house — although vastly smaller than our Indiana home — is big enough. Our bank account — although with four kids, always teetering on the brink of far too many zeros — is substantial enough.
And most shockingly? Me. I’m enough. Just as I am. No external validation necessary. For the very first time in my 42 year existence.
I’m still wrapping my heart around that beautiful, peaceful realization.
Will there be days in which those old feelings of inadequacy come creeping up behind me? I imagine there will be. But today, I’ve learned what “enough” feels like.
I believe we are where we are in life for a reason. For eighteen months, I’ve been wondering why the hell I landed in rural Mississippi. As my husband considers academic offers that will likely take us hundreds of miles from here this summer, I now realize that I needed to be here, alone, with myself and my family, to truly see and appreciate and understand.
I also believe — as corny and sycophantic as it may sound — that I was here to see and hear you. I was no stranger to you before, I’ve been a fan and follower since the first Ted talk went viral. I’ve read the books, followed the blog. But until I saw you in person, I still didn’t GET it.
Ultimately, what all this rambling leads to is this… pure, unadulterated gratitude.
Thank you for the work you’ve done — academically, publicly, privately – to bring the knowledge and gifts you so graciously possess to the rest of us.
If I had to move to Starkville, Mississippi to receive your gift, it was worth every damn, hotter-than-hell, Southern mile.
Blessings to you and your family always.