I’ve read the hobbit a half-a-dozen times in my life and if you haven’t read the book, it’s likely you’ve seen the movie. It’s beginning, may be the best beginning, of any grand adventure ever told. Recently I heard a short summary, to this beginning, and I urge you not to use it as a study guide. It is not a substitute to the cliff notes, but I think we can find it applicable here.
Gandalf: “I am looking for someone to share in an adventure that I am arranging, and it’s very difficult to find anyone.”
Bilbo: “I should think so—in these parts! We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner! I can’t think what anybody sees in them,”
Gandalf: “I can promise you that you’ll have more than one tale to tell when you come back”
Bilbo: “Oh…so you can promise I’ll come back safe.”
Gandalf: “No I can’t promise that, but I can promise that you will not be the same when you return.”
At 17 I could relate to Bilbo. Being born and raised in Iowa, I had a safe plan. One where I went to the community college on the edge of town, then to a not too distant state school, where I would finish my degree in teaching or accounting. It would be a sensible degree, that would afford me a sensible life. That plan would change when much to my discomfort, I found myself uprooted my senior year, by 20 I had met my own Gandalf’s and was out adventuring. I was on the move for years, from one thing to another, city to city, state to state, country to country. What I didn’t see, in the naivety of my youth, was this; I had only really begun my journey. Simply put, this was the part of my story where I found myself without my knapsack, suddenly outside my front door with a band of singing dwarfs, marching forward in song and drink and promised treasure. I had yet to face my trolls and dragons. I had yet to find out if I would be the hero in my story.
It is near impossible to have this foresight in youth. Even now, partway through my journey, I still lack perspective. I have though, learned enough to talk of dragons and heroes. I know that no hero triumphs in chapter 1, or 8, or chapter 14. I know to find yourself back at home safe, and happy, you will have moments of despair. Moments when it is all but certain you will not escape the dark cave, where you have found yourself, with a dragon. I know you will fall and you will see others close to you fall. I know that if your story is going to be a good one, there will be parts in that story where you will feel vulnerable, you will feel exposed, you will feel shame, and you will feel sadness. I assure you I have had these moments in my struggle with alcohol, to come to terms with my diabetes, and to face my chronic depression.
But…this is what else I know. That in a good story there is courage and bravery. There is laughter and happiness. There is love and joy. Most importantly though, there is connection. You will feel connected to the hero, because they are willing to let go of what they thought they should be, in order to be who they are, and in this realization of their own self-worth, they will defeat the dragon. This is important to understand for yourself, when you are looking at your own story. You are worthy of all the things, that in your shame and vulnerability and despair, that you thought you weren’t. You are worthy of love, joy, happiness, and belonging, and the kicker here is, that it is almost impossible to meet those basic fundamental needs, without moments of true vulnerability.
Now if this sounds like too many sentimental platitudes, fair enough, but the second kicker here is, that this idea of vulnerability and self-worth is backed up with quantitative and qualitative data. Brené Brown, a research professor and story teller, at the University of Houston, has spent a majority of her professional life looking into exactly this. I encourage you to listen to her Ted Talk: The Power of Vulnerability. During this short talk, she explains in moving detail, how the single most defining difference between those who feel they deserve love and belonging, and those who struggle with it, is simply this. “That the people who have a strong sense of love and belonging, believe they are worthy of love and belonging. That’s it.” In Brown’s six years of research, spending hours, and weeks, and months, interviewing people who had gone through horrific experiences of all kinds, this was the constant. Now let that sink in for a moment. The one way in which you can feel the love and belonging you need, is to realize that you are worthy of it. It turns out that vulnerability, which is the core of fear, of shame, and our struggle for worthiness, is also the birthplace of creativity and joy, of love and belonging. So when we try to numb the things we are scared of, the dragons that terrify us, with drugs, or money, or constant Facebook likes, or alcohol, we are also numbing the things that can truly aid us in defeating the dragons in our lives, of becoming worthy of the love and belonging we deserve.
You are worthy of love and belonging. You can be the hero in your own story, but you will not be the same when you return.
SUPER UNCLE AND HIS SIDEKICKS
Me getting really into the Hero role, along with my son “Master Yoda” and oldest daughter “Han Solo.”