I remember being filled with such excitement and anticipation when in early April I discovered that Brené Brown was coming to London to give a talk at The School of Life. I immediately posted the details on Facebook, and notified a few of the guys who had journeyed with us at The Quest about the event. Since discovering Brené’s work via her TED talks, Darren (Co-Founder of The Quest) and myself had often referred to her research in our work with gay men on the issue of shame, vulnerability and courage.
I got out my diary to put in the date and then noticed that I had another engagement on the same day, which I could not get out of – or could I? I was in the process of starting a monthly group coaching session in June, and our second session would clash with the Brené event. I debated whether to move the session, but everything was already in place and so I gradually settled to the possibility of the talk making its way to YouTube and seeing it there.
Few weeks later as Ernesto, (fellow collaborator at The Quest) told me that he had his ticket for The School of Life event, I silently debated whether I could take my coaching group for an outing to see Brené, but by that stage the tickets were all gone. ‘Oh well, that’s that’ I thought!’
During The Quest’s May weekend workshop for Gay Men, Ernesto read a couple of extracts from Daring Greatly and The Gifts of Imperfection and we soon got talking about Brené and her imminent visit. We talked about how it would be great to find out more about her work as it relates to the lives of gay men. Ernesto mentioned that he was planning to ask her a few questions during the book signing. ‘Wonderful’, I thought – does not matter if I’m not there, at least someone I know will get to ask the questions I was thinking… but that feeling soon passed and later that week I thought ‘why don’t I touch base with Brené directly to see if we could get an interview’. I had tried to make contact last year and on discovering that I could only find contact details for her agent, I gave up. This time I was more determined, as I sat down to compose and send off an email.
A few minutes after sending off the email, I found myself re-reading what I had sent – just to ensure that I had not imagined the whole thing and then I saw it……. I had mistakenly referenced Brené’s talk in London as taking place on 5 June, instead of 5 July. Immediately I found myself caught up in a shame attack of ‘I am not good enough’ and ‘they will think I am not worthy of an interview if I cannot even get basic facts right’ – the perfectionist in me wanted to send another email apologizing for the error and the other wanted to simply put my head in the sand and pretend it never happened. I did nothing, and simply thought ‘well it was a good email and what will be, will be’.
I never told anyone about the interview request – just in case it never came to be – then no one would ever know how I took a chance, and no one would ever know about any feelings of disappointment or rejection that I might feel. In Daring Greatly, Brené refers to this as ‘foreboding joy’ – a way of preventing ourselves from being vulnerable – I know that landscape very well!
Weeks passed and nothing. And then one morning as I lay in bed going through my inbox I saw it – an email from Brené’s agent saying yes to my request and letting me know that they will be in touch to coordinate dates. I yelled so loud that my partner who was in the other room checked to see that all was okay. I could not find the words to express my elation as I shared the wonderful news. It was then I notified Darren and Ernesto – both of whom sent back emails ending with loads of !!!!!!!!
Even though I shared the Brené news with my partner, Darren and Ernesto, I noticed that I did not spread the news any further. Old wounds of disappointments and being let down by family, friends and loved ones resurfaced. To open myself to being vulnerable about really wanting the meeting to take place felt really uncomfortable. I found myself longing for certainty; I promised myself to let others know once we had an exact date and I felt shame for not allowing myself to simply be more open and to dare greatly.
A couple of days after telling Darren and Ernesto about the interview, one of the guys who had taken The Quest workshop sent me an SMS congratulating me on the interview – unlike me, Darren had notified a few people to spread the joy. I wanted to respond by playing it down; after all we did not have an exact date and the request could be rescinded. Yet, getting that SMS made me realize that regardless of whether the interview took place or not, I had reached out and expressed a request, and that was worthy of celebrating. I was reminded of the fact that I do not always have control over what happens, but I do have control over how I choose to respond to situations!
The interview was soon confirmed by Brené’s UK publishers; Darren, Ernesto and myself then moved to the next phase of deciding on the questions we wanted to ask – and what to wear to the interview!
The day of the interview arrived. I was nervous as I got ready that morning. I wondered how I would be in the interview – will I be myself or will I find myself – as Brené would say ‘hustling for worthiness’, in my longing for connection and desire to be liked.
We got to Brené’s hotel, the venue for the interview, an hour early. We chatted, reconnected and individually declared what our intentions were for ourselves and for the interview. My intention for the interview was for it to flow and for myself, it was for me to be me and not the ‘me’ that I thought I should be.
In setting up the interview, Brené’s publishers had said to ask for her at reception. At the designated time I made my way across. On telling the man behind the reception desk that I was there to see Brené Brown, he dialed her room and then passed me the phone – ‘Oh God!’ I thought! The fact is, I had replayed how that moment was going to work in my head. The person behind the desk would call and tell Brené that I was downstairs and she would then make her way down. No way had I bargained for having a phone conversation. Everything happened in slow motion, as I saw the phone gradually make its way towards me. My heart was already beating faster and I could feel my head perspiring. I heard myself say ‘is that Brené (my internal voice said – that’s so familiar you should say Dr Brown). To her “Yes”, I heard myself say “I’m Ade, here from The Quest for our interview (my internal voice said something like – now you’re being too formal!). The conversation was short, but it felt like a lifetime, I raced back to Darren and Ernesto – “OMG! I just spoke to Brené” I mouthed. I told the guys how nervous I was as I recounted each moment of our conversation. As I shared the story with the guys I wondered how our interview was going to unfold, would I be able to get my words out or was I going to be dumbstruck! I rushed off to the restroom to take some deep breaths and wipe off my now fully perspired head.
Murdoch, Brené’s agent came down shortly after the phone call. We chatted about Brené’s work and a bit about The Quest and then Brené arrived.
When Darren and myself started working together two years ago, our main aim was to provide a space where gay men can come together and investigate the ‘stuff’ that was getting in the way of them living a life of meaning, purpose and authenticity. When we ran our first workshop, we had no idea how the project was going to unfold. We had talked about shame using The Velvet Rage, by Alan Downs as a reference point, and as our work expanded and unfolded we discovered Brené Brown. As we sat down for the interview, I thought of the guys who attended our very first workshop in June 2011 and how significant this moment was. Here we were 2 years on talking to someone who was on the global stage exploring the human issues that we were also exploring with gay men.
Yes, the first few moments of the interview was us gushing about the opportunity and then we launched into the conversation – it felt like comrades sitting down to reconnect, talk and explore. The conversation flowed, and I did not have time to ponder whether I was being myself or not – I simply was myself, for there was no time to be someone else.
As I reflect on my journey to meeting Brené, what I have reconnected with is the value in expressing my needs – requesting what I want; rather than ignoring, denying or discounting my needs and wants. Very often when I express a need or want, I find myself going into that place of unworthiness – who do you think you are? I can often hear my inner voice ask. And in sending off that email requesting the interview, l reconnected with the long forgotten child in me who always dared to ask, dared to risk rejection and dared to be vulnerable. It’s still an ongoing process for me, but I am continuing to learn that when I allow myself to be vulnerable and dare greatly, then a world of possibilities open up!