Tag Archives: Brene Brown

My Year of Fear

Over three years ago, I started Under the Tapestry with a question: What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

Over three years since my first post! Hard to believe!
Over three years since my first post! Hard to believe!

I answered the question by sharing my story, by putting my words out there, and engaging (with the internet) in an honest and authentic way.

It’s been stilted lately, though, this little blog-o-mine. And I’ve struggled to figure out why.


Last week, I enjoyed my first two days at Leadership Marshfield, a training program put on through the Marshfield Area Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MACCI) focused on enhancing the ability of potential community leaders to function effectively. It was an amazing experience and I’m really excited to continue with the program over the next 7 months… but it’s already had an impact.

Yay, Marshfield! I did this tiny town of mine!! {Source}
Yay, Marshfield! I dig this tiny town of mine!! {Source}

On the second day of the two day retreat, we were instructed to prepare to share our personal leadership hero(es) with the group… with a prop. Naturally, on my way home from day one, I stopped at the (brand spanking new and beautiful) Everett Roehl Marshfield Public Library to check out a copy of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In. (Don’t get me wrong, I own it, of course… but a Kindle just doesn’t make a terribly effective prop, in my opinion.) It was actually on the cart behind the circulation desk to be reshelved, which made my heart happy knowing someone else had recently had their hands on it, and I brought it with me the next day.

Still my favorite -- find it on Amazon here.
Still my favorite — find it on Amazon here or check out your local public library!

The next morning, I stood up in front of the group and talked about my two leadership heroes:

(1) Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and author of Lean In, who changed my entire perspective about what it really means to engage in my life, my workplace, and my community. She taught me not to be ashamed or afraid of what and who I am, to value myself for my talents and my passions, and to move forward, with gusto, whenever I’m able.

(2) Ronda Kopelke, Director of the Marshfield Clinic Center for Community Outreach, who showed me what an amazing manager and leader should look like, up close and in practice. She continues to teach me (literally daily) what it means to really care about the people around you and to help them understand that you do. She’s also shown me how to be solution-oriented and engage with people in a positive, respectful, relationship-focused manner.

I sat back down, and then Shelley from Roehl popped up (sharing at Leadership Marshfield is popcorn-style… mmmmm… popcorn) and was mad/glad that I stole her thunder/had the same leadership role model as her. Again, my heart, so glad!

I thought a lot about Sheryl Sandberg that day, chatted with Shelley about her and about Lean In at the ROPES course (yes, I did the mother effing high ropes!! impressed? I am! go me!) and thought about what it was that reading that book had done for me and how it had changed my trajectory in the first place.

Sheryl Sandberg was the one who had asked me (and the millions and millions of other readers of Lean In) that question that started it all: what would you do if you weren’t afraid?

And I did those things. A lot of them. The blog three years ago. The ROPES course three days ago.

But I had never thought about the converse question:

What does it look like when you’re living in fear?


I know the answer now. Not on purpose. Not because I want to. But I look back on the last year and I can see, so clearly, what it looks like when I am afraid and I choose to live there.

I run. Literally, metaphorically. All of the above. I ran from my life and from everything that hurt and was scary. I ran and ran and ran. A marathon. Until I broke my foot (not literally, I just pulled a ligament, but it hurts like a b, so there’s that). I ate my way through Festival Foods to run from feelings and stopped vacuuming my floors. I ran from real life. I said yes to everything and anything at work to run from free time and I have ensured that I’ve had none over these past several months. No time to think or dwell, only run. From one assignment to the next. One workout to the next. One bag of chips (or box of candy, carton of ice cream, etc) to the next.

Yeah, I ate a lot... but I ran a lot too. So let's let the photo be of that at this point ;)
Yeah, I ate a lot… but I ran a lot too. So let’s let the photo be of that at this point 😉

I even ran from writing and sharing and speaking and connecting. So much of me was just so tender and everything and anything could be salt in the wound without warning.

I have been afraid.


Of what, though, really? Grief after a miscarriage is one thing, but fear? I mean, fear that it would happen again would be rational… but you have to get pregnant first for that to be a possibility… getting pregnant is even less my strong suit than staying pregnant, so what then?

The what, I have to assume, is failure. That infertility wins and this is it. And “it” is failure. A life of settling because I can’t do the thing I want to do. That I felt so strongly I was supposed to do. Meant to do even. Family is the next step — love, (schoooooool), marriage… baby carriage. Even my childhood rhymes said so!

It hurts to fail. And I can do physical pain, but emotional? Nope. I hate it. It feels bad to be jealous, too. And I felt like I had replaced my rose-colored glasses with green ones, everywhere I looked ultrasounds and bumps and even literal baby carriages that weren’t mine. Might very well never be. I don’t like those feelings. I don’t like to fail. So I ran, cowered, stopped vacuuming.


This September, the anniversary of all the bad stuff came and went. The missing heartbeat on September 11th. The surgery on the 16th. The black days immediately after when I felt like I couldn’t breath… and didn’t want to. A year later, I’m still here. Still moving. And slowly recognizing a haze of fear. Recognition.


I take you back to the scene in Love Actually when Mark confesses his completely unrequited love to Juliet (yes, I’ve literally already said this) and then walks away, saying to himself, “Enough. Enough now.” It’s like that. Just like that.

Enough now.

Time to move on. To stop being afraid. Or, at the very least, to stop running from it. To face fear head on. Like Brene Brown and FDR’s man in the arena (highly recommend Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly). But also like Shana Niequist in Present Over Perfect (my newest and truest literary love affair) — sitting with it, even when it’s uncomfortable. Letting myself feel it and living my life anyway.

We have a lot of moments in life that are before and after type moments. Things that define us. But sometimes the moment is longer than a moment. Sometimes the moment is more like a year. For me, it was a year of fear. A year spent running, but getting nowhere. Except back to life. And that’s ok.

The Paper Tiger Breeding Program: Thoughts on Leadership

A couple weeks ago I saw a great documentary called Paper Tigers, which illustrates the effect of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) on behavior and other health outcomes by following students and staff at Lincoln Alternative High School in Walla Walla, Washington over the course of a school year. It was incredible movie. It really does a beautiful job of making  what has always been, for me, an academic/philosophical discussion of ACEs real. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. A full-length documentary? So very many more! If you’re at all interested in the effects of childhood trauma or the social determinants of health, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Despite my familiarity with the topic (I routinely work with our clinic’s child abuse physician on programmatic and research endeavors, particularly those related to ACEs and trauma-informed care), I didn’t get the title until two-thirds of the way through the movie. As one of the featured teachers speaks over scenes of the school, he explains that the traumas these children have experienced have left their brains incapable of differentiating between real and imaginary threats; between real and paper tigers.

Light bulb!

I loved the concept so much! So I did some hard hitting, in-depth research. Ahem. According to Wikipedia:

Paper tiger is a literal English translation of the Chinese phrase zhilaohu (紙老虎). The term refers to something that seems threatening but is ineffectual and unable to withstand challenge.” {Source}

I just loved that distinction so much — real vs. paper tigers. It was so striking in the context of this movie… and then a few days later, still rolling it around in my mind, I had reasoned it into a completely different context.

Real tigers are dangerous. Ask Siegfried and Roy. Ask Pi (from The Life of…).

Yet… real tigers are also the shiz. Even in the examples above. Even after an attack that may or may not have been “secondary and accidental,” Siegfried and Roy continued their magic show full of tigers (and lions too! oh my!) and now maintain a menagerie in Las Vegas. And what would Pi have done without the striped and terrifying Richard Parker?

Real Tigers: Stripes and Teeth, Talent and Danger {Source and Source}
Real Tigers: Stripes and Teeth, Talent and Danger {Source and Source}

Paper tigers, on the other hand, are only an illusion. They look like tigers, but they’re not dangerous. Nor are they the shiz. They’re just paper — no threat, but no talent either. Except that, like Daniel Tiger, they can go to the potty.


And that’s what I want to talk about, really.

