What I know

I watched Brene Brown’s first TEDx Houston talk in April, 2011. I was in San Diego for my nephew’s wedding. I was four months into my love project and feeling lost, divided. There was the me that was fearlessly loving, believing with all my might in what love could do (no less than change the world!) and there was the me that was struggling in the most important relationship of my life. My husband and I had come through a years-long storm, and we were finding that surviving the worst of it isn’t the same as happily ever after.

I watched my nephew get married that weekend, he and his bride giddy with love and possibility, and I hoped they’d do it differently than we had… and hoping that broke my heart.

On the morning after the wedding, sitting in my brother-in-law’s empty house, I watched the TEDx video and it rocked my confused little world. I was like a sinner hearing the gospel; it was so big and important and true to me, I didn’t even know how to process it. Brene said that people who have a strong sense of love and belonging are people who fully embrace vulnerability. They are people who believe that what makes them vulnerable, makes them beautiful.

It changed everything for me. Not that day, or that week, or that month, but over the course of the almost-year since I watched it. It was the beginning of deep down, gut-wrenching honesty, first with myself and then with my husband. It was the beginning of true fearlessness, of love like a religion, of faith. (I’m writing about all of this in The Love Essays, which are all about last year – the love project, yes, but behind the love project too, the part I didn’t blog about, the part where, for me, the real shit went down.)

This past weekend, I watched Brene Brown’s latest TED talk, twice. I cried when she said, “If we’re going to find our way back to each other, vulnerability is going to be that path,” because I know it’s true. It’s true in the great big, worldwide humanity sense, and in the smaller, bewildered, brokenhearted sense.

And this time my belief doesn’t stem from a leap of faith. This time I know because I was there. Am there. Living, breathing, trembling proof.


  1. Holly on March 19, 2012 at 8:27 am

    Thank you J, for your openness and and honesty to all of us reading you. I am going through the tough time of my mother’s recent stroke and all the tender, protective, she’s-mine feelings sisters and daughters and husband/fathers have. I do believe if I am open and vulnerable and try to sit within all of this, I can be present for myself and my mother and anyone I can be helpful to. It’s so hard, because there are some conflicts with children that I don’t really want to be open to right now, and my feeling is if it’s for one person, it has to be for all, so all the little nooks and crannies are being exposed to some pretty intense heat. Can I sit in this, be open, loving, calm, encouraging and helpful? I hope so, and appreciate the encouragement I get from an exposure to your experience.

    • Karen Hogan on March 19, 2012 at 9:24 am

      Holly, I think that these moments are in part about the nooks and crannies that get exposed. My experience going through similar times taught me that I needed to value and protect the lessons I was learning, including those learned from the exposed nooks and crannies.

      • Holly on March 19, 2012 at 5:01 pm

        Thank you, Karen, the lessons are so important. I don’t want to lose the lessons while I’m so busy doing. I think I’ll make a daily appointment with myself to just sit or walk and let myself be.

        • Karen Hogan on March 19, 2012 at 5:34 pm

          Don’t worry about losing them. Definitely take the time for yourself. I found when I was care taking like you are I would at times be overwhelmed. It just goes with the territory. Someone said to me, “Keep your boundaries.” Be gentle with yourself if you you find your boundaries moving in and out. It’s all new territory.

    • j on March 19, 2012 at 10:15 am

      Oh, Holly, that’s so hard, trying to be there equally for everyone at the same time that you’re trying to work through your own feelings and fears and baggage and hurts. I think there is strength in sharing, and really good things can come from being open, but I also think that sometimes you have to, as Karen says, protect your own lessons. That might mean pulling back from the drama, or deciding there are places you just can’t go right now. It’s really easy when you’re trying to be loving and helpful and encouraging to forget yourself in the equation.

      I’ll be holding you and your mom (and the rest of your family) in my thoughts. xoxo

      • Holly on March 19, 2012 at 5:04 pm

        Thank you so much. I spent most of my life “not mattering” and have to remember that yes, I do too. Life and being in it are hard, rewarding lessons, if I pay attention. If I want to truly pay attention, I have to remember that I matter enough to do it.

    • Karen Hogan on March 19, 2012 at 10:41 am

      One other thought, Holly. I was a hospice volunteer in a program where we were with the person through their dying. The phrase that guided me was that our job was to be a witness. That was very helpful to me.

      • Holly on March 19, 2012 at 5:06 pm

        Witness! That is one of my favorite words. To be a witness to another’s experience is a validation, and it will help me to remember to witness my own as well. Thanks again, Karen.

