On being vulnerable…

I was friends with “Hannah” for two years. Nearly every day for two years we would go on walks together. We’d walk and talk about our lives. I knew Hannah’s entire family, and Hannah knew everything about me.

I gauge my love of people by a “kidney test.” I ask myself “If that person needed my kidney, would I give it to them?” I would have given Hannah my kidney. Actually, both of them.

One (or both) of these could be yours!

Then, I got divorced. We went for a walk and I told Hannah I was divorcing my then husband. And soon after – Hannah just stopped talking to me. Hannah exiting our friendship remains one of the weirdest things that has ever happened to me. When I asked Hannah what I’d done to her, she told me “I don’t agree with your choices.”

Hannah was the last time I ever let myself get close to a new friend. Since her, no new friend has ever passed the kidney test. It’s been five years.

A few months ago, a friend from church sent me Brene Brown’s video on vulnerability.

If ever there lived a researcher who is likely my life twin, it would be Brene Brown.

I watched Brene’s video once, and I didn’t get it. So I watched the video again, and a little bit more sunk in. Then I watched the video a third time, and had an emotional breakdown.

The crux of the video is that the happiest people are vulnerable. And vulnerable people are courageous. And courageous people are those that live whole-hardheartedly. And people that are whole-hearted put all of themselves into what they do.

Vulnerable I was not. I sit behind a computer screen all day typing and playing with data. In person, I tell people personal things in an attempt to connect. But if I’m honest – really honest – my bags are always packed. And the sad thing about packed bags is that they always leave you feeling a little lonely.

Then, Brene Brown happened.

When I worked in Detroit I fell in love (co-worker love) with a woman name Ashley. If you’ve ever met Ashley, you love her too. It is impossible not to love her. And you love Ashley – because every moment you’re with her you get 100%. Ashley loves you, she loves life – and most importantly – she loves herself. She is beautifully confident in the fact that she is an amazing person (and she is… oh she is).

So I bought Brene’s book, and I’ve watched her video a fourth and fifth and sixth time. My goal – was to be my own version of Ashley. I’ve spent the last several months trying to be more vulnerable, and trying harder to connect with people.

The lynch pin of being vulnerable comes from one key thought – that you need to be resilient to shame. Shame is when you feel bad about who you are. Shame is the belief that we are unworthy of love and belonging. According to Brene, “The people who have a strong sense of love and belonging believe they’re worthy of love and belonging. That’s it.”

Hannah broke me. I’d never had a friend get so close, and then leave. And since her, I’ve spent every encounter keeping myself a safe distance from everyone. If Hannah could just leave one day because she didn’t like my choices, who else would just leave? Maybe I’m just not good enough?

But if I want to feel connected, I can’t continue to live the lie of thinking that I’m not good enough. I have to move on.

So a few nights ago I made cupcakes for my co-workers. I’m trying harder to get to know them. But when I tried one of the cupcakes, the damn ganache settled to the bottom in a sloppy mess.

My first thought was, “I can’t give this to people.”

My deeper thought was, “Because if these aren’t perfect people will be upset.”

But my real thought was, “And if these aren’t perfect, then I’m not perfect. And if I’m not perfect people won’t love me.”

Then I thought of the book. And then I thought of living with my whole heart. And then I thought of shame resilience. And then I served my co-workers the cupcakes anyways, and mentioned that the ganache wasn’t perfect but that the frosting was.

And with a cupcake, a layer of shame came off. My resilience was built up. One more shirt was taken out of the suitcase.

I don’t know what’s next, but I know I’m going to keep trying – because I am worthy.

My cupcake brings all the friends to the yard.

On my mission field…

You haven’t lived until you’ve cried in front of your boss. You new-ish boss.

Someone very close to me has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). COPD does not kill you, but it makes your life very uncomfortable. People COPD are often short of breath, they may wheeze a lot, and they are prone to respiratory infections. Watching this person I love live with COPD is difficult. They have trouble walking quickly, and sometimes they struggle to breath. For most people, breathing is just what we do. But with COPD – breathing is difficult.

Working as an analyst at a hospital I’m asked for a lot of data. A few weeks ago my boss asked if I could pull data on COPD, and then present the findings to a group of leaders. The data pull was simple enough. Login, enter the parameters, some excel stuff – and presto – COPD data.

But then I had to present the data.

I drove to the meeting alone and thought about what I was going to say. The more I thought about COPD, the more I thought about the person I love. The more I thought about the person I love struggling to grab air, I started to cry.

I see more data than you can ever imagine; rows and columns of numbers and percentages. I have login after login for number after number. My excel sheets have excel sheets.

But in health care, numbers aren’t numbers – they are people.

And in this report – COPD wasn’t just a diagnosis code – it was a person.

And this person, was someone I love.

I’ve worked as an analyst for about 10 years. I’ve pulled data on everything from Pop Tarts to Free Press page views. I’ve always believed my role as a data analyst is special. I get to be the person that sees all of this data, and hears from ALL of these people, and I get to summarize what I see to people that can make changes. I feel humbled to be this person that gets to represent so many voices.

Tell a VP about the year-over-year percent change and why we’re flat? Not a problem.

Market share reports for the north region? You got it.

But yesterday, for the first time in my life, the data I was going to speak on represented someone close to me. And even though I practiced what I would say, I could not get past the tears.

I got to the meeting looking like a soggy mess and had to tell my boss, “I can’t stop crying. I need you to do this.” And she did, because she’s fantastic. Then, my tears brought forth conversation. My boss and I began talking about this person I love, and how with this data – maybe we can help more people. I think we will.

For the first time in my adult life I get to work in the community where I live. These numbers are my neighbors, and people I care about. When I talk about them, I’m talking about people I love.

I may never lead a church or travel to another country to preach. But these numbers are my purpose. And when I speak about them, I know that this is what I was always meant to do.

Yesterday, I fell in love with my job.

Yesterday, everything became real.

 Today, and tomorrow, and every day after – numbers are my mission field.