“What does it take to cultivate what we need?”

With Brené, I have found someone holding space for meaning and healing, about doing the work in a grounded and embodied way. She has also given me a framework to engage all of these topics in my own life. She talks about how one of her goals is to define the “gauzy words that are tossed around every day but rarely explained.” She tells stories, her own and the ones she has collected in her research, and she makes the work whole, vibrant, alive, and livable/actionable. Each of her guideposts are a pairing of cultivating and letting go, an ebb and a flow. This relationship is compelling to me, and it helps me understand that wholehearted living is a process of give and take. It is a dynamic shedding and stepping into, and it inspires me every time I discover it. I hope you are able to find some inspiration too.

DIG Deep

An aspect of Brené’s book Gifts that is particularly helpful is how she reframes the concept of digging deep. She learned in her research that people who live wholeheartedly dig deep, but when they dig deep it isn’t about a massive effort to get things done in spite of your burnout and exhaustion. Brené says people who live wholehearted lives DIG deep – “they get Deliberate in their thoughts and behaviors through prayer, meditation, or simply setting their intentions; Inspired to make new and different choices; Going. They take action.” Deliberate, inspired, and going; very different ways of gathering your inner resources than numbing, hustling, and grinding. With each guidepost, she gives an example of how she DIGs deep. Digging deep, like much of Brené’s insights, is a practice. Building a wholehearted life is a process, not a destination. It is a way of being, a continual becoming, repeated engagement.

Get Deliberate, Inspired, and Going.

Guidepost #6 Cultivating Creativity and Letting Go of Comparison

The definition of creativity is the use of the imagination or original ideas… just that. Brené talks about how there is no such thing as creative people and non-creative people (96). Everyone has an imagination, and Brené learned in her research that if we want meaning in our lives, we have to use our imagination, we have to be creative, we need to make art (whatever medium that looks like for you). When we limit our understanding of creativity to a skill that we either have or don’t, we suffer. Creativity is when we stretch our dreaming muscle, when we inhabit the expanse of the human minds ability to envision and conjure and conceive. William Plomer describes creativity as “the power to connect the seemingly unconnected.” We need creativity, we need space for imagination. We stifle our creativity when we live in comparison. Brené says, “Comparison is all about conformity and competition,” (94). If we are conforming and competing, we are fitting in, not belonging. Comparing fuels are hustle for worth, while creativity shines a light on our internal validation.

In my life, I am trying to cultivate creativity by spending time in reflection. I find my creative meaning when I am weaving what I call “word nests.” I find myself living a question, and I will revisit the notes I have taken on various books and quotes I have found. When I find a set of words speaking to my question, I will rewrite them on a large piece of paper. Eventually I have collected a batch of words that all sit next to each other on the page and help me understand and live my question a little more meaningfully. Right now, I am making nests on what it means to “do the work” and what wholeness means. I am letting go of comparison every time I remind myself to stay in my lane. My life is my responsibility. Other’s lives are their responsibility, and I do not need to check in on them (easier said than done).

“If we want to make meaning, we need to make art.” (97)

Guidepost #7 Cultivating Play & Rest and Letting Go of Exhaustion as a Status Symbol and Productivity as Self-Worth

Exhaustion as a status symbol… wow. That is a phrase I had never put together until I read this book, and it shook every bone in my exhausted body. An outcome of the hustle culture that I have been part of is the first thing that goes is rest. I remember once during exam time in college my partner came home to find me on the verge of tears, exhausted. He said, “you know you can take a nap,” to which I looked up at him with genuine surprise – I had forgotten that I could rest when I was completely drained. The fact that I hadn’t even considered rest as an option shows me how entrenched I was in the idea that my worth came from my ability to run way past empty, to leave it all on the field. I believed my worth was dependent on what I got done, and the way to get more done was to sacrifice rest. In reality, we cannot get anything that matters done without proper rest and renewal. Study after study shows how vital sleep is, and we need to start culturally seeing rest as valuable if we want to build meaningful worlds.

Seeing exhaustion as a symbol of hard work and sleep as a luxury is a dangerous game. The science shows that sleep is one of the most important things we can do for healing, growing, immunity, and maintenance. When we sacrifice sleep, we sacrifice health, meaning, and wholeheartedness. Rest isn’t a luxury; it is a requirement. I am learning to cultivate rest in my life by allowing myself more time to take naps and move slower, instead of berating myself for being tired to listen to droopy eyes and unfocused thoughts as signals to let myself rest. I am worthy even when I rest.

As for cultivating play, Brené writes that “Most important, true play that comes from our own inner needs and desires is the only path to finding lasting joy and satisfaction in our work. In the long run, work does not work without play,” (101). Play is doing something solely for the sake of enjoying it; not for productivity, not for status, not for pay. In my life, I am cultivating play in the ways I let myself dance to the music, follow a butterfly through the park, or laugh with my partner. Play isn’t just for children, it is an important part of life well lived.