Not every job, every position, every organization needs to be full of tigers. But when you’ve got a tiger, a beautiful, brilliant, maybe even somewhat dangerous tiger, it seems only logical that as a leader, you’d want to make them the star of the show, a la Siegfried and Roy. Or at least learn to appreciate their company, like Pi. Instead, we see tigers in an organizational context (e.g., work, church, school, clubs) reduced in whatever way possible — trim the claws, pull the teeth, tranquilize. And beautiful beasts slink away from places where they could have done so much good with their tails between their legs, a roar stifled in their throat.

To fill the vacancy? An influx of paper tigers. Threat reduced to no more than a paper cut. Leadership can relax.

But is someone in a leadership role really a leader if they can’t appreciate a real tiger?

This, I believe, is the crux of the problem. Too often we conflate management and leadership. We end up fooled into believing that they are one and the same.

I would suggest, however, that management and leadership are two separate and distinct constructs– not mutually exclusive, but to be certain, each can and does exist without the other.

Brene Brown puts it poignantly in the introduction to Chapter 6 Disruptive Engagement: Daring to Rehumanize Education and Work in her book Daring Greatly. She says:

“Before we start this chapter, I want to clarify what I mean by ‘leader.’ I’ve come to believe that a leader is anyone who holds her- or himself accountable for finding potential in people and processes. The term leader has nothing to do with position, status, or number of direct reports.”

I’m completely in love with this definition for two reasons. First, it explicitly removes position and power from the notion of leadership. Second, it centers on an idea of leadership characterized by accountability and a desire to recognize, appreciate, and make use of the talents, skills, and other valuable traits of those around you.

To bring this idea back to my own long-winded metaphor, a leader is someone who keeps the company of tigers. Real tigers. And likes it.


But what about the danger?


In Daring Greatly, Brown’s entire premise revolves around a really amazing quotation from a 1910 speech given by Theodore Roosevelt:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the area, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again,

because there is no effort without error and short-coming, but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worth cause;

who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly…”

As an academician, clinician, and shame researcher, Brene Brown describes how this whole idea of daring greatly is based on the willingness to be vulnerable. To allow ourselves to be seen, to open ourselves up to hurt, and to be willing to fail.

Most importantly, none of these things require position, status, or power. And since that’s the case… can do it, you can do it, anyone can do it anywhere. As such, I think more of us need to lead from where we are, when we’re there, and in whatever way we can. Refuse to be de-clawed, continue to roar, and appreciate the stripes of the other tigers around us. Look those tigers in the eye and thank them for being big and beautiful and brilliant and special. Maybe even encourage a paper tiger to leap off the page (like Pinocchio — I’m a real boy!).

I spend a lot of time feeling frustrated about my position and I suspect a lot of others do too. We feel unappreciated and powerless in our organizations, but we’re not because we can look out for other tigers and make ourselves accountable for recognizing their potential. We can lead from where we are… step out of the paper tiger breeding program and roar our loudest roar.

Moo: July is for IVF

Remember the show Malcolm in the Middle? You know, before Brian Cranston was a psychotic meth head and back when he was just a suburban dad trying to make ends meet while honing his speed walking career…


Regardless of whether you remember it, there’s this excellent line that Reese, older of the middle two brothers, had in one episode that my friend and former roommate Steph and I (Steph-and-I… Steph-an-ie… Stephanie…) just adored that went a little something like this:

“My God. Women are the cows of people.”

As I chatted with my cousins-in-law this afternoon (because Seth’s cousin Meg says she and I are cousins-in-law, and Gary and Holly are Seth’s cousin and Seth’s cousin’s wife, respectively, so by extension, also cousins-in-law to me…), I realized how very true that is. Gary, the Gary of Gary’s Dairy in Halder, WI, was super inquisitive about my IVF drugs, you see… because it’s the same stuff he gives his ladies. And all of his ladies (with the exception of the lovely Holly and their crazy baby girl Ella) are cows.

My God. Women are the cows of people.

I mean, of course they are on account of bull : cow : : man : woman (thank the good lord I never have to take the SAT again), but the fact that me and the cows are kinda doing the same dang thing? Well. That was something.

