The second thing, in addition to really finally understanding the relationship between vulnerability and courage, the second thing I learned, is this: We have to talk about shame. And I’m going to be really honest with you. When I became a “vulnerability researcher” and that became the focus because of the TED talk — and I’m not kidding that — I’ll give you an example. About three months ago, I was in a sporting goods store buying goggles and shin guards and all the things that parents buy at the sporting goods store. About from a hundred feet away, this is what I hear: “Vulnerability TED! Vulnerability TED!”
I’m a fifth-generation Texan. Our family motto is “Lock and load.” I am not a natural vulnerability researcher. So I’m like, just keep walking, she’s on my six.
And then I hear, “Vulnerability TED!”
I turn around, I go, “Hi.” She’s right here and she said, “You’re the shame researcher who had the breakdown.”
At this point, parents are, like, pulling their children close. “Look away.” And I’m so worn out at this point in my life, I look at her and I actually say, “It was a fricking spiritual awakening.”
And she looks back and does this, “I know.” And she said, “We watched your TED talk in my book club. Then we read your book and we renamed ourselves ‘The Breakdown Babes.'” And she said, “Our tagline is: ‘We’re falling apart and it feels fantastic.'” You can only imagine what it’s like for me in a faculty meeting.
So when I became Vulnerability TED, like an action figure — Like Ninja Barbie, but I’m Vulnerability TED — I thought, I’m going to leave that shame stuff behind, because I spent six years studying shame before I really started writing and talking about vulnerability. And I thought, thank God, because shame is this horrible topic, no one wants to talk about it. It’s the best way to shut people down on an airplane. “What do you do?”
“I study shame.”
And I see you.
But in surviving this last year, I was reminded of a cardinal rule — not a research rule, but a moral imperative from my upbringing — “you’ve got to dance with the one who brung ya”. And I did not learn about vulnerability and courage and creativity and innovation from studying vulnerability. I learned about these things from studying shame. And so I want to walk you in to shame. Jungian analysts call shame the swampland of the soul. And we’re going to walk in. And the purpose is not to walk in and construct a home and live there. It is to put on some galoshes — and walk through and find our way around.
Here’s why. We heard the most compelling call ever to have a conversation in this country, and I think globally, around race, right? Yes? We heard that. Yes? Cannot have that conversation without shame. Because you cannot talk about race without talking about privilege. And when people start talking about privilege, they get paralyzed by shame. We heard a brilliant simple solution to not killing people in surgery, which is, have a checklist. You can’t fix that problem without addressing shame, because when they teach those folks how to suture, they also teach them how to stitch their self-worth to being all-powerful. And all-powerful folks don’t need checklists.
And I had to write down the name of this TED Fellow so I didn’t mess it up here. Myshkin Ingawale, I hope I did right by you.
I saw the TED Fellows my first day here. And he got up and he explained how he was driven to create some technology to help test for anemia, because people were dying unnecessarily. And he said, “I saw this need. So you know what I did? I made it.” And everybody just burst into applause, and they were like “Yes!” And he said, “And it didn’t work. And then I made it 32 more times, and then it worked.”
You know what the big secret about TED is? I can’t wait to tell people this. I guess I’m doing it right now.
This is like the failure conference. No, it is. You know why this place is amazing? Because very few people here are afraid to fail. And no one who gets on the stage, so far that I’ve seen, has not failed. I’ve failed miserably, many times. I don’t think the world understands that, because of shame.
There’s a great quote that saved me this past year by Theodore Roosevelt. A lot of people refer to it as the “Man in the Arena” quote. And it goes like this: “It is not the critic who counts. It is not the man who sits and points out how the doer of deeds could have done things better and how he falls and stumbles. The credit goes to the man in the arena whose face is marred with dust and blood and sweat. But when he’s in the arena, at best, he wins, and at worst, he loses, but when he fails, when he loses, he does so daring greatly.”
And that’s what this conference, to me, is about. That’s what life is about daring greatly, about being in the arena. When you walk up to that arena and you put your hand on the door, and you think, “I’m going in and I’m going to try this,” shame is the gremlin who says, “Uh, uh. You’re not good enough. You never finished that MBA. Your wife left you. I know your dad really wasn’t in Luxembourg, he was in Sing Sing. I know those things that happened to you growing up. I know you don’t think that you’re pretty enough, or smart enough, or talented enough or powerful enough. I know your dad never paid attention, even when you made CFO.” Shame is that thing.