        • Karen Hogan on March 19, 2012 at 6:38 pm

          It was a great revelation for me to hear the word witness. It meant love was an act of being present almost more than doing.

  2. Jill Salahub on March 19, 2012 at 8:33 am

    For different reasons and with my own specific details, I had the same experience with her first talk. It really did change everything for me.

    Every. Thing.

    It’s the reason I am here, commenting on your post and remembering with you. I loved hearing your story about it, love what you are manifesting.

    You are so loved and I am so grateful.

    • j on March 19, 2012 at 10:18 am

      Thank you, Jill. I feel I keep learning this one – in bigger and bigger arenas.

      I see you’ve posted. I must go read you.

  3. Joy on March 19, 2012 at 8:43 am

    Thank you for sharing so openly! I just watched Brene Brown’s recent talk twice yesterday and cried through the first viewing, then allowed the message to soak in through the second viewing. Like you, I know the truth not because I believe it, but because I am breathing it, living it, being it. Vulnerable.
    And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
    I took her message on a pre-dawn beach run this morning. When Sun rose it was like a kiss from Universe. When Brene said TED was a conference of “failures” who continued to try until they “got it”, it inspired me. This morning I did my first headstand on the beach (have always wanted to try one on the beach). My mind said what if you fail, remembering Brene’s words my being said what if you don’t? I wobbled a bit on the way up, I breathed into it and I held it for what seemed like forever but was probably 3 minutes. Symbolic. I know that after all I have “been through” in my heart-led life I finally have the strength and confidence to ‘try’ just about anything.
    It is through this vulnerability that we connect. Thank you for being you, and sharing as you do. May you receive back into your life the same love and joy you so generously give.

    • j on March 19, 2012 at 10:22 am

      I love this comment! I wish there was a picture. In my mind, you are magnificent, your upside down, universe-kissed, strong-wobbly-graceful self. HUGE smile.

      And thank you so much for the encouraging words. This community makes it much less scary to share. I’m insanely grateful for all of you.

  4. Clare Flourish on March 19, 2012 at 8:48 am

    I still, sometimes, find my feelings unbearable and so shut them off. I put on masks and pretend, which cut me off from relating.

    I am getting over this. I do not think it is a matter of “vulnerability”, because the false search for a false safety only leads me into harm: I call it authenticity, the only way I may escape my quiet desperation, the only way I can move forward from where I am now.

    Also, vulnerability sounds risky, but authenticity Is empowering.

    • Karen Hogan on March 19, 2012 at 9:26 am

      Clare, I think you have hit on something about authenticity.

    • j on March 19, 2012 at 10:30 am

      They’re linked, absolutely. Real authenticity takes courage, a willingness to be misunderstood, to risk being hurt. That’s vulnerability. I love what you’ve written here. Maybe it’s a matter of where you focus, not on the risk but on the assertion of self, which is, as you say, empowering.

  5. Rita on March 19, 2012 at 9:00 am

    Everytime you write (open your mouth) something beautiful comes out of it. You are courage. You are truth. You are love. And I think sometimes YOU forget that. I think sometimes you don’t see how you impact people…others…me. I adore that about you. I love when you get something so profoundly that you HAVE to share it. I love that. and you. thank you for the beingness of you and for all that you know…so far. xoxoxo

    • j on March 19, 2012 at 12:21 pm

      Thank you so much, Rita. I smiled when I read your comment about my having to tell you. I feel that a lot. I keep thinking, “Oh! I didn’t understand this before, but now I do.” Then I want to rush over here and ask you guys if you think what I think. So glad we have each other.

      Love you back, big time. xo

  6. Ann MG on March 19, 2012 at 9:00 am

    Hugs, everybody. Now that I have some miles under the hood, man, weddings are hard. Do we have another event where so much future and hope is plugged into one hour?

    • j on March 19, 2012 at 12:22 pm

      This made me laugh. No we do not. And yes, miles under the hood does change the view. 🙂

  7. Annie Neugebauer on March 19, 2012 at 9:02 am

    I love this, J, for its honesty and for its truth — which are two totally different things. I just read Wendy Thomas Russell’s blog post, http://wendythomasrussell.com/kids-who-dont-believe-in-god-go-to-a-very-very-bad-school/ and one little line, spoken by her six-year-old daughter, really stuck with me. “‘People,’ she insisted, ‘need to be sad sometimes.'” I think it’s true (and very wise for a child to know). To really be open and vulnerable and loving, we have to let ourselves be sad sometimes. Sad and all of those other hard things, too. I, like you, have found that it’s worth it.