Perhaps if I mosey my way into a stanchion, Gary can give me a hand with some of the injections…


So, yeah, all that to say… July has begun, and so has IVF. It’s been super stressful and emotional and crazy already. I won’t bore you with the details, which have been stressful and emotional and crazy really only to me (what do you mean you’re not shipping one of my drugs, pharmacy?! also… I got super defensive during a mandated appointment with a clinical psychologist and made Seth very uncomfortable), but no matter, it has started.

On Sunday, I took my last birth control pill. On Tuesday morning, I got up at 4:00 am and drove to Madison for my baseline ultrasound and blood work. Tomorrow morning, I start injecting myself with some stuff. And on Saturday evening, I add more stuff. Four injections a day plus lots and lots of ultrasounds until they tell me to use what I can only describe as “the big needle” to deliver a trigger shot (go eggs go!!) and then surgery. They say I can expect headaches first, then bloating, then hot flashes and tiredness and moodiness and breakouts (and probably freakouts) and so on until the week of the 19th when I have surgery to retrieve the eggs my body is supposed to be cooking up. Followed by fertilization, implantation, and the dreaded two-week-wait.

That stanchion, a nice pile of hay and oats right in my face, access to water ad libitum… it’s all looking pretty good right now. Better than living real life around all of the above, don’t you think? I wonder if Gary has some space… moo?


But, I guess, in that respect at least, I’m not a cow. And I have a lot more control, a lot more space to emote, and significantly more complex responsibilities (p < 0.05).


The craziest part of it all is the uncertainty. I don’t know how I’m going to feel or how I’m going to react and I’m not super great at dealing with uncertainty or with feelings. So. There’s that. Also, I tend to be very black and white with myself — I’m either doing awesome or suck, suck, suck at everything, which leaves very little room for grace.

So what to do about all of that? I don’t really know. I can’t run (original title of this post: Fat Girl Walking, but I’m gonna go ahead and save that for another day) or do yoga. I have been spending a lot of time eating lactose and being sorry for it later, but I suspect that’s also a bad plan and maybe even some sort of subconscious punishment for not doing as well as I want to be doing. But I am trying (trying) to do some productive and healthy things — I read Brene Brown, I subscribed to Headspace and practice mindfulness, I listen to Dean Koontz books while taking long long walks around town, I keep a gratitude journal, I read Shauna Niequist’s Savor over breakfast every morning, and perhaps most importantly, I sometimes find the strength to say these words:

I’m scared. I’m sad. This is hard.

And Tom replied, “here’s a picture of our niece’s disturbingly realistic horse:”

Tom's Text

And I smiled even though I was scared and sad and this is hard. Where “this” refers to IVF, not the horse’s genitalia. Obviously.


This afternoon, I had a meeting with a child and adolescent psychologist. It was a legit work meeting, not actually a therapy session (as I’m neither child nor adolescent), but the psychologist I was talking to went through IVF herself and knows about my deal so we spent the first couple minutes talking about that. Free therapy — woot woot! Seriously though, my favorite thing she always says is that despite all she went through (and it was a lot), if she could go back, she wouldn’t change a thing. Not a single thing. Not the procedures, the dollars, the injections, the travel, the stress… nothing. She says that every step was necessary for the next step and that she learned something every day and that it was all worth it.

Come to think of it, even though I don’t have what I so desperately want, the thing that’s supposed to make it all worth it, (yet), I already kind of agree. Every day I am better at handling the unexpected. At appreciating my strength. At giving myself grace, patience, respect. At giving my body grace, patience, respect. I appreciate better the complexity of fertility and family and adulthood. I am more empathetic and sympathetic. In spite of it all, I am growing and learning and playing the hand I have been dealt. July is for IVF. It’s a chapter, a lesson, a small piece of what will ultimately be my narrative. It’s a scary, sad, hard piece. It’s a piece a cow wouldn’t have to deal with. But I am only like a cow, not an actual cow.

Moo, anyway… and hand me that syringe, I’ve got some injections to do.

Bubble Verdict: Differences of Opinion In, Differences of Heart Out

Yesterday, and for the past couple of days, my gut has felt pretty twisted up about the stuff I mentioned yesterday. And I was for seriously concerned that I had created a bubble in which everyone’s opinion was the same as my own, that I might have been setting myself up for a complete confirmation of my own beliefs with no consideration of any others.

