Saturday, May 5, 2012

Honoring Ordinary

"Vulnerability is the birthplace of joy, of love, of belonging, of creativity, of faith. . ." ~ Brene' Brown

This idea fills me with something I have been missing, a sense of reason or an organizing principle.  It it something I have been struggling to understand, something I could not give words.  And, as a result, I now have a tiny crush on Brene' Brown.  They are pretty words, to be sure.  But what makes them resonate so deeply for me is that as I'm working on writing essays about the experiences that I shared with Jeff in his battle to keep the life he wanted so badly, I've been unable to give words to the absolute peace and grace of his acceptance, and how it was not, is not, anything like giving up.  Acceptance can coexist quite beautifully with a fighting spirit, and it did in Jeff, and in me.  Brown's research frames it perfectly for me, and things simply clicked together, the last turn of a Rubik's cube solved.  Watch for an essay on this, it's too big for a blog post.

There are at least six examples from Brown's work that moved me.  But I want to focus on something more immediate, and more relevant to anyone reading this.  From the transcript of Brene's TED talk in Houston:
In this world, somehow an ordinary life has become synonymous with a meaningless life.  We miss what is important on the quest for the extraordinary, when in fact it is the ordinary moments that hold the most joy.  Embrace vulnerability by:
  • Practice gratitude.  Be thankful for what we have.
  • Honor what is ordinary about our lives.  
  • Experience joy and love. 
This is simply true.  We chase all the wrong things, are encouraged to identify all the ways that we are extraordinary and "work 'em for effect."  But it is the threads of similarity that tie us to others that matter most, not these flashes of extreme talent or brilliance or beauty.  It is how we connect with others, eye to eye as humans, that matters.  It is empathy, not sympathy.  Love, and not merely admiration.  Joy, and not merely existence.  Humility and not hubris.  Focus on these and the rest will fall into place.  Your life work will assume the rightful place in the world.  More importantly, you will have real joy, and you will have love.  It may not look exactly the way you had planned - but planning for joy and love is not really on the agenda.  This is a process that must simply be lived.

All of this means self evaluation.  I've practiced gratitude most of my adult life.  It has been a part of me since I was in my early 20's and thanking God and the universe for the people who fell into my life and gave me a helping hand.  But these days, how am I doing on my own path?  How many ordinary moments did I embrace this week?  When I imagine my future, as I consider the options for my future, how many of my choices are colored by a desire to find a more extraordinary life, and how many are more simply grounded in creating a life that might make me more vulnerable, but more happy?

Which leads me to discussions of my own vulnerability, the need for risk-taking.  One of the worst habits I have is the habit of perfectionism.  I also have the ability to strive for excellence, which is quite different.  In some areas of my life (my work in technology) I am able to balance the habit of perfectionism, chiefly because deadlines are deadlines and you just have to deliver at some point.  But also, my work in technology does not move my heart.  It is work, and I do it well.  I do it very well.  But it doesn't matter to me in the same way that, in contrast, writing does. And in those areas that matter most, self-imposed deadlines don't work.  In my writing, I delay stamping a story or essay as capital-F Finished, because it does not yet seem perfect.  By which I mean it does not yet represent the perfect version that existed in my head.  Get.The.Hell.Over.It is my advice to myself these days.

The other way that perfectionism interferes with my joy is in my relationship with my body.  I somehow drifted into a habit of delaying action/trips/dream-making, until my body was the way I wanted it to be - the right weight, fitness level, whatever.  This is not an easy thing to admit. Not everyone who knows me will recognize the truth of this, because I am relatively good at hiding this habit.  I have had a life that let me hide this habit - crowded as it has been the last five years with caring for Jeff and a truly inappropriate work schedule.  I have to own that I constructed this habit, this wall, and now I'm deconstructing it.  It's more difficult than I expected.

I have a deadline for that essay I mentioned, and I know which of my writer colleagues I will ask to give me feedback on it.  My body is gradually becoming my own again, and I am submitting a passport application so that this year I can experience at least one of the places that I've always dreamed of.

I am stronger than I ever knew.  I am more gentle than I ever knew.  I am as joyous as I have always known myself to be.  As always, I am grateful beyond measure for all of these gifts.

Be well wherever this may find you.


Notes on Brene' Brown:
Brown is a woman researcher who essentially fell into her life's work as a shame and vulnerability researcher.  She is a lively and animated speaker on the TED Talks series, and has written several books that deal with what she has termed Wholehearted living. 
One (fabulous) TED talk: