Series 02: For The Love Of Moxie | Episode 02
Getting Vulnerable with Dr. Brené Brown
Researcher & storyteller Dr. Brene’ Brown brings us her thoughts on shame, suffering, courage and vulnerability during this week’s conversation with Jen; drawing from her many years as a research professor, and as a woman who is seeking her most authentic life. She discusses true vulnerability and our craving for connection. She also flips the script on suffering; reframing it as a catalyst for being overcomers in our lives by asserting: “’moxie’ doesn’t come from all the good stuff that happens to you. It’s from working through the bad stuff.” You’ll laugh at stories about “Hairy Toes and Sexy Rice” and be inspired by the tough path she forged in bringing the topic of shame to the forefront of the academic community. Brene’s new book, Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and The Courage to Stand Alone, releases fall 2017.
Narrator: Welcome to the “For the Love Podcast” with bestselling author Jen Hatmaker. Come on in, and join us for a chat with Jen and friends about all the things we love. Now, here’s Jen.
Jen: Hey guys, It’s Jen Hatmaker. Thanks for joining me this week on For the Love podcast. This has been the most fun with you on here ever. And we’re in the middle of a series right now called “For the Love of Moxie”. Moxie is this word that I love and I took it from the title of a book that I just released called Of Mess and Moxie; it’s available everywhere. It was just released about a minute ago and it’s this idea of moxie that I love, specifically with women who have demonstrated immense courage, aptitude. They’re building beautiful spaces and amazing ministries or companies. They’re teaching us and leading us in really profound and important ways right now in our culture. So I wanted to put them in front of you so we can learn from them and talk to them.
You guys today’s guest is just; I don’t even know, which is down even to say. You’re going to love this next hour, I’ll tell you that right now, because on the podcast today we have the incomparable Dr. Brené Brown. I’m sure she needs no explanation, but I’m going to give her one anyway before we jump on the call here.
So Brené – she is a research professor at the University of Houston and the Graduate College of Social Work. She spent basically the last 16 years studying some really interesting subjects specifically: shame, courage, vulnerability, and empathy. I would say those are four things that we are in need of in today’s world. She’s the author of three #1 New York Times bestsellers – The Gifts of imperfection, Daring Greatly, and Rising Strong. I have read absolutely every word of every one of them. They’ve influenced me so deeply. Her latest book is called Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and The Courage to Stand Alone and it releases this fall. It’s going to be some of her best work. We’re going to talk a little bit about it today.
Brené’s TED Talk–the one called “The Power of Vulnerability”— you guys, it’s one of the top five most viewed TED talks in the world and has over 30 million views because it resonated that deeply. In addition to her research and writing, Brené is the founder and the CEO of Brave Leaders, Inc. This is an organization that brings courage building programs to teams, and leaders, and entrepreneurs, and change makers, and culture-shifters. I mean, she’s everywhere, you guys. Her work matters to everyone, if you’re a human being. Her work and research has the capacity to change the way that you are living your life. She’s a fellow Texan. She lives in Houston with her husband, Steve, and their kids, Ellen and Charlie, and I am so excited to have her on today. You’re going to love this talk. I suggest you grab a notebook and a pen because everything she has to say is gold. So, without further ado, let’s welcome Brené Brown.
Jen: Good morning to Brene’ Brown. Thank you for joining me this morning, friend.
Brené: Good morning. I’m excited to be here. I kept thinking, I told my husband Steve, “I absolutely have to be on this podcast, because I am both messy, and full of moxie.” So, this is where I belong.
Jen: Girl, this is our lane–we run it well. Actually, both twin lanes.
So everybody needs to know that we both are Texans. So, what that means is, with with you in Houston, and me in Austin, we’re dead. We’ve melted. We are speaking from beyond the grave.
Brené: Oh my god, it’s hot as Hades.
Jen: It’s awful.
Brené: It is. You know what? I swore this year I would not piss and moan about the weather, I’m just not going to do it this year. I’m gonna accept it as part of Texas living.
Brené: But when I got to August 10th, I was like, “I can’t– this is not natural.
Jen: it’s not right and we’re not robots. It’s the same reason I tell my friends that live in Chicago somewhere around February, I’m like, “why do you live there? Why? That doesn’t make sense. 25 below. That’s not real life.” So anyway, we’re sorry that we say that–all of us Texans that talk about the heat–but you don’t understand, listeners, how hot it is here.
Brené: Let me just say, I walk outside, my hair sticks to my neck, my glasses fog up, and they stay fogged up for 20 minutes.
Jen: She’s exactly right. She’s not exaggerating. That is exactly what happens.
Brené: But we’re good people.
Jen: We are, and you know what? Come like October, November, December, January, then we remember why we live here.
Brené: Oh my god, 65, sunny, smells like football season.
Jen: You know you know you’re speaking my love language right there. So OK. I’m so happy to speak with you this morning. You’re just so important to our culture and to our generation. There’s just nobody like you. So, let’s just jump into this. You’ve done this amazing body of work and research that has specifically shed light on the topics of vulnerability, and shame, and empathy, and suffering. Nobody in my life, and I read a lot, has impacted me more around these ideas than you. Can you just tell everybody listening, what even started you down this road, because these are not the typical topics that a researcher reaches for?
Brené: No it’s weird. It was actually, I was working on my dissertation. I have a Bachelor’s, Master’s and Ph.D. in Social Work and what I can tell you from what ended up being maybe a $100,000 in school loans combined, is that connection is why we’re here. We are hard-wired neurobiologically for connection. That was my takeaway from my 15 years of education. Most people don’t need the 15 years to get to that point, but that was my take away.
Jen: It was an expensive little lesson.
Brené: It was an expensive lesson really, but I do believe in the absence of connection – spiritual connection, physical connection, emotional, social–there’s always suffering. So by the time I was working on my Ph.D., I was like, “what does that mean—connection? I don’t understand exactly what that means. So let me do my dissertation on kind of ‘hacking’ into connection and what that means. Let me lay it out for people because it’s kind of a gauzy word.”
Brené: I started researching connection, and I started asking people. (I’m a qualitative researcher so I do long interviews.) I started sitting down with people, really an incredibly diverse group of research participants, and asking, “tell me about the connection in your life that’s important.” As it turns out, and this has been one of the fun unexpected lessons of my–not fun but surprising–unexpected lessons in my research, that we have a lot of language for hurt, but we have very little language for love and joy. So when you ask people about connection, the way the only way they can tell you about it is to talk about disconnection.