Brene Brown (I’m in love!!) is starting to give me the language I need to talk about these feelings, and what I felt yesterday following first some arguing, then some unfriending, and much more unfollowing, was definitely shame. Throw my little self-created, opinion-lacking bubble on top and I was legit concerned. So I asked you guys what you thought… you did not disappoint.

I cannot tell you how much I appreciated these two comments, from my beautiful and brilliant friends Aimee and Nicole. So so so much that I asked if they’d mind if I reposted and expounded, because they were worth so much longer of a response than a simple comment reply could allow — they helped me to understand and to be ok with what I had done, the bubble, the story, I had created. To let go of the shame. Ahhhh, sweet relief.

Late last night (maybe not so late Alaska time, but late to me), Aimee said:

Just had this exact conversation with my folks yesterday.  I only saw a few “anti-” things and generally I’m against defriending people over politics (though I want to soooo bad!) but they had much much more.  Their friends encompass a different age group than mine AND they’re in West Michigan.

I also have a really hard time even considering the opposite viewpoint from my own.  To me, it’s a civil rights issue and shouldn’t even be up for debate.  I can only hope these people are just really scared of change or whatever they think is going to happen…  and when nothing changes (except MORE LOVE all around!) they’ll come around.  One can hope! 🙂

And then, this afternoon (same afternoon in Tennessee and Wisconsin, for those keeping track) of the timeline, Nicole said:

As a member of the rainbow club, and a scientist, I came to the same conclusion as you – but long ago. The ugliness you saw on Friday is something I experience every single day, in places you would least expect. I ran for Chair of Diversity on the postdoc council at my place of employment, and my entire spiel about being a lesbian was deleted from the ballot, leaving only a generic sentence saying something like ‘I’ll do my best to include everyone.’ Of course I e-mailed the person responsible for putting together the ballots immediately (it was late, and they weren’t in their office) – and I was given a crap apology about them not knowing my public statement was in fact public, etc etc.

But what to do? I like my friends and family because they are diverse and they all have their own points of view. People are so angry and so hateful and when they start throwing words at you, they are turning off their ears and turning off their hearts. Nothing you say or do makes any difference. I can’t live in that sea of hate, so I unfriend those people on social media and distance myself from those people in real life.

When it comes to other disagreements, I try to be more distant. We aren’t voting for the same person for President/etc – that’s a-ok – Elections are supposed to be by secret ballot anyway.

I keep people in my life who can empower me to be a better human, and who enrich me with their points-of-view. There is a huge difference between someone who spews a speech with hate and contempt, and someone who speaks firmly about their beliefs but is willing to listen.

You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.

Man, these guys are so… dang… eloquent! And, once again, as Brene Brown would suggest, I’m not the only one. I never am!

Turns out, I did make a bubble, but not quite the bubble I thought. I can handle contrary opinions. Republican rhetoric, gun stuff, anti-abortion arguments, support of big business, anti-GMO sentiments, etc. I don’t dig those ideas myself, but I get that a lot of people do, and so long as those ideas are presented respectfully (i.e. sans hate), I can deal. No big thing. Difference of opinion — a – o – k.

There are several things I cannot tolerate, however… things that as Aimee and Nicole suggest, don’t add value to my life, don’t enrich my point of view.

Namely, and off the top of my head:

1. Victimization of any individual or group via hateful language and/or images (e.g. anti-Caitlyn Jenner memes, confederate flags)

2. Victim blaming (e.g., she deserved it because of what she was wearing/drinking/saying/has-done-in-the-past, use of the word “thug” to describe a young black man)

3. Victim language (e.g., woe is me, the poor, persecuted white/straight/Christian/male-in-America)

Those things, they’re not differences of opinion, they are differences of heart. And those differences do not enrich my life. As such, they do not belong in my bubble.

This is my life now, and I dig it. {Source}
This is my life now, and I dig it. {Source}

Life is tough when words fail me and last night, I simply could not find the words to pull me up and away from a nagging sense of shame. Thank you, Aimee and Nicole, for giving me the words. And, more importantly, thank you so much for being in my bubble — you undoubtedly enrich it in a million and one ways!