    • j on March 19, 2012 at 1:07 pm

      I love Wendy’s post. I’m deeply familiar with the questions she’s asking. Thank you for sharing it!

      Yes, we do need to be sad sometimes. And, more, we need to talk about the fact that we’re sad sometimes. I’m learning, sometimes the hard way, the benefits of emotional honesty, in life, on the blog, on the page. And yes, it’s worth it.

  8. Something Good « A Thousand Shades of Gray on March 19, 2012 at 9:04 am

    […] I highly recommend it. Judy Clement Wall wrote a post today on a Human Thing, “What I know,” about that first talk’s impact on her. While her details are different, I had the […]

  9. Karen Hogan on March 19, 2012 at 9:20 am

    I don’t remember who I first heard this from but it is what I have come to understand about being human:

    We aren’t humans learning to be spirits; we’re spirits learning to be human.

    I found myself being a bit angry listening to this video because I kept thinking, “Well, duh!” John Bradshaw made gave similar lectures during the early nineties, calling it toxic shame. He made the distinction between the shame of having hurt someone (what she calls guilt) and toxic shame which is I am ashamed of who I am. I guess I thought that what she was lecturing about was more in the public consciousness now.

    My goal as a writer is to tap into those moments when spirit meets human — when my mortality and immortality cross paths. It is in those moments, I think, that we recognize our humanness (our vulnerability) and thus see the humanness in others. And, that we are connected to ages of being human — back to our ancestors who as long as 32,000 years ago painted their stories on caves.

    As a woman, I have found the world fraught with challenge the more I reveal myself. Along with the kudos comes a raft of slings and arrows — I do not think we are that far removed from the time that women were burned as witches.

    Loving fearlessly — I think of it more as living fearlessly — is an ordeal. But, at least if we do that, when we get to the end of our lives, we have the reward of having lived our story, instead of the one we tried to conform to.

    • j on March 19, 2012 at 4:02 pm

      Beautifully said.

      I’m unfamiliar with John Bradshaw but I think what often happens with these messages is that we a) hear them when we’re ready to, and b) hear them when they’re said in a language that resonates. I’m sure Eckhart Tolle wasn’t the first person to tout the power of staying present.

      I know for me, Brene Brown’s video came just exactly when I needed it.

      • Karen Hogan on March 19, 2012 at 6:51 pm

        John Bradshaw pretty much reworked the work of a Swiss Psychologist Alice Miller (she wrote Drama of the Gifted Child) and made the information less dense so one didn’t have to plow through her Swiss German writing. Doesn’t diminish what either Brene Brown or John Bradshaw had to say. I think partly because there is such an attempt to bring shame back onto us (especially women in the birth control/abortion debate), I just found it irritating shame is still woven into the consciousness of our culture.

        Joseph Campbell referred to marriage as an ordeal. I started to say that he was happily married, but I think that kind of trivializes that notion. He used the Wheel of Fortune card from the Tarot as a metaphor for the relationship of marriage — the ups and downs. One must, he said, surrender one’s ego to the relationship for marriage to work. I like that idea. Ego, in this case doesn’t mean the “I’m so great concept” of ego, but rather how we are invested in defining ourselves. One can have one’s ego invested in being a victim, for example. That’s a particularly nasty one to let go of.

        I’m curious about what the gut wrenching was about. Perhaps it will be in your Love Essays.

  10. Travis B. Hartwell on March 19, 2012 at 9:27 am

    As we’ve talked about privately, these also have affected me profoundly, particularly this last one.

    I spend a lot of time conversing with women and have done so all my life. Most of my fellow readers here (or at least commenters) are women. A lot of the people I read and follow online for inspiration (like Brene) are women and tend to explicitly cater to female audiences. It was extremely refreshing and also, in a way, gut-wrenching to hear Brene address this head on and to hear her speak of a man and other men who feel what I have sometimes felt as I claim my masculine identity.

    Shame really is at the core of probably most (if not all) of our collective and individual problems. It takes a lot of mindfulness and awareness to realize how we inadvertently give others opportunity to feel shame. Or to recognize when we ourselves are feeling it and thus trying to cope.

    Brene gives a lot to think about. One thing I’ve learned going through all I have lost in the last few years is that these experiences give me an opportunity for empathy. Just like I shared on your sharing of the blog post on “slut bashing”, I may not have experienced (or cannot) the same thing, I have felt shame myself. I have felt pain myself. I can empathasize.