Jen: That’s interesting.
Brené: Yes, you’ll say, “Tell me about the important connections in your life,” and they’ll say a couple of words that are kind of perfunctory about people that they care about. Then they’ll say, “but let me tell you about this betrayal, and let me tell you about this heartache, and let me tell you about this loss.” Six weeks into that research, I ran into “shame.” This is a really interesting story that I don’t tell very often, but I ran into shame. And people were saying, people were talking about the hardest thing about being connected is feeling like you’re worthy of connection; like you’re good enough for connection. The only reason I knew it was shame that they were talking about was, in the early 90’s, when I was at UT in Austin, I worked part time at a residential treatment facility in the Hill Country. We had this situation where I worked with Level Six adolescent girls, and that’s the highest level. These are girls and boys in the treatment center whose parental rights have been severed; they were growing up in a residential care facility. We had a girl who tried to run away and another girl tried to commit suicide – not in our cabin but in the other cabins.
So that meant the whole place went on lockdown and we took the shoestrings out of shoes so kids couldn’t run–it was just this crazy thing. The clinical director met with us and he said, “I know y’all are afraid, and I know this is a scary time, but you can’t change the way that you’re treating the kids. You can’t stop treating the kids with love and care. You can’t shame these children into belonging and behaving.” Wow. I was like, “what?” I remember meeting with him the next day and saying, “I want to dig into what you said about not shaming people into change. I feel like that’s the way the world works,” and he’s like, “it is the way the world works, and you can change a child’s behavior on a dime with shame, but you’ll kill their spirit in the process.”
Jen: Oh my gosh, I have goosebumps. You know what’s funny? I’ve read every word you’ve ever written and I am like holding my breath while you’re telling this story because it’s just so true. It rings so true in my spirit, my heart, my experience. It almost feels shocking that people have not been talking about this ad nauseum for a long time.
Brené: Yeah it’s weird. It’s so weird, because I was like, “what?” I couldn’t believe it. His name was Bart Kelly and he is just an amazing clinician. When I started to get my masters in social work, I was like, I’m going to hold this treaty, this thesis in front of me the entire time I’m studying social work. “Can you really shame people?” because that’s the way everything works. It’s the way the majority of parenting works. It happens in a lot of classrooms. It happens in a lot of churches, synagogues, and mosques. So when people started talking about that, I just felt like really and truly God was saying, “I’m going to keep putting this topic of shame in front of you.” I know this sounds really dramatic, but I really had this moment. I talked to my parents about it, I talked to my priest about it. I had this moment where I was like – God is going to continue to put shame in front of me, like I had been chosen to understand this and to start a conversation about this. I cannot escape this; this is not my doing. I remember going to my dissertation director and saying, “Look, these connection interviews are turning into shame. I think I need to study it. I feel like it’s really calling me.” And she’s like, “Absolutely–no.”
Jen: Really? No way!
Brené: She’s like, “What’s a girl like you doing in a topic like that?” She’s like, “Hell no.”
I was really defiant. So, picture me 20 years ago. Doc Martens, long skirt, motorcycle jacket, top-messy-bun much like the one you where all the time, round glasses I never take off, and a cigarette hanging out of my mouth.
Jen: I can literally see you.
Brené: Yeah, of course.
Jen: I can see it.
Brené: I go to the library, and I’m like “I’m going to do this anyway. I don’t care—screw it.” The very first article I find in the stack says, “The decision to study shame has been the death of many academic careers.”
Jen: It did not say that.
Brené: It did say that– I still have the article in a drawer, in the room I’m sitting in. So, I was like “You know, screw it, I’m going to do it anyway.” So I started just thinking about shame. I wrote my dissertation about connection, and about authenticity, and wrote a little bit about vulnerability, wrote about shame, and then the day I graduated, I just dug into shame and started really trying to understand it. The thing is that everyone wants to know – how do we get to authenticity? How do we get to joy? How do we get the courage? But no one wants to talk about what gets in the way of those things and what you have to walk through to get there. This is something you have to walk through to get there.
Jen: It’s so powerful. You know what? Who’s laughing now? I want to look at your old professors and be like, “How do you like them apples? She was right.”
Brené: It is really actually weird, because there is a collection; a small collection of people–probably three or four–who absolutely railed against me doing this work. But let me let give them some props. It was almost the death of my career.
Jen: I don’t understand.
Brené: I couldn’t get published.
Jen: Oh, I see.
Brené: So, I couldn’t get published. I ended up; no one wanted the book. I met with a really famous–I’ll never forget it—it was like the Red Lion Hotel in Austin. They had one of those writers’ conferences where you pay $50, and you get an audience with a publisher and an editor. I remember sitting down with this person. I said, “This is what I study.” Here’s a story I’ve never told.
Jen: This is exciting.
Brené: Yeah. You have that effect on people, Jen.
Jen: Don’t worry. It’s just me and a handful of my friends listening in.
Brené: The name of the first book was Hairy Toes and Sexy Rice.
Jen: Well, that makes sense.
Brené: Right? Because it was a really funny story about the first time I got hair on my big toe. I was like, “Something’s wrong.” So I flipped through all of my Young Miss and Seventeen magazines, and no one had any hair on their toes. So, I started researching at the library about middle school genetic disorders. It was my first real experience of media-induced shame.
Brené: Then, the “sexy rice” was–it was not my last media induced shame–but it was the first that controlled my life from probably age 11 to age 35. Then, when I had Ellen, she was about two months old. I came home from work. Did the whole thing; hair up on the head, bra off, sweat pants on. She was probably six months old, and I was sitting on the couch, and this commercial came on–I think it was Uncle Ben’s Rice–and it was this woman in this silk teddy, feeding this man rice as he was sliding down the refrigerator; the subzero refrigerator.
I remember starting to cry. I remember my extra 30 pounds I was carrying, the stretchmarks, I was still wearing my diaper size maxi pad they give you.
Jen: Totally. Your slobby sweat pants.
Brené: I am thinking, “I hope he brings home something really carby for dinner.” I remember thinking, “this is the hairy toe” feeling. I was like, “You know what? Screw this. I’ve got a lot of great friends and not one of them is feeding their man rice while he’s sliding down a subzero refrigerator and she’s wearing a teddy.”
