Monday, February 06, 2012

"Just show up and get wet."

Yesterday, my daughter and I had the delight and privilege to hear Brené Brown speak at a local church here in Charlotte. I've enjoyed her writing, her blog, and her TED talks for two or three years, so it was a joy to hear her in person. To meet her. To shake her hand. And even to get my photo taken with her.

She is a beautiful woman who tells funny, poignant, heart-rending and heart-mending stories about the lives we lead, the ways in which we deal with our challenges, and the necessity of courage, love, connection, and belonging in our lives.

She told a story about her daughter, who used to be a competitive swimmer. This young girl hated doing the breast stroke and admitted that she wasn't very good at it. In fact, she wished she didn't have to compete in the 100 meter breast stroke at an upcoming swim meet. Her coach was unmoved by her pleas. In a pre-race conversation, she and her mother, the thoughtful Brené, agreed that victory in the race would be measured in one simple way. The daughter simply had to show up and get wet.

She was called to the starting blocks, dove in, and, as she expected, she was the last one to finish her heat. By the time she had pulled her exhausted body out of the pool, the girls in the next heat were standing by the blocks ready to begin. She was upset about her last place finish, but with tears streaming down her face, she spoke the words we all need to say more often in our lives: "But I was brave, wasn't I?"

Brené went on to give examples of how we as parents, as spouses, as siblings, as children, we as workers, as friends, and as human beings live in a world at a time when expertise is the only thing that counts. If we can't do it well, expertly, then we probably shouldn't bother at all. If I'm not the best mother at the play group, the best dressed woman at the party, the best writer in the group, the best hostess on the block, the sexiest, the best looking, the fittest person in the workout class, the wealthiest, the smartest, the wittiest, the happiest in my marriage, the most extraordinary, if I can't be the best, the strongest, the fastest, the most ____________ of all, then I may as well stay home. "Go big or stay home," right?

What if we stepped back from the edge of all this competitiveness and angst and gave ourselves, our friends, our family members, and most especially our children, permission to "simply show up and get wet"? What if we found ways to stop comparing ourselves to everyone around us and learned to accept others and ourselves as we are, where we are?

What if my house is not the cleanest?
What if my car is not the newest or fanciest?
What if my kids aren't the best behaved or the smartest?
What if I'm not the most organized?
What if I'm not a great cook?
What if I'm not the most environmentally conscious?
What if I don't know much about politics and don't care to know more?
What if I'm not "extraordinary" at all? (And by "extraordinary," I mean worthy of a reality TV show...)

Brené said something profound, something that we forget far too easily -
Whether or not we are ever the most _______________,
however we choose to fill in that blank,
whether or not we ever get to the pinnacle of whatever mountain we are climbing,
whether or not we have the best kids, the most kids, or no kids at all,
whether we have the best home, the largest home, the greenest home, or no home at all,
whether we are married, separated, divorced, or not interested in any of those categories,
whether or not, whatever or not,
no matter what,
our worth is non-negotiable.
our value is unchanged.
we are all, we are each worthy of love no matter what we accomplish or don't accomplish,
no matter what we do or don't do,
say or don't say,
achieve or don't achieve.
Who you are, who I am, who we are matters
because we are alive, because we were born.

I'm leaving the house in a few minutes to begin an art class - watercolor painting - a continuing education class through the local community college. I haven't taken an art class since junior high school. Despite the voice in my head that has been telling me that my art won't count unless I have a solo exhibit at the local museum of fine art, I am determined to simply show up and get wet. Wet with paint. Wet with tears of joy and delight and embarrassment. No matter what the outcome, I'm going to show up and make a holy mess.


Lisa said...

Wonderful. :)

Steve Ames said...

Hi Gail, I run an arts center... I'll hang your work! - Steve (Ames '87), from Williams... from our freshman entry... Your blog is wonderful, thanks for writing it, and you have a place to land in Northern Vermont, even if you don't want to exhibit your recent work! ;-)