“It seems that living and loving with our whole hearts requires us to respect our bodies need for renewal.” (101)

Guidepost #8 Cultivating Calm & Stillness and Letting Go of Anxiety as a Lifestyle

Brené defines calm as, “creating perspective and mindfulness while managing emotional reactivity,” (106). Again, cultivating calm is a practice, something you can learn and skill up in your life. Creating perspective is about noticing the space between your perception and your reaction; it is a practice that helps create agency and bring you an increased feeling of control in your life. I think calm is an underrated value. What I know is the people in my life who have consciously built reservoirs of calm within themselves are the most resilient, present, and loving people I know. Calm is an under sung confidence and ease, and I aspire to be a person who shows up with this kind of presence. In my life, more calm looks like noticing my reactivity, noticing when my shoulders (my haunches) are up and breathing to lower them back down. I admire the way Brené puts calm and anxiety in the same arena. She talks about how we have made anxiety a lifestyle, and in so doing have undervalued calm; both its practice and its value.

For me, anxiety as a lifestyle looks like choosing behaviors, practices, events, and people that put me on edge in order for me to feel worthy, productive, or valued. Living anxiety was demonstrated in the ways my family would fight, and how I would take this activation and meanness into my relationships with partners and friends… anxiety as a lifestyle is very much related to the ways we live out of trauma bonds before we cultivate the calm and stillness required to change the way we move in the world.

“Stillness is not about focusing on nothingness; it’s about creating a clearing. It’s opening up an emotionally clutter-free space and allowing ourselves to feel and think and dream and question.” (108)

Guidepost #9 Cultivating Meaningful Work and Letting Go of Self-Doubt and “Supposed To”

One of the pieces of Brené’s work that has been the most important for me is the vocabulary she has created. She says one of her goals is “finding and naming the subtle often unspoken connections between how we think, feel, and act,” (111). I believe she executes this intention beautifully, and in so doing helps me to create meaning in my life and work. Having the words to understand values, boundaries, and belonging makes all the difference. Brené talks about meaningful work as work that is aligned with our gifts, talents, and values. She advocates that we all have gifts and talents, and that our real work is to share them with the world. This sharing is not always paired with income. The importance is the way doing meaningful work allows us to show up as our true selves in the world, and the way doing meaningful work gives power back to us. (There is a reason power and energy are synonyms). I am cultivating meaningful work in my life when I practice Charles Duhigg’s concept of real productivity and choose to do the things that matter. I cultivate meaningful work when I write articles that pertain to the questions I am living and learning.

Self-doubt and “supposed to” are things that get in the way of using our gifts and talents. Overcoming supposed to is all about learning to trust our inner voice and our own knowing; we know what we want and need, we just have to train ourselves to listen, remember, and honor them. In my life, I have been able to recognize when I am doing something out of perceived obligation or intrinsic motivation, and the work comes in the moment where I decide what to do next – do I keep doing the supposed to action or do I switch course? Trying to do the latter more often. Self-doubt is a hard lesson for me, and it has been helpful to hear Brené talk about the antidote to self-doubt being worthiness. Not worthy tomorrow, not worthy after the promotion, not worthy after losing the weight, but worthy NOW. I believe it is my job to learn to love myself, to be my first and greatest supporter. And it is a challenge. No one else will prioritize your life for you. It is your job to show up for yourself. To do the work to build a life you love for you, and to let the effects ripple out.

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” Howard Thurman

Guidepost #10 Cultivating Laughter, Song, & Dance and Letting Go of Being Cool and “Always in Control”

“Laughter, song, and dance create emotional and spiritual connection; they remind us of the one thing that truly matters when we are searching for comfort, celebration, inspiration, or healing: We are not alone.” (118)

Another thing I am learning about being an adult from taking care of children is the value of laughter, song, and dance. I am in awe of who these things bring the kids and myself back into our bodies and set joy free. I am in awe of how these tiny humans let their bodies move how they want to, their laughs project as far as it can, and their voices to be fun, without any thought for whether or not it is cool or not. Too often being an adult has meant being cool and caring about how you look. I am more interested in a world that has fun and connection than one that is caught up in the glamour of it all. Letting myself enjoy this freedom with these children is how I am learning to cultivate more laughter, song, and dance in my life.

“When we value being cool and in control over granting ourselves the freedom to unleash the passionate, goofy, heartfelt, and soulful expressions of who we are, we betray ourselves. When we consistently betray ourselves, we can expect to do the same to the people we love.” (123)

Closing Thoughts

“The truth is that meaningful change is a process. It can be uncomfortable and is often risky, especially when we’re talking about embracing our imperfections, cultivating authenticity, and looking the world in the eye and saying, ‘I am enough.’” (125)

Brené Brown has been an important teacher in my life. She has a created a wholehearted community that I am proud to be part of, and I love the belonging it brings to my life. She is teaching me to say I am enough and to find meaning in the process of building a meaningfully life. This summer Brené got together with her sisters and they did a podcast series on The Gifts of Imperfection. You can listen here. I found is vulnerable, honest, and heartening. You will find more pearls there, and I hope you enjoyed the summary on Brené’s book.