Over the past two years, I've spent a weekend away on the Oregon coast with 13 pretty extraordinary women. The first year, in 2008, I only knew two of them -- and one of the ones I didn't know was Brené Brown. When I found out she was coming, I did a bit of research on her: I learned she was a professor at the University of Houston, and a renowned researcher on the provocative subject of shame. I also discovered she was the creative mind behind the wildly inspiring blog, Ordinary Courage.
She was, I therefore presumed, way out of my league.
Still, for some reason that year I was feeling rather bold, so I thought I'd go ahead and email her and see if she would like to meet for coffee in advance of our upcoming trip to the coast. She politely agreed, but then because of an unforeseen circumstance, she had to cancel. No matter, I thought to myself. After all, she's way out of my league anyway, right?
However, by odd coincidence, on the evening of the afternoon we were supposed to meet, Marcus and I had date night. As we were enjoying our drinks and tapas at a small Spanish restaurant, I looked over and saw Brené.
"Marcus," I said. "I think that's Brené Brown, the woman who's going to be in Oregon with me, the woman I was supposed to have coffee with today. I think I'm going to go say hi."
I walked over to her table, where she was sitting with her husband and family, and attempting to have a peaceful dinner. I tapped her on her shoulder.
"Excuse me," I said, "are you Brené Brown?"
"Yes!" she said, immediately standing to her feet with her dazzling smile.
"I'm Karen Walrond," I said. Her face didn't register any recognition. "From, um, Chookooloonks?" I continued, hesitantly. "We're, um, going to be in Oregon together?"
"OH MY GOD!" she immediately exclaimed, grabbing me by both of my shoulders and pulling me into an unexpectedly tight hug. "OH MY GOD. It's so nice to meet you! Except, of course, I was planning on losing 10 pounds before seeing you in person!"
It was at this moment that I knew -- I was certain -- that Brené was absolutely My Kinda People.
Since that night, Brené has become one of my most treasured friends. If you've read her book I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn't), you know she's a gifted academic; however, in real life and in fact, she's an amazing, down-to-earth, kind and generous soul as well. For this reason, I'm thrilled to share with you a little more about her, via my modified Proust Questionnaire. Enjoy (and then read further for a fantastic giveaway):
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1. What is your idea of perfect happiness? No question -- being at home with my family. The perfect moment: I'm cooking with the back door open, and I can hear the kids and my husband Steve playing and laughing. I'm piddling around and listening to good music.
2. What is your greatest fear? (a) Loss and grief. (b) Rodents. (c) Sharks.
3. Which living person do you most admire? I try not to admire people I don't know. It's too easy to fantasize. Of the people I know, I admire my parents the most.
4. What trait do you most deplore in yourself? Ironically, I don't like how hard I can be on myself. I guess you could say that I deplore self-deploring. I'm working hard to give it up.
5. What trait do you most deplore in others? Sneakiness and passive-aggressive behavior. I like my crazy right up front.
6. What do you consider the most overrated virtue? Snarkiness and disrespectful irreverence are not "traditional" virtues, but they are certainly popular in today's culture. People who don't know me are often surprised, but I'm pretty old-school. I'm a first-born rule-follower. Manners matter.
7. What or who is the greatest love of your life? No question -- Steve. We met when he was 17 and I was 21. It was literally love at first sight. We were lifeguards and coached a swim team together. That was 23 years ago. He's legal now.
8. Which talent would you most like to have? Sing and play the guitar -- like Maria in The Sound of Music.
9. What is your current state of mind? Contemplative, spiritual and grateful.
10. What do you consider your greatest achievement? My marriage. It's incredibly hard work.
11. What is your most treasured possession? My family photographs and my wedding rings. One of the rings belonged to my grandmother, and the other belonged to my great aunt.
12. What is your superpower? My superpower is probably connected to my work. I think it's observing human behavior and seeing, then naming, the subtle connections that help us make meaning of our thoughts, behaviors and feelings.
13. What is your motto? It changes depending on my mood and what's going on in my life. Lately it's been "progress, not perfection." A few weeks ago, it was more along the lines of "easy does it, Tiger."
14. What do you most value in your friends? Authenticity, compassion, trust and humor.
15. Which word or phrase do you most overuse? "Shut up!" and "Dude!" I'm 44. It's kinda ridiculous.
16. What is your greatest extravagance? Face products.
17. What is the quality you most like in a woman? Authenticity, compassion, trust and humor.
18. What is the quality you most like in a man? Authenticity, compassion, trust, humor and cowboy boots.
19. On what occasion do you feel the most authentic? Honestly, the older I get, the less I consider authenticity an option. I work hard to feel authentic everywhere I go. Having said that, I don't like big groups or small talk. I'm the most comfortable when I'm with family and friends.
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She's lovely, isn't she? And that's not all: Brené has recently released her brand new DVD, The Hustle for Worthiness, her recent 50-minute lecture on love and belonging -- and she's kindly allowing me to give one away here on Chookooloonks. Simply leave a comment below, with your answer to the following question:
On what occasion do you feel the most authentic?
and I'll pick one commenter at random to win Brené's DVD. I'll keep comments open until midnight Monday night/Tuesday morning.
Can't wait to read your responses!
Song: American pie by Don McLean. Because as I sat in the audience before Brené began her talk at the taping of The Hustle for Worthiness, this was playing on the sound system, and the entire audience was singing along.