Jen: How many times have I served Brandon Hatmaker rice in a teddy?
Brené: How many times?
Jen: Zero. Isn’t that surprising? Zero times.
Brené: Yeah! So, I think it’s a really funny title, and this editor looked at me, and he goes, “You have the credentials to talk about shame, but don’t use humor. Nietzsche said..” and he quoted Nietzsche about shame or something. It just freaked me out.
I felt completely ashamed. I came home. I wrote a really serious book. No one would publish it. So I borrowed money from my parents.
Brené: I published my first book on shame. Then one of my colleagues, who I really revered at U of H said, “Hey, I read your book on shame. It was great. I’m putting it on my syllabus. Thank you so much.” I was like, “God, thank you so much.” He’s an older guy, pretty well known in his field, and he’s like, “but I’ve never heard of 3C Press,” and that was my self-published press–you know—courage, compassion, connection. So, I was like, “Oh, it’s self-published.” I remember the ‘ding’ of the doors opening the elevator, and he held the elevator open as he walked out and I stayed on. He goes, “Oh, actually I won’t be putting that on my syllabus– I don’t do vanity publishing in my courses.”
Jen: No! So on its merit, he was prepared to include it?
Jen: But because he didn’t have that credential, he excluded it. I find this whole piece of your story fascinating, and I didn’t know any of this.
What is this? Why do you think the topic of shame, and especially in your field, sort of in a research space; I don’t get it. Why is everybody so against it? Why is it the death knell of publishing?
Brené: It is so hard.
Jen: Obviously it has rung true around our entire nation. You think your work has impacted millions and millions and millions of people, so it’s not for lack of felt need. What’s your take on this? Where’s the resistance coming from?
Brené: It’s really easy. It’s because shame is one of the only topics that is both debilitating and universal. In my field; so one of the things–I’ll finish the story–then I’ll tell you, because the end of the story is interesting. So, I self-published the book. It really takes off among therapists; helping professionals, counselors, clergy, and then Penguin offers me a deal to buy the book. Then the same guy, in a faculty meeting in front of my entire faculty–and you have to understand; faculties are pretty vicious. It’s that Henry Kissinger quote: “academics are so brutal precisely because the stakes are so small. “
Jen: Yeah. He said, “I want to give a congratulations to Brené, who had her book picked up by Penguin, and what I really love is that she self-published it– it was an indie thing–kind of like “El Mariachi,” like those guys who put the movie on their credit card. She’s part of that indie movement.” I was like, “That’s funny, because 20 minutes ago it was like “vanity publishing” and you took my book off your syllabus.” So, there was some weirdness around that. I tried not to gloat too much, because it’s against my principles.
Jen: Oh no. It’s not against mine. I would be so petty. I would be so petty. Nobody could stop me.
Brene: So here’s the answer to your question. Penguin grabs the book, and this process gets really slowed down. I’m like, “Why is this taking so long?” What we’re finding is editors, copy people, technical editors, are getting so swept up and they’re getting so triggered by it, because they’re finding themselves in it, that it’s hard to look at it with clarity. So I go back to this thing that shame is, for helping professionals even, shame is one of the only things that’s completely universal and debilitating. It’s not like we’re talking about people with a certain diagnosis. This is us. You read it. There is no trapdoor. There is no exit ramp. You talk about shame. The only people in the world who have no shame, are people who have no capacity for empathy or connection.
Jen: Right– like a psychopath.
Brene: Right. Sociopath, psychopath that’s the only people. So everyone knows shame, and shame is so debilitating, and so paralyzing, that it’s really hard. It’s really hard to talk about until you just break that kind of third rail and say, “You know what? I get it. But I’m going to keep talking about it. “
Jen: That’s just so interesting. So even like from within your field, these people, their capacity to be objective, and to think about this from a clinical standpoint, or even a publishing, successful standpoint; they just couldn’t do it because it’s too tender.
Brené: It’s true. It’s too tender. Now I think–you know when I was pregnant with Ellen–and I have talked about this before. Steve and I were on a walk through our neighborhood and I was like I was due at any time. We were talking about how we knew having a baby would throw kind of everything upside down. I was in a Ph.D. program and t was very controversial that I got pregnant in the middle of it. So people were like, “how is this going to work?” I remember them saying “what do you want to do? What’s your career goal?” I was like, “I want to change the global conversation about shame and vulnerability. I don’t know what it looks like, but that’s what I want to do.” I think we’ve done that. I think we’ve done it.
Jen: Oh, you’ve done it.
Brené: I think we have to work on it. It’s not just me, but we’ve made it OK to talk about this.
Jen: It’s it’s really phenomenal how far and wide your message reaches, because it is so universal. I can read one of your books, and exactly and almost precisely apply it to me in my sort of Christian church context. But if I switched gears, and applied it to a school context, it fits perfectly still, in the classroom. If I apply it to a communal context, just in a neighborhood, it always fits. You’ve found a way to message, and language and explain your pretty heady research. I mean this isn’t just some girl throwing some ideas against a wall. I mean this is heavily researched; incredibly deep and important work. But you’ve made it accessible to all of us regulars, and it really has positively changed the conversation.
Let’s dive into one of the one of the legs that you deal with; vulnerability. All of this dovetails together–every bit of it– just the shame and the vulnerability, all this sort of comes together.
Your TED Talk on vulnerability, is I think it’s in that it’s in the top five TED Talks of all time in the world. It hits such a nerve. I’ve got a question for you, because I I think this idea of vulnerability is interesting right now, because it has caught some wind. It has. You’ve shone a light on this that has changed the conversation, brought a lot more seats up to the table. So as I think about it now, a little bit more exposed, than it was let’s say 10 years ago.
We see people expressing themselves more and more in a public setting, so there is this sense that we are becoming a little bit more vulnerable in our social media spaces, and blogging and our storytelling or whatever. I’m curious your take on that, because I wonder sometimes if that is authentic vulnerability, if it doesn’t have a huge cost. You know what I mean? What do you think about that sort of the way everything is almost an overshare at this point?
