Brené Brown, Danielle LaPorte and Not Knowing the Rules
This month I wanted to highlight some of the Great Work Interviews I’ve done over the years – we’ve now got more than 200 posted, yes 200! – so I’ve been listening to a few of them again, as awkward as it is to hear myself stumbling around the conversations.
I started with two of our most popular interviewees, Brené Brown and Danielle LaPorte. Since we talked, Brené has gone on to star again on the TED stage, written another best-selling book Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead and generally shouldered her way onto the A-List. Meantime, Danielle has released the hugely popular The Fire Starter Sessions and also the excellent self-guided program The Desire Map.
So it was reassuring, actually, to remember what wise and funny people these two smart women are, and how important their own normality and vulnerability and messiness is to who they are and what they do. (Yes! Me too!)
Not knowing the rules
Vulnerability is probably an infinite number of shades of the same colour [tweet this] It’s the same for us all and yet shows up differently for us all.
At about 10:30 of our interview, Brené says something that truly struck a chord for me:
Words cannot tell you how much I need to know what the rules are of a game. I don’t mind engaging in a game and I’m really good in a street fight. I’m strong and tough, quick-witted at times. But to go into this whole thing when I don’t know the rules and what the parameters are, it’s a disaster.
In a flash I realize just how much I rely on being able to see the system and work the system for whatever success I have (and more deeply, as a way to maintain a level of self-satisfaction and security.)
But as 49-ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s tattoo says, “my gift is my curse”. Seeing and hacking the rules at one level also keeps me stuck at that level. If I want to “level up” – to push myself to whatever’s next – I have to step into a different arena where I don’t really understand what’s going on, where I lose status and certainty, where it’s oh-so-easy to default to fight or flight because my primitive brain is screaming “THIS IS A DISASTER!”
Step into the mess
Here’s how Danielle’s thinks about it (at about 7:00):
I think what happens to so many people is we’re afraid to even admit how painful things are, how uncomfortable, how unsatisfying they are because we don’t have a solution yet. And my answer to that is don’t worry about the solution, don’t worry about how you’re going to get out of it. Just be fully in the suck factor and then the solution emerges.
This is both useful and unnerving for me to hear. I’v heard a thousand times variations on “the journey is the reward”, and I’m 100% behind that in theory , but in practice it’s deeply discomforting to wait for the solution to emerge.
And yet, if I look at my own work that’s how it’s gone. A friend of mine once offered up the metaphor of swimming underwater. The longer you can hold your breath – staying in the place of uncertainty and ambiguity – the more interesting a place you’ll pop up when you finally do surface, lungs bursting and all.
This isn’t touchy-feely. This is strategic
And just when you’re thinking we’re entering a land of life-coach-speak, full of pastel bromides and , I remember my interview with Julia Sloan, author of Learning to Think Strategically. She rightly rages about how we so easily slap “strategic” onto any old collection of to-do’s, and brings her focus on to some of the key skills required to think strategically.
And at the heart of it is an ability to sit with ambiguity and uncertainty. To understand that there may not be rules in the places where it’s most interesting to play, or the places where you need to be bold, take a stand, take a guess and see what unf0lds.
What are you taking from this? Where’s the wisdom for you in all of this?