Last week, I had plans for brunch with a dear friend. We had set the date weeks before, and I was really looking forward to it. This is a friend I cherish, and I love spending time with her.
The day before we were supposed to meet, I got a text from her. “So sorry, but some big work deadlines came up and I can’t make it tomorrow. Let’s reschedule soon!”
My heart sank. I did something I often do when I’m in an icky emotional place: I didn’t respond. I didn’t mean to not respond, but I went into my pattern of, “Ouch. I don’t know how to respond right now. I’ll deal with it later.”
That same day, I started reading, Rising Strong, Brené Brown’s beautiful, potent new book. I was so honored to receive an early copy from Brené last week.
If you don’t know Brené Brown’s work, I’m thrilled to introduce it to you. I think of Brené as a courageous leader, an agent of change and a gifted communicator. She is a stunning example of a woman trusting her own story and voice enough to bring them forward in the service of helping all of us.
Rising Strong is all about how we can come back even stronger, more whole – even healed – when we fail, when we vulnerably share ourselves or our work in some arena (your team, your field, your community, your relationship) and it doesn’t go as you’d hoped.
In the book, Brené writes that anytime we have a strong emotional reaction to something, when our buttons get pushed, we can move through it in a positive way if we “reckon” with it.
In the Rising Strong model, that means we do two things:
We 1) engage with our feelings (rather than deny or repress them) and 2) we “get curious about the story behind the feelings.”
As I was reading Rising Strong, I thought of the text from my friend. Much as I wanted to be able to respond with a casual, “Sure!,” and move on from there, her message had, in fact, evoked a strong emotional reaction in me, and the truth was, it was hurt.
I used the Rising Strong model and asked myself, “What is the story behind these feelings?” There was a quiet, but familiar story there. “If she cancelled so casually, she must not value the time with me as much as I value it with her.” There was another story that went after that, “That’s because she’s so special and whole and together and wonderful, and I’m needy.”
Once I saw those old stories, I could have some compassion for myself. I could see how they were likely untrue. I followed Brené’s next steps – to rumble with the feelings of shame and unworthiness that were part of them – and to choose how I wanted to respond. It was clear to me: I didn’t want to live in that old story. I wanted to live a story of honesty, of honoring my emotions, and of connection.
I sent my friend an honest message back. “Happy to reschedule but I’m disappointed. I miss you and was really looking forward to this time together. And I felt a little hurt by your message because it seemed so casual about canceling.” This felt quite vulnerable to say.
The next time I checked my phone, my friend had written back with a heartfelt apology. She even said the minute she had pressed “send” she felt badly – like she didn’t communicate how she too was very disappointed and had been really looking forward to the time together. She explained that sometimes when she’s upset about something, she kind of writes it off in herself and with others, and she was working on that.
My heart immediately felt open and cheerful again, and I again felt all the reasons why I adore our friendship.
Though what made the difference was just one small choice to be honest and vulnerable, the gulf between the two possible outcomes that could have occurred was huge.
If I hadn’t been prompted by Rising Strong to look at the story around my emotions, to question it, and to choose my behavior from there, a sense of hurt and distance would have lived on in this friendship. And maybe even worse, I would have kept carrying that crappy old “she’s so wonderful; I’m not” story in my head and heart. Instead, I ended up feeling closer to my friend, and so solid in our friendship, and a little bit healed from that old story about myself.
This is only one of many, many ways that I’m looking at things in my life differently because of what is offered so generously on the pages of Rising Strong. I finished the last page and, like my toddler son does with his favorite truck books these days, went right from the back cover to page one to start it all over.
I hope you’ll join me in reading, and in Rising Strong from the difficult moments of your journey. People always say you grow most from the difficult stuff, but this book gives the roadmap how we can do that.
To get started today, ask yourself: what was the last thing that triggered a strong emotional reaction in me? What’s the story I’m carrying behind those emotions? Am I willing to question that story?
That’s just the beginning of the Rising Strong process. Learn the rest (and so much more) in the book. You can pick up your copy here.