Brené: One thing I want I say is: I think the reason why I’ve been able to do this work, and talk about it with this language, is because I am a regular–I think I am such a regular. I’m such a regular, and that’s been such a shame trigger for me throughout. One of the reasons why maybe I was called to do the work around shame and vulnerability is because my own shame around getting into a Ph.D. program, being the first woman to go to college in my family, not pronouncing words the right way, not knowing statistics, not having a background and having to get tutors right away. so I am a regular regular. The funny thing is, and I want to get back to this, as I’m so struck by this, but the biggest thing that happens to me when I get offstage, or when I finish talking, is people say “I already knew everything you were talking about, I just didn’t have the words.”
Brené: I think we all know this and it’s why it resonates. I mean it’s a really hard question about what we’re seeing in terms of sharing and vulnerability.
Jen: Well, I can even apply it to my own space. I have one brand of vulnerability that I can sort of hold out to people on in an online setting, and it is very low risk. It does expose something truthful, or honest, or a little bit of a mess. But the cost is low. So I’m not necessarily sharing something that is deeply vulnerable. It just seems it. So there’s a big difference, because I’ve done both. But when I come out with something that is as fragile as it can be, and is tender and near and dear to my heart as anything I can imagine, that feels really different. That brand of vulnerability is completely different than the first one I just share a picture of a messy closet, you know what I mean?
No, I think it’s true. I think I guess here’s what I would say.
I ask myself – the overshare question is: “What is your intention for sharing and what is your intention for sharing? “
And so I think one of the things that’s happened is; so I have a line for what I share. I will share what’s vulnerable in my life. I will not share what’s intimate in my life, because that is not for public consumption. When I share what’s vulnerable in my life, when I share the stories of failure, when I share the stories, you know the first book that Penguin bought; that self-published book that Penguin bought, was a complete failure. I write about that in Rising Strong. I share that, because I never share a story, that when my healing from that story, depends on an audience reaction.
Jen: That’s good.
Brené: Ever. So by the time I share something with an audience, I have processed it. I have healed from it, and I am as close to being immune to what the public thinks about it as one could be. I think what we see happening is, you know because I believe we share our stories with people who’ve earned the right to hear them.
Jen: That’s right.
Brené: The other thing I don’t do, and this is very different than a lot of people even friends of ours, I do not: I believe our stories are meant to be shared, and owned and shared–in that order. I will not take my children’s stories from them, or leave such a defining mark on them that they will never be able to get out from underneath them.
Jen: Wow. I think that is so important and increasingly rare.
Brené: It’s increasingly rare. The other thing is, you know for me, I do share stories about Ellen and Charlie, because I share stories of my experiences as a mother; it was a huge defining role for me, if not the defining role, maybe. Here’s what I can tell you. I’ve never shared a story with them that I have not asked first. I’ve never asked him and been told no, because I’m very careful about what I ask about.
Jen: Totally, we have that rule as well. We have that rule in our family too. In fact, I’m thinking, as you’re talking about–you know, my youngest two are adopted–when we were early on in the adoption process, before the kids weren’t at home; and they’re both from Ethiopia, so it was sort of a big international scenario.
All the spotlight in my mind, was on adoption and the process of adoption. There was an absolutely egregious display of oversharing. Especially when they first got home, and we were just in the weeds so much, and everybody was grieving, and we were just a mess. They were, and we were, and obviously we had so much to adjust to. I wrote about it a lot at the time. I was really deeply embedded in the adoption community, which is like any community, can have a lot of insular group-think. So even as my words were going on the internet, I feel like I’m just talking to that crowd, when in fact, it’s public consumption. So I have since gone back and wiped clean all of my spaces of anything I ever said about that season, about that time. Anything I ever wrote on my blog that had to do with their story. I kept a handful of things that had to do with mine, or even a more clinical space like adoption ethics. I felt like that bell still needs to be rung.
Brené: For sure.
Jen: I learned that lesson the hard way, because I think for me ultimately the question came back to, “do I want to sit by my kid when he is 27 years old, and explain to him why I wrote about this ‘hardest year of his life’ for everyone to read? That’s one of my frameworks. Often, it’s like, “how am I going to feel about this in five years? How is my kid going to feel about this in 10?” Often what seems maybe a little nebulous, comes into crystal clear focus, like, “oh no, that is a nonstarter. That should be a non-share.” I really like what you said about how you’re as you share something vulnerability if your healing requires somebody else’s input, i’s either too soon, or it’s not sharable.
So I want to talk about suffering with you just a little bit, because you also dive into suffering, which requires processing, and healing, like you so wisely just mentioned. One of the questions, specifically in my space often, is in relation to “suffering plus God.” I would just love to have a brief take on your thoughts here. Like I, you know I think a lot of the questions we ask are, “why do these horrible things happen to people that don’t deserve it? Why all this unjust and unfair suffering? Why does God stay his hand when He does?” My question to you, in terms of what you’re so good at is, do you think suffering ties in with vulnerability, and then ultimately these connection points that you have, that is sort of the undercurrent of all of your work. How do these things dovetail together; suffering, vulnerability, connection through shared trials, and how do you think that affects our spiritual life?
Brené: My default answer would be, “you should read Jen Hatmaker.” Really. I have a very singular experience around our shared Christian story, around suffering, that made a lot of sense to me, and that has continued to make a lot of sense to me. It was when I was very young; I was probably maybe nine or 10 years old and a mom in our neighborhood died of cancer. My mother was always incredibly, back then I thought, just terrible about that we always had to go to every funeral. We had to pray and sing, whether it was our faith or a language we understood; it didn’t matter, we went. We were always the first at the door with the casseroles.
We had to look people in the eye who were in pain. It was just a non-negotiable because my mom grew up in a lot of suffering, a lot of pain. My grandmother, who was one of the great loves of my life–I named my daughter Ellen after her–was an alcoholic, and it was the 50’s, and she was divorced. No one was allowed at my mom’s house. She just grew up in a lot of suffering. Her only sibling was shot and killed in an act of violence. Just a hard, hard, hard life. So, we never got to opt out of being with people and suffering. We went to this funeral of this neighbor. She had really young kids and the preacher was talking about. kind of using this language like, “how dare you cry, how dare you mourn. God has a plan for Linda. Linda is in a better place. We should mourn for ourselves because we’re not with her at the feet of God.”
I remember getting in the car and I said, “I said everything that I was supposed to say in the service, but I just want you to know I don’t believe anything that they said.” My mom pulled over and she said, “I’m glad you don’t believe anything that they said, because that’s not what we believe in our family. What we believe in our family, is today, Jesus wept too.
