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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 talked about the willingness to say, "I love you" first ... Show me a generation of kids raised like that, and we'll end the problems, I think, that we see today.the willingness to do something where there are no guarantees ... We pretend that what we do doesn't have an effect on people. We do that corporate — whether it's a bailout, an oil spill ... We pretend like what we're doing doesn't have a huge impact on other people.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. If there's anyone who wants their life to look like this, it would be me, but it doesn't work. They're hardwired for struggle when they get here.So, I'll start with this: a couple years ago, an event planner called me because I was going to do a speaking event. Why don't you just say I'm a researcher-storyteller." And she went, "Ha ha. And so I thought, you know what, this is the career for me, because I am interested in some messy topics. It's what gives purpose and meaning to our lives. It doesn't matter whether you talk to people who work in social justice, 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.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? There's no such thing." 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. 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. " and he was like, "Absolutely." And so you have to understand that I have a bachelor's and a master's in social work, and I was getting my Ph. 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." 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. So I thought, you know what, I'm going to start with connection." 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." And I was like, "Okay." And she said, "But the thing I liked about your talk is you're a storyteller. Well, you know that situation where you get an evaluation from your boss, and she tells you 37 things that you do really awesome, and one "opportunity for growth?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 all you can think about is that opportunity for growth, right?
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.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 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?So I wrote at the top of the manila folder, and I started looking at the data. My husband left town with the kids because I always go into this Jackson Pollock crazy thing, where I'm just writing and in my researcher mode. 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.In fact, I did it first in a four-day, very intensive data analysis, where I went back, pulled the interviews, the stories, pulled the incidents. And so these folks had, very simply, the courage to be imperfect.