    I just hope I can find ways to reach out with love and caring and empathy so I am helping there be less shame in the world, not more.

    • j on March 19, 2012 at 4:16 pm

      You already are helping. It’s that empathy poured on shame in a petri dish thing. One of my favorite parts in Brene Brown’s last talk was when she said that the most powerful words when we’re in struggle are “me too.”

  11. Lance on March 19, 2012 at 9:59 am

    Forgive me for any grammar malfeasons this next line commits but, J, you are the most perfectly imperfect person I know. You’re a role model for me.

    I like that you can talk love and respect and care and than drop an f bomb. I like that you can write about so much sunshine and sweetness then expose the sour behind your life’s veneer.

    My heart is with you on quest to figure everything out in your essays.

    I just love coming here. You’re terrific.

    • j on March 19, 2012 at 4:35 pm

      Wow. That is such high praise. In the essays (and even the blogs lately), I’ve been stretching myself, writing out to my edges, pushing past them. It’s uncharted territory for me to feel this exposed. And it’s words like yours that encourage me always to take the next step.

      Thank you.

  12. joannefirth on March 19, 2012 at 12:02 pm

    This post makes me happy for you, that you found something to brave the storm and keep going with your husband. This one is hard to me to comment on, because I have long ago stopped thinking of my marriage as my most important relationship. Laughing, just as I am typing this, my husband rudely interruped me to find a phone number for him, something he can not do for himself. The underlying reason I have given up trying.

    Hang on tight, because somewhere inside you is that flame still burning. The willingness to keep trying and having that will is your way of knowing your relationship is well worth the effort.


    • j on March 19, 2012 at 4:52 pm

      I so want to hug you right now.

      I think we all do what you’re doing sometimes, play the hand we’re dealt. Create happiness where we can, feed the relationships that feed us, keep our eyes peeled for inspiration, light, laughter, love.

      At the risk of making some people mad, I’m not sure that your marriage has to be your most important relationship. I think the main thing is not to give up on love (and joy and passion and life) altogether. I’m a strong believer in gathering around you the people who feed your mind and soul, focusing your attention where the love is… and loving yourself relentlessly.


  13. Julia on March 19, 2012 at 3:03 pm

    J, I watched this video this weekend too–I love the idea that the two of us may have been listening/dabbing at our eyes at the same time.

    Brene’s last talk completely shifted things for me too. She confirmed and put so clearly what I already knew (but maybe didn’t trust enough)…that when people open to the raw, open truth about themselves, they become more beautiful, they heal, they learn to love better. Your incredibly brave “Body Math” post demonstrates this beautifully. After I read that I felt such immense (even more than before) love for you.

    You truly are incredible, my friend. Thank you for opening my eyes and heart to so much.

    • j on March 19, 2012 at 4:56 pm

      This is beautiful: “when people open to the raw, open truth about themselves, they become more beautiful, they heal, they learn to love better.”

      Yes! In my case, opening up to those truths resulted in a whole lot of awful shit I had to slog through, but it absolutely opened me up to love, inside and out.

      Thank you back, Julia. The admiration is absolutely mutual, my talented, openhearted friend.

  14. joannefirth on March 19, 2012 at 5:05 pm

    Your reply to me was perfect j. I didn’t want to come here and be the person to negate all of the positivity. I did need to be honest though. If I thought the video would help, I would have watched it. This post catches me at the end of expressing my vunerability to the former most important person in my life. It backfired horribly and I”m learning, like you said to have people around me who can love me back and express that love in a way I can understand. xo

    • j on March 19, 2012 at 5:20 pm

      If it helps, I’ve had it backfire too. Horribly. It’s hard to say which feels worse, walling yourself off or putting yourself out there and being utterly misunderstood or disregarded.

      And when it happens, I gather my tribe around me. I happen to know there is lots of Joanne love out here for you. xo

  15. Pam on March 19, 2012 at 5:44 pm

    Thank you so much! Both talks are wonderful.

    I have thought about many of these things and come to some of the same conclusions in my scattershot way–especially the idea of believing that you are worthy of love being the key to feeling love and belonging. I have seen that in my life so many times.

    I am so excited to read your essays.

    Giant running hugs to you!

    • j on March 19, 2012 at 7:03 pm

      Woo-hoo! Giant running hugs are my favorite kind!

  16. Kellie Walker on March 19, 2012 at 5:57 pm

    “Vulnerability is our most accurate measure of courage.” A-fucking-men, Brene. A-fucking-men.