Jen: Wow. How old were you?
Brené: Probably eight or nine. I said, “what do you mean?” My mom said, “today, God, today, Jesus–they wept for Linda, and Linda’s kids, and Linda’s husband, and they’re really devastated and sad too.” I said, but the preacher said that “it’s better, and it’s part of God’s plan,”and she’s like, “people believe that, and that’s OK. We don’t believe that. We believe today, Jesus cries for Linda, and Linda’s children. It was the day that I felt more connected to God and Jesus than I ever had in my whole life, but also the day that I let go of the fact that they’re moving us around like chess pieces.
Jen: Can we talk more about that? I’m really interested; you’re giving voice to my spiritual worldview. You know, you and I have so much in common around this. I would just love to hear you talk a little bit more about your how your faith has evolved in your relationship with the church, and what you have learned. I think I’ve said this about your work before; your work is research based on science based, it’s neurology, it’s biology, it’s flesh and blood, and to me it feels absolutely biblical. Science and the spirit are all from the same source obviously, so there’s no way we’re going to have a big contradiction here. When I read your work, it feels profoundly spiritual to me, and incredibly true. Can you just talk for a minute about how your work and your faith sort of ran on track side by side, and how each affected the other and what’s your relationship with the church, and what do you think about just the state of it right now? I gave you ten questions –you pick one, you pick whichever one you want.
Brené: I just want to listen to your questions. I just learn from your questions. Let’s see, let me unpack. Oh I’ve had a very tumultuous relationship with the church and a very clear relationship with God. I’m a Christian. I don’t at all. I think that the tension between faith and science is complete bullshit. I mean literally, and I’m not using this term like unconsciously, man-made.
I say this, I don’t know where I wrote this, but I don’t trust a theologian who doesn’t believe in the beauty of mystery and spirituality–I mean the beauty and mystery of science, and I don’t trust a scientist who doesn’t believe in faith. As someone who straddles both of those, but, I’m not the only person that sees my data, so I know it doesn’t skew, because it’s just data. I don’t feel torn between them. You know the things that feel hard for me, is spirituality is a guidepost. It is a very important piece of wholehearted living. Every man and woman that I interviewed that had a strong sense of wholeheartedness; who believed in their self-worth, who believed that despite the fact that they were imperfect, and afraid, and vulnerable, that they were worthy of love and belonging. Every one of those people had a spiritual component in their lives that was very controversial in academics, but not controversial among the “regulars,” as you would say, and I’m a regular. Academics are regulars with masks on.
Jen: Yeah, I suspected.
Brené: Oh yeah, of course, because there’s nothing but regulars. I mean, there’s regulars and then whatever armor people put on. My definition of spirituality is a deeply held belief that we are inextricably connected to each other by something greater than us. Something that is grounded in love and compassion. I call that thing God. I’ve got friends who call it fishing, and nature, but I happen that this is the story and the narrative, that I understand God and my inextricable connection to other people through that narrative, is the Christian narrative. So I’m a Jesus fan,
but don’t probably hold the same vision of Jesus in my head that most people do, because you know, I have the weeping Jesus in my head, you know He’s crying. He’s at the funeral too; distraught. My relationship with the church is tumultuous. I haven’t been in a year. I miss it, like oh my god.
Brené: Yeah. You know, like I was talking, I was like, “I think I’m going to start a church. I’m gonna call Jen and Shauna Niequist and start a church. It’s going to be like this, and we’re going to sing, and break bread,, and come to the rail, and pass the peace with people we want to punch in the face.”
Jen: That’s what it is.
Brené: Yeah. I was I was born into the Episcopal faith. I became a Catholic, not on my own doing, I went to a Catholic school in New Orleans. Got called to the office. A bishop was there. We read the Nicene Creed. He asked me to explain it to him. Line by line, I did my damndest. Then he sent me home with a smelly mimeographed piece of paper that said “Brené’s Catholic now.”
Jen: Boom! Surprise, you’re Catholic.
Brené: Then my parents became Catholic after, but then I went back to the Episcopal Church, so I’m a liturgical girl. I really like the cadence, because it’s kind of what was implanted in my heart. But I really just go to church, I mean I’m just going to be really honest, I only go to church to sing, to pass the peace with people that I don’t know and probably disagree with outside of church, and to go to the rail and break bread with people. Those are the only three reasons I go to church.
Jen: Do you think it’s even possible right now for the church to preserve and advance the Jesus who cries at the funeral? I also have a long history with the church, and it has had a lot of ups and downs, and it’s changed and it has shifted. I just sometimes wonder if the container is just able;. is it capable to contain the beauty within? I’m just not sure. Sometimes I’m not sure, and I’m really not sure right now. Right now is such a weird time to be a part of. for lack of a better term, a kind of institutional church.
Brené: It’s a weird time.
Jen: It’s a weird time and I watch it. It’s so incredibly fragmented in our culture right now, in our political conversations, and it just it feels like such a hot mess. In so many cases the language, not only the language that we’re speaking, but the God we understand. The Jesus that we love, it feels we’re talking about completely different people, completely different entities.
Brené: Yeah, that’s it. You know what?I don’t know what I don’t know the answer to that question because I don’t know. Because the thing is like, I love my church, but I’m not going to go like—look, I believe in a ballsy Jesus.
Jen: I like that.
Brené: I just feel like my my understanding of Jesus is, Jesus was an outlaw. I mean Jesus was a “you tell me I can’t sit with these people, I’m going to sit with them, and I’m going to see the humanity in their eyes.” I mean this guy was like a renegade.
Jen: He was.
