I was recently introduced to the work of social scientist Brené Brown, PhD, LMSW, her incredibly popular TEDTalk and her latest book “Braving the Wilderness”. In considering her work, I saw her approach informing the conversations and interactions I am having with my family and within my professional network.
Vulnerability is Strength
Brene Brown’s approach is that vulnerability is a strength. She grew up in a household that prioritized a ‘get-’er-done’ approach, and a ‘get through it’ response to adversity, and while this approach was able to sustain her through the majority of her upbringing, as well as through her early career, it is one that has failed her in many ways. Her work is trying to help us understand that instead of saying ‘I (we) can get through this’, that it can be better to pause and gain an understanding of what “this” is.
Brene Brown provides some incredible resources that give us the language and frame-of-mind to hold these unknown moments. For example, if you are going through a hard time with your family or friends, some language that you can use is “I’m ready to sit next to you rather than across from you. I am ready to listen, ask questions and accept that I may not fully understand the issue.” Or if at work, perhaps you and your colleagues are working on new ideas or have been given a project and you don’t know where to start, or don’t like the direction in which it is heading, you could say, “I’m not sure that I understand your ideas just yet, but let’s hang on to them so that I can”.
Perfectionism vs. Self Improvement
Being open and vulnerable means prioritizing the process over the product. Brown writes about the ills of perfectionism. This is difficult to do as an Event Producer as the very essence of the job is flawless execution after careful and meticulous planning and so I struggle with how to bring her teachings to my practice. I believe it is a mind shift to demonstrate to the client through the production process the steps involved, how certain decisions can effect so many elements and how timing is critical in order to plan without added stress. I am a calm person on-site at events and this demeanour certainly has a positive effect on those around me. I strive to do the best job I can and that some issues are inevitable. Having an open mind and confidence in myself allows me to problem solve and move on.
Perfectionism is also very different than self-improvement. Perfectionism is, at its core, about trying to earn approval. Most perfectionists grew up being praised for achievement and performance (grades, manners, rule following, people pleasing, appearance, sports). Somewhere along the way, they adopted this dangerous and debilitating belief system: “I am what I accomplish and how well I accomplish it. Please. Perform. Perfectly.” Healthy striving is self- focused: How can I improve? Perfectionism is other-focused: What will they think? Perfectionism is a hustle.
Brown’s latest book, Braving the Wilderness, focuses on what it means to truly belong. She argues that we’re experiencing a crisis of disconnection. She writes, “True belonging requires us to believe in and belong to ourselves so fully that we can find sacredness both in being a part of something and in standing alone when necessary. But in a culture that’s rife with perfectionism and pleasing, and with the erosion of civility, it’s easy to stay quiet, hide in our ideological bunkers, or fit in rather than show up as our true selves and brave the wilderness of uncertainty and criticism. But true belonging is not something we negotiate or accomplish with others; it’s a daily practice that demands integrity and authenticity. It’s a personal commitment that we carry in our hearts.”
No one has the belonging thing completely figured out. I often feel lonely especially since I spend my days working from home. But despite my introverted tendencies I love the connection I have with groups of people and the close relationships with a smaller number of people. Belonging for me is being part of something bigger than myself and the courage for me to be comfortable on my own.
Brown writes, “The wilderness is an untamed, unpredictable place of solitude and searching. It is a place as dangerous as it is breathtaking, a place as sought after as it is feared. But it turns out to be the place of true belonging, and it’s the bravest and most sacred place you will ever stand.”
So this summer I strongly recommend picking up one of her books and taking the 18 minutes to listen to her TEDtalk. It might give you the motivation to brave the wilderness this season. Now how perfect does that sound?