    I want to hug Brene and put her in my pocket. And, then hug you, j, and put you in the other pocket.

    I found myself nodding through this entire video. I spent 7 years in therapy with 3 different therapists. The final (and best) one literally saved my life. He did so by recognizing I was suffering from shame and, more importantly, explaining the difference between shame of self and shame of action (what Brene calls ‘guilt’). He was then able to sit with me and witness me reliving how I got where I was – which was a truly monumental task.

    Empathy is, indeed, the antidote to shame.

    Having worked through what Brene is talking about, I found myself ready to be in the arena, warts and all, two years ago. It’s scary as hell. But, I couldn’t and wouldn’t do it any other way.

    j, you are quite possibly the bravest soul I’ve ever known.

    Much love, hugs, & sparkles to you.

    • j on March 19, 2012 at 7:06 pm

      Ha! A-fucking-men, indeed.

      Your comment reminds me of when Brene asked how often people thought that being vulnerable made them weak… and then how often they thought the person on the stage’s vulnerability made them absoslutely courageous.

      Even when we’re good at empathy with others, we so often lack it with ourselves. I like happy therapy stories.

      Thank you so much, Kellie, for that last big, huge, amazing compliment. I’m flustered in the best possible way. xo

  17. joannefirth on March 19, 2012 at 6:05 pm

    Yes, it does help, your bravery and honesty help. And again, I’m so happy that you continue to find ways to make things work. With tears in my eyes, I’m feeling all the love you share here, with your words and your huge heart. xo

    • j on March 19, 2012 at 7:07 pm


  18. LunaJune on March 19, 2012 at 7:49 pm

    our truths
    that we don’t speak
    fall back inside
    wrecking havoc
    our truths
    open us up
    to be vulnerable
    to voice
    these truths
    about ourselves
    and our weaknesses
    is strength

    For 30 years I have been blessed with this awesome path
    I walk, being there with people, exposing ourselves in times of joy, sorrow, fear, loss, and connecting with them each in so many different ways…it has been an amazing tool for dealing with all the ‘stuff’ that has gone on in my life…the animals have always taught me how to live in the moment.. to be present…to let it go….share your story.. don’t hold it in… we all have our stories….& in the knowing we aren’t alone and the not hiding the things that happen to us along the way we open our hearts to healing.

    Brene says it right… empathy heals .. shame kills

    these words changed me…

    what you hold.. also holds you

    thank you Judy for your fearless badass self:~) I love it

    • j on March 20, 2012 at 7:50 am

      “What you hold… also holds you.” Beautifully said. I agree.

      I also think that sometimes letting go of something just means getting very honest with yourself. I’ve spent a lot of time examining my unexamined shit over the last couple of years. We can’t work through what we won’t acknowledge to ourselves.

      Thank YOU, June.

  19. Christie on March 19, 2012 at 8:29 pm

    I have so much to say about this but having an issue with the dance club which is my head. The club is filled to capacity, overcrowded thoughts with the drunk and disorderly ones rushing the stage causing the meaningful ones to hang back. I, being the bouncer, on days like today, have decided to sneak out the back door and let them fight it out amongst themselves :^)

    With that being said, I hope to have weeded out the ones causing the chaos in time for this weekend ♥

    I can say this though, Brene’s talks break me wide open as do your posts. I am looking forward to the day when I am sitting in the front row of your Ted talk debut because I think what you have to say is something that is not only very meaningful but timely as well – definitely needs to be shared with the world!


    • j on March 20, 2012 at 7:52 am

      This made me laugh. I hope your voices are all in sync today! (And I’m not afraid of chaos, girlfriend. Just makes the hike more interesting.)

  20. Caroline on March 20, 2012 at 6:01 am

    I wish I had something profound to say, but my headspace is full of other much less trivial, but still important stuff. I just wanted to say: love you, and I am totally in the I LOVE JOANNE group too (should we get t-shirts?) :o) xox and thank you for being here.

    • j on March 20, 2012 at 7:54 am

      Yes t-shirts! Love more – Love Joanne. 🙂

      Thank you right back for being here, C. xo

  21. Estrella Azul on March 20, 2012 at 3:07 pm

    We’re all there, I think, one way or the other. Thank you for opening up like this, and for sending us toward the talks – I have to admit to crying a bit myself.

  22. 83October on March 25, 2012 at 5:28 pm

    I’ve seen that Brene Brown video in 2011. I too was changed by it. I hated vulnerability. I thought is made me weak only to realize that it was the opposite. I’ll be watching this new video later at home. thanks for leading me to it.

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