Brené: I have a whole philosophy about Jesus that’s crazy that we can get into some other time. So once you go into the Episcopal Church, which gives me everything I love around the cadence, and the liturgy, and the form; I love that kind of stuff. I even like going to high church sometimes. I’m going to do a sermon at the National Cathedral in October, in Washington D.C. I’m really excited. I’m sure I’m going to have goose bumps. But when it takes four years to turn that tanker, and you have to have the median of the most highly acclaimed bishops of the forty fifth realm, at Hogwarts…once you get to that, to make a decision about whether we’re going to marry two people who are living and loving in the Christian faith, you’re losing me. Here’s the thing; here’s what we know. I spend 90 percent of my time in organizations doing leadership work. This is something people don’t know about me. From Fortune 100 companies in London, Singapore– that’s what I do. I work with big companies around leadership a lot, because vulnerability and courage are core leadership values, and shame destroys innovation. So this is the work I do. So one of the things I know from that work, that I think about around church all the time, is bureaucracy. When you see bureaucracy, you know it’s because there’s a lack of discipline. Bureaucracy is the answer to a lack of discipline. In church, and in our faith, discipline means following the Gospels and Jesus. So what happens, is when we stop being disciplined, you know, “disciple,’ “disciplined,”– not hard. When we stop following the real teachings of Jesus, what we give birth to, is bureaucracy. The question that I don’t know the answer to is; can you create an organization that is fueled by discipline and love of the Gospel, and Jesus, and the Christian faith, that doesn’t become so afraid of what those rebellious, ballsy teachings are, that they replace them with bureaucracy.
Jen: Wow, I don’t know either. I don’t know either. But this is a fascinating conversation, and I wish you could talk about it for 10 straight hours. This is so interesting to me, and as you’re talking, it occurs to me that in the same way I think about bureaucracy, which is, by and large, enacted, and then kept intact by bureaucrats, that in the same way that you say your fellow academics are just regulars with a mask on, so are church leaders.
Jen: So there’s this sense, that you know, primarily men, who lead the Church, have this very special anointing, right? They understand more; they’re more capable in some way of healthy, robust, spiritual leadership. But in fact they’re just regulars, and that to me is how I understand the kingdom. All I have to do is read the Gospels and see who Jesus spent His time with.
Brené: That’s it.
Jen: Who He honored, who He had pull up a seat to His table and it was all the regulars; the most regular of the regulars. He was constantly elevating their understanding of Him, you know, over the bureaucrats. So I think you’re on to something. As somebody who loves the Church, and of course you know we lead this little this little ratchet, quirky, South Austin church here, I am so aware of the tendency to drift into bureaucracy, when you have a structure where you work. We’re ever paying attention to it. We’re searching our own souls; like are we settling for rules here, over love and grace and inclusion? I don’t know why that’s such a human drift, but it is.
Brené: It’s uncertainty, it’s vulnerability. It’s so funny, because I was at Camp Allen, which is the Episcopal retreat center for this part of Texas, and it’s one of my favorite places. I have to say like; I haven’t read the book yet, but our bishop Andy Doyle, who is always in hot mess trouble with everybody, which I love, just wrote a book called The Jesus Heist about how we’ve stolen Jesus from the Gospels. I was there, and there was this beautiful like statue of naked Jesus on the cross. Then there were these pictures of 15 presiding bishops of Texas on the wall and I’m looking at naked Jesus. Then I’m looking at these men who have eight hundred pieces of clothing on it. I mean they have got things that have names like they have these outfits. So when we talk about the regulars of academics, of the regulars in church, or when I armor up. When I when I cover my regular, I think the question is what are you what power are you protecting and what vulnerability is scaring you?
Jen: That get’s right to the heart of it.
Brené: Right. It really just cuts at the heart of it, and yeah, if you were naked, which you go back to Genesis; they stood in front of each other naked and unashamed. What shame are those rubes hiding? What shame is being buried by all those letters that we put behind our names in academics? What are you afraid that we’re going to see? That you’re imperfect? That you’re afraid? That your dad’s really not, you know, living Greece–that he’s really been in jail for 20 years? Like whatever story it is, we’ve got one too.
Jen: This is why I can’t talk to you because you meddle. Like you just get in here through our junk, and you meddle.
Brené: I’m a meddler for sure.
Jen: You are. You’re laying the pavement for a really good segue. I want to talk about your next book, because some of the things you just said are encapsulated in sort of the next book that comes out this fall. I mean you’ve really outdone yourself. This is one of your most powerful messages, and it’s it feels like a culmination of a lot of teaching that you’ve already given us throughout the last few years. Can you just talk a little bit about about your next book? Tell us a little bit about what it’s about, when it’s coming out, and what we can expect.
Brené: You know I trust you, because I can hear a train in the background.
Jen: You know what? I’ve said before… if you listen to this podcast, you’re just going to hear a train. We live right next to the tracks that off Main Street.
Brené: It makes me so happy.
Jen: That’s cute.
Brené: No, it does. Our old house was, before we moved into this house, was right by the tracks; I mean two houses over. It would be like the Mary Poppins, where the train would come and everybody’d be like, “grab something,” because if something was sitting, it would just shake loose.
Jen: A train is weirdly nostalgic, right? It’s some sort of old fashioned-y memory that a lot of us tap into, but yes, that is what you’re hearing here.
Brené: That’s the best.
Brené: So Braving the Wildernessis a book about; the subtitle is The Quest for Truth and Longing and The Courage to Stand Alone. It’s really about; what does it mean to truly belong? What does it mean to belong to something, and to yourself so fully, that you’re not always walking through the world trying to scrounge up the tribe, and the crew at the cost of yourself? I have to say Jen, that I feel like you could title the book “How to Piss Everyone Off In 150 Pages” because I had no idea when I went into this research. I’ve studied belonging for over a decade. I had no idea when I went back into belonging a couple of years ago, that I would have to write about the political and ideological shit show that is our world right now. I mean, I did not plan to do that. I’m very comfortable making a stand. When I see a violation of humanity, I’ll go on Facebook. I just did a Facebook live on Charlottesville, but I don’t really write about politics. But because I’m studying true belonging, and everyone is bunkered down ideologically right now, I had to talk about it. So this is a book about how to belong to and believe in yourself so fully, that true belonging becomes not something that’s granted to you by people on the outside, but true belonging is what you carry in your heart wherever you go, no matter who you’re with.
Jen: I would love to hear you expand that idea of what you think it means to really and deeply like belong to yourself–what does that mean? Will you lay that out a little bit?
Brené: I think belonging is actually a spiritual practice and I think it’s the ability to belong to, and believe in yourself so fully, that you find sacredness in being a part of something bigger than you. But you also find sacredness in standing alone when you’re called to stand alone.
