How-To: the All-knowing Shortcut Around Authenticity



I’ve been watching my computer screen as a video renders for a while now, and because there is nothing inherently honorable about watching a screen in silent stillness for two hours, I opened my kindle reader, scrolled past all of the novels, and settled on a book I purchased who knows how long ago – years at least.  It’s a book I hadn’t made it through the acknowledgements of yet.

The title of the Book is The Gifts of Imperfection, and it was written by Brene Brown.

I’ve already made notes and typed snippets for myself to read later (oh if only Kindle let you copy and paste).  But she shared a story that stopped me in my tracks.  You’ll have to read the book to get the specifics, but basically she was giving a talk at a country club, and when the woman in charge found out she studied shame and vulnerability, she freaked out and told Brene Brown to leave out the shame stuff, be light and breezy, and give a simple how-to for joy.  I’m going to share the words that smacked me below:

For the first time, I realized that the country club woman wasn’t out to sabotage my talk…Her list was symptomatic of our cultural fears.  We don’t want to be uncomfortable.  We want a quick and dirty “how-to” list for happiness.

I don’t fit that bill.  Never have.  Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to skip over the hard stuff, but it just doesn’t work.  We don’t change, we don’t grow, we don’t move forward without the work.  If we really want to live a joyful, connected, and meaningful life, we must talk about the things that get in the way.”

How to is a seductive shortcut, and I understand that.  Why cross the swamp if you can just bypass it? But here’s the dilemma: Why is “how to” so alluring when, truthfully, we already know “how to,” yet we’re still standing in the same place…”

This didn’t slap me because it shook up my comfort zone.  It slapped me because…YES! Yes.  I know…KNOW this is true.  Even after years of believing the lie that a shallow skate across the how-to checklists would “fix” everything, I know it wouldn’t.  It won’t.  Maybe when I’m really brave I’ll tell that story.  But for now suffice it to say, you cannot cure invasive cancer by putting a really pretty Band-Aid on it.  You cannot make a corolla into a Ferrari by taking the corolla body off and putting a Ferrari body on.  You cannot redo an old house with any stability if you ignore the shaky foundation that was caused by that flood ten years ago.  And you cannot make a dog into a cat just by teaching it to meow and wash itself.

I know because I tried.  I tried to ignore my shame, my life, my fears, my feelings, the motivations I had deep down inside (even of some of those motivations were lies).  I tried to ignore everything under the surface of my skin and create a new life with a checklist.  It doesn’t work.  Even the Bible says “be transformed by the renewing of your mind,” and calls believers a “new creation.” I really don’t think new creation means a new coat of paint and a toolbox with a list of rules.  Otherwise why would the original word for transformation be like the metamorphosis that occurs with a caterpillar.  He doesn’t just get wing stapled to his back and told to follow “these 5 steps exactly so you can fly.”  Nope.  He goes into a cocoon and is a completely different creature when he emerges.  And even the emerging is a painful task.  One that he must perform himself so that he can fly.

But…back to the book.  See, I think there is another insidious side to “how-to’s.”  If we have all the answers in a neat list (or someone else has all the answers and we decide to believe them), then not only can we skate over the discomfort, we can feel really good about how much we know and ignore our own niggling shame by shaming others who do not follow the same steps.  I think we balk at other’s search for vulnerability, meaning, and roadblocks as a way to distract ourselves from our own.

I’ll write another time about Brene Brown’s thoughts about love, but suffice it to say that she doesn’t see it as a mathematical equation.  If love is not a mathematical equation, then addition and subtraction aren’t enough to create or sustain it.  And if they aren’t, then the how-to’s that help us do the math aren’t enough either.  And boy is that scary…or freeing.

So I sit here celebrating the fact that a list is not enough.  Because I don’t want to live in a world where life consists of check boxes and leger sheets and not know the why of anything, and no one really knowing me.

So thank you, Brene Brown.  I’d rather be afraid of the depth than be parched in the puddle.


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