Jen: That rings incredibly true, and familiar, and right, and there’s something interesting. I’ve gotten to read pieces of of that that work of yours. What’s hard to convince people of, I think on the front edge of that wilderness, where you are leaving the safety of the sanctioned , and heading out into the wilderness, is those first steps in that journey out there. It feels so lonely, and so terrifying, but what I wish we could convince people of, is that once you get there, the joy, the wholeness, the health, the internal health, the emotional and relational, and spiritual health, is unmatched. I don’t think you can duplicate it any other way than having that be an inside job as opposed to an outside applause.
Brené: Now when I use the wilderness as a metaphor to talk about what it feels like when you stand on your own, what it feels like when you stand up in your family and say, “you know what? I don’t think this is funny. I know we tell the story every year, but I think this story has some hurt woven through it for me, and it’s just not good for me anymore.” Or you stand up to a community, or you take a position in a meeting. It doesn’t matter what it is; when you stand alone, it is the wilderness. It is a wilderness of uncertainty, it’s a wilderness of vulnerability, it’s the uncertainty, it’s the wilderness of potential criticism, which usually happens. But you know, I invited you to share a story in the book, and I have to tell you that the story you share is in the last chapter called “Strong Back, Soft Front, Wild Heart.” That story that you share brought everyone who’s read it, including my editor and publishers to tears, because the one thing that you say is exactly what you’re talking about right now. Walking away from the group, the posse, the crew and taking a stand is the most terrifying thing we can ever do. But when you get to the wilderness; I love what you talk about. You will find all the creative, all the outlaws, all the people who we admire. They’re out there. You’re not going to be alone out there, but I’ll tell you the walk out there is a hell of a walk.
Jen: That’s just it. I’m I’m absolutely convinced Jesus would be out there. He was always going against the grain.
Brené: Well, where does Jesus live? The wildnerness.
Brené: I mean, do we think Jesus is on the fifth floor of Transco Towers?
Jen: Exactly. He’s my person. It is in His shoes that I aim to follow, and I aim to emulate. But it is true that the risk, is exactly what you’ve said all along. You worry that what you’re going to lose is belonging. It’s so near and dear to us, it’s so important, it’s so tribal to belong. So when that feels at risk, I think that’s why the majority of us will maybe never brave the wilderness, because it’s too scary. It’s too much of a loss, but the truth is there. It’s a different type of belonging out there in the wilderness. It is absolutely wild, and it is free, and it is beautiful, and it is not afraid, and it’s not trying to keep everybody in and out because there’s really no walls. It’s just this wild, eclectic mix of prophets, and creatives, and the ones who sort of color outside the lines. I mean, what a gift; what a joy. I wish I’d run to it earlier.
Brené: I do too. I think the hard thing for all of us, myself included, is that belonging does not have bunkers.
Jen: I’m going to get that on a tattoo on my side thigh.
Brené: We’ll have matching ones, maybe. Belonging doesn’t have bunkers. What I’m seeing today, and it’s really interesting, the third chapter of the book is called “High Lonesome” which is a type of bluegrass music which I really love. Kind of Bill Monroe, bluegrass, kind of calming, chilling music. We’re in a period of “high lonesome” right now, because we are more sorted ideologically than we’ve ever been in the history of our country, meaning more so than ever, we go to church, go to school, and hang out with only people who hate the same people we do.
Jen: Right. Exactly.
Brené: At the very same time, we’re more sorted than we’ve ever been, we are also lonelier than we’ve ever been in human history. So what’s happening is, we’ve sorted ourselves into ideological bunkers, but those relationships have no meaning. I call it “common enemy intimacy.” The only thing we have in common is we hate the same people.
Jen: What a horrible life. Your research essentially shows, “hey, not only is this not a great way to live, it’s not working. We’re lonely. We’re sad. We’re hiding from ourselves and each other. This book Braving the Wilderness–it’s going to blow people’s minds. It’s going to push really hard, and it needs to; it’s time. Somebody has to speak into this polarized culture that we have right now, and you’re doing it, and it’s going to matter. I can’t wait to see sort of the effects of this discussion in our culture right now. When does it come out specifically?
Brené: It comes out on September 12th. I’m really excited and I’m bracing myself because, it’s an easy, it’s a quick read. It’s an easy read, but it was uncomfortable to write, and parts of it can be uncomfortable to read.
Jen: Right. Which means it’s going to come with criticism which is always fun. Just a joy.
Brené: It is. But you know what I’ve decided my whole new thing about that is? We talk about Jesus, it’s not like Jesus didn’t have critics. I think criticism is a small price to pay for doing work that you love and you think matters.
Jen: Yeah, I really couldn’t possibly agree more.
Brené: So, I just have to steel myself for it sometimes, because I am just a regular, and I’ve got a big messy, moxie filled heart. This is gonna be my new thing, Jen. I’m gonna be mess, moxie and meddling.
Jen: This feels right. I just re-branded you. I’ll call your people. So here’s what we’re going to do. You’re amazing. I promise you that I could sit here and talk to you about all of this for the whole entire rest of the day. But you’ve got work to do. So here’s what we’re going to do. This series is “For the Love of Moxie.” I wanted to have you on because I can hardly think of a peer and a leader right now in our culture that has more moxie than you. Of course, as you so beautifully explained for your entire career, mess goes with that. So I’m going to ask you three questions I’m asking everybody in this series the same questions.
Here’s the first one: So we’ve all had a lot of moments we’re really proud of and some not. Sometimes those end up being one and the same in a weird way. So what’s a “messy moment” that you’ve had in your life that you sort of powered through, and emerged from? What did it teach you?
Brené: I’m in a messy moment right now. I’ll be really vulnerable. It is kind of a messy moment that I’m in right now. I’m dropping my daughter off at college day after tomorrow for the first time. And it’s really messy. We found ourselves like butting heads in ways we’ve never done before. We’re both really good at saying, “OK this is about leaving, this is about fear, this is about grief, and we give ourselves some space and time and come back and love on each other. But it’s been an important reminder for me, that I need to work on not being scary when I’m scared.
Jen: Oh gosh dang it. That’s a “meddle.” Just put it under meddle.
I can be scary and forceful when I’m scared too. And so I’m in that mess right now. But just keep watching my vulnerability and keep practicing gratitude. That’s what I’m doing.
Jen: You know I’m your sister in this. This very minute, while you and I are talking, Brandon is driving my oldest son back to college. Then my next one is a senior. So it just feels; it does feel scary and I want to clamp down.
Interestingly, because you’ve taught me this, Brandon and I were just having a conversation last week, because our son is going back a year older, and so he’s got a little bit more freedoms, and some of his circumstances are older, more grown up, and I’m afraid of it.
Brené: Yeah. Oh yeah.
Jen: Brandon and I were just saying, we’ve got to carefully watch our shame meter here; that we’re not shaming him into being responsible. Because I want to I want to shame him all the way to make sure that he’s going to be fine, because he doesn’t want to disappoint me. But that’s a terrible way to live and to parent. So I know this, because I’ve got your voice in my head that shame doesn’t work. Even if I feel like it will give me results I want.
Brené: Right now I’m with you 100 percent and I can do the same thing.
Jen: Yes exactly. Like, I just want you to feel bad enough, that if you drop this ball, you’re going to be too embarrassed to tell us. So in other words, you’ve got to pay your bills. So I’m going to really work on that approach. Thank you for sharing that. I just am so with you on that one.
So here’s the second one. I mentioned at the top of the interview; we thinks you have a lot of moxie ma’am. Lots, lots, lots. So can you remember a moment in your life where you felt like you just embodied it. Like, “this is my Moxie moment”, where just like grit and sheer willpower helped to accomplish something or do something you were afraid of.
Brené: You know what. I actually get my moxie on pretty regularly, but I just had a really, really hard work conversation with an external partner. When I got off the phone, your book was kind of sitting on my chair and I just smiled and looked at it and I’m like, “yeah, I’m just not interested in being liked and patted on the head anymore. “
Jen: Nice. That is amazing.
Brené: I hope I’m respected and respectful, but I’m not afraid of a hard conversation anymore. I don’t enjoy them, but I’m not afraid of them.
Jen: That is so gritty, and I love it. OK let’s end here. I wrote an essay in Moxie called Rewoven, essentially about putting broken things back together and standing up after things have fallen apart. So on that topic, can you tell us from your body of work, why it’s so important to do this work, to look internally at our own personal shame, at our own ability or disability to be vulnerable. What should we expect by doing that hard work? That work is hard. I know very few people who want to do that; to mine it out, and excavate it, and lay it out for for review. Why do we need to do that and what should we expect if we are willing to risk it?
Brené: It is a season. They will have it end. But I think the biggest learning that I have from the research for me, is that if you own the story of suffering, of struggle, of pain, you can write the ending. If you do not own it, if you do not lay it out and take up the pieces, if you orphan it, it will own you. So you can either own suffering, or suffering can own you. We have to own our suffering, and we have to keep in mind it’s a season. It will end. You’re not alone in that. But the only way the only way through it is through it.
Jen: Yeah, I wish there was another way, but there’s no other way.
Brené: Right. And it’s the birthplace of moxie. Moxie doesn’t come from all the good stuff that happens to you. It’s from working through the bad stuff.
Jen: That’s right. And it’s an inside job. You know my world is such that there’s a lot of external influences on my “success,” if you want to call it that, or whatever. I can tell, when I am giving everybody else more power in my life than what is actually happening in my heart and soul.
Brené: That’s right.
Jen: And it never, it never works. Even when it’s working, it doesn’t work because it feels scary to me, because I’m about to lose it.
Brené: You’re so hustling for it.
Jen: I’m just hustling for it, and that point, I’m just trying to keep it. So there is something about being deeply grounded and true, then what comes, comes. Let it come what may, and you can handle it with strength, and courage, and moxie. So, just real quick, before we dial off here. Can you tell people if they’re thinking, “that’s me,” I know I have not owned my own suffering and not owned my own story. I have not done this hard work. Where can they start if they’re at step one? Can you give a couple of your your best resources?
I think we start in singular conversations with people we trust; people we know who can respond with empathy.
Jen: Your web site is actually full of wonderful resources, I’m sure it is.
Jen: Will you tell everybody just how they can find you, where your stuff is at? As soon as they log off of this podcast, they’re going to go right to it. Where do they go?
Brené: BrenéBrown.com is the website. We’re doing a big relaunch in September, so visit now but you’ll see something new and wonderful in a few weeks. I want to say before we get off, thank you so much for Mess & Moxie, and thank you for sharing your life and letting us see you, so we can see ourselves, and your stories .because they make a huge difference.
Jen: What a nice thing to say. Thank you.
Brené: Thanks so much Jen.
Jen: Hey, everybody, Brené Brown. She is the actual best. So thank you for your time today. This is going to matter to so many people, and it’s just mattered to me already. Cheering you on, sister.
Brené: You too. Bye.
Jen: Pretty amazing, right you guys? I am so grateful that I get to share planet space with Brené Brown; that we get to live at the same time in history. She is just something. I mean so special, so smart, so profound; I am so grateful that she did not take no for an answer and that she forged into her work and her research because it has mattered to so many of us. I hope that you loved our conversation today. I hope you took something away from it. I know I did. Absolutely. You’re going to want to. You’re going to want to buy Brené’s next book positively, if nothing else. For the brilliant interview and her last chapter with Jen Hatmaker, just aching, just getting Brené’s work stands alone. She needs nobody to come alongside of her; she’s so great.
So I hope you’re loving the series. I want it to be useful to you. I want you to be listening and learning and being stretched and challenged and I know I definitely am. And we have more amazing guests to come. Women who are different and kind of all over the map but leading in ways that I find incredibly courageous and smart and relevant and timely. And so you’re just going to want to tune in week in and week out for the duration of this series. But I’m so grateful to you for joining me today and I hope you loved it. Guys thanks for tuning in every week. It’s so great to have you. Really it’s so great to have you in this community. And the podcast is just a real joy in my life right now. So you guys have a fabulous week a fantastic week. And I can’t wait to have you back here next week.
Narrator: Thanks for joining us today on the “For the Love Podcast.” Tune in next week, when we sit down again with Jen and friends to chat about all the things we love.
We love you, our listeners, so we want to be sure you subscribe to “For the Love,” with Jen Hatmaker, via iTunes or your favorite podcast provider, so you don’t miss a thing. And if you have a minute, please leave us a review. To become a part of Jen’s online community, visit JenHatmaker.com and sign up for her newsletter. It’s full of all the things you love, including free stuff. We love free stuff! Thanks for listening, and see you next time on For the Love, With Jen Hatmaker.