Ep 9 - “Embrace the Suck” with Brené Brown Certified Instructor Amy Andrews McMaster (Dare to Lead Facilitator)

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How do we “embrace the suck” during a pandemic? Join us in this latest episode of The ABMP Podcast’s Conversations in Quarantine as Brené Brown Dare to Lead certified instructor Amy Andrews McMaster walks us through a discussion on vulnerability, braving tough times, removing our armor, and finding our call to courage.

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Author Bio: 

Amy Andrews McMaster empowers individuals, teams, and organizations to be braver through leadership coaching, consulting, and facilitation. She is a certified executive coach with the International Coach Federation and a certified Dare to Lead facilitator by the Brené Brown Education and Research Group.

Amy has been consulting since 2011, working with organizations such as Whole Foods Market, FirstBank, OpenTable, Metro State University, Denver Public Schools, Catholic Health Initiatives, BRIDGE Healthcare Partners, Women in Transportation, and the Society of Women Engineers. Most important, Amy excels in helping leaders become more courageous, achieve ambitious goals, and live their definition of success.


This episode is sponsored by Anatomy Trains and Yomassage.

Full Transcript: 

00:00 Speaker 1: Anatomy Trains and Laboratories of Anatomical Enlightenment invite you to a fascial dissection live stream event, with Tom Myers and Todd Garcia on June 5, 6, 7 and 8. Visit anatomytrains.com for details.


00:24 Darren Buford: Welcome to the ABMP podcast in our series, Conversations in Quarantine. My name is Darren Buford, and I'm the Editor-in-Chief of Massage & Bodywork magazine and Senior Director of Communications for ABMP. Our goal is to speak with luminaries and experts in and around the massage profession, to talk about the effects of COVID-19 on bodywork practitioners, the fears, the frustrations, and more importantly, to discuss next steps towards safely re-opening our doors when the time is right. How to pivot now? How to prepare for the future? And discussing what the new normal might be. My guest today is Amy Andrews McMaster. Amy empowers individuals, teams, and organizations to be braver through leadership, coaching, consulting, and facilitation. She is a certified executive coach with the International Coach Federation, and a certified Dare to Lead facilitator by the Brené Brown Education and Research Group. Amy's been consulting since 2011, working with organizations such as Whole Foods Market, FirstBank, OpenTable, Denver Public Schools, Women in Transportation, and the Society of Women Engineers. Most important, Amy excels in helping leaders become more courageous, achieve ambitious goals, and live their definition of success. Hello, friend.

01:38 Amy Andrews McMaster: Hey, Darren. How are you today?

01:40 DB: Good. It's good to see you. I wanted to really have you on the podcast for a couple of reasons. One is, right now massage therapists and the profession, they're really struggling right now because of stay-at-home orders. Or if they are beginning to practice again, as restrictions are lifted, and some are a little lost in just who they are, their self-identity right now, and what it means to practice. And some are facing uncertainty because they've lost clientele for months now. They haven't been able to practice. And as those restrictions are lifted, they're also struggling with, "How do I practice again?" And a wary public who is, potentially a little nervous of getting massaged. And I wanted to connect because of your background, but also, helping them get a better grasp of themselves, and braving the unknown and uncertainty right now, and also treating others a little bit better. Those are things, I felt like they needed a really healthy dose of self-care, and some leading skills, where it was appropriate right now. And that's where you come in, my friend. That's enough talk from me. You've got this incredible background and experience. I've been privy and worked through your training with Brené Brown, and the Dare to Lead education. Can you tell, for the uninitiated, for those who do not know who Brené Brown is, can you tell us a little bit about who that is and her work?

03:12 AM: You bet, yeah. Well first off, let me just say that my heart goes out to the massage therapist community. I have several friends that are affected in this community, and it's not easy, and I have... My heart is with you. So, a little bit about Brené, for those who haven't heard this name before. Brené is a research professor at the University of Houston, where she holds, okay, wait for it, this is a mouthful here, the Huffington Foundation-Brené Brown Endowed Chair at The Graduate College of Social Work. She has spent the last two decades studying courage, vulnerability, shame, empathy, and most recently completed a seven-year study on courageous leadership. She is the author of five New York Times bestsellers, and I'm not gonna list them here. You can go Google those if you wanna find out more about her bestsellers.

04:09 AM: But, the most significant finding from her latest research is that courage, what we talked about in our program, Darren, courage is a collection of four skill sets, that are teachable, measurable, and observable. And what I love about Brené, I'll tell you, is that she's a fantastic storyteller. And she has a great sense of humor, and she's real. She is really vulnerable with her work, and her struggle with her research, and it is a breath of fresh air to have a leader who's not like, "I have arrived. I've figured it all out." She's like, "Hey, I'm out on this path with you. I'm struggling right alongside you." And this is what struggle looks like.

04:54 DB: This is a good moment to pause. If you do not know who this is, you should take a second, go to a search engine of your choice, and type in "Brené Brown TED Talk vulnerability," 20 minutes, 48 million views. This just helps to have a grasp as who this human being is. Brené Brown has a podcast, was featured recently on 60 Minutes. Start there if you don't know who that is. But otherwise, we're gonna jump right in. And Brené Brown's claim to fame is vulnerability. But the first question I wanna ask you, Amy is, what is embracing the suck?

05:34 AM: Suck. Oh, yes. Embracing the suck is really about embracing uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. It's choosing courage, even when it's hard and uncomfortable. We know based on research that vulnerability, surprisingly, is actually our most accurate measure of courage. So, embracing the suck, is how you get to courage. It's through embracing vulnerability. But let's talk about right now, COVID life, I mean, woo! This requires a new level of sucking us, am I right? Right?

06:11 DB: [chuckle] Yes.

06:12 AM: [chuckle] So embracing the suck during COVID, man, requires that we really lean in. So, it's having self like the self-awareness, and the emotional capacity to stretch further than we ever have before, right? I mean, it is keeping the emotional armor off instead of self-protecting or offloading our hurt onto other people. It's practicing kindness because let's be honest, we're all suffering right now, whether you're home with kids and parenting 24/7 and trying to work also or you're living alone and you're feeling like lost and lonely and all these things matter, it's staying out of the trap of comparative suffering. "Well, I have it worse, I'm out of work and so is my husband and so you don't have the right to suffer because you, your husband is still working or your partner is still" Comparative suffering isn't helpful, because suffering, it all matters and comparing it doesn't help, right? So what we need to do is hold space for it. Yeah and also I think embracing the suck right now, means reality checking the stories that we're making up about our fears and insecurities. If it would be helpful for listeners I can share a personal story of embracing the suck.

07:49 DB: That would be absolutely, that would be great.

07:50 AM: Okay, so I can't talk about embracing the suck without just doing it. So this is me right here, embracing the suck. So this very January before the global pandemic of COVID hit, the New York State passed a law allowing adoptees to apply for their pre-adoption birth certificate. This certificate would reveal one or possibly both birth parents names. So, as you may remember, I was given up for adoption in New York as a baby, and I have always longed to know this information. So I applied, this process was supposed to take eight or nine weeks to receive the information. So in February, my anxiety was growing, by March it needed an outlet noticeably. [chuckle] This was an emotionally charged time for me. I felt raw and vulnerable. As per my husband's recommendation, I joined a boxing gym, 'cause my yoga and Zoom was just wasn't enough. Then what happened? The unthinkable happened. Roughly seven weeks after I applied, the New York state county offices like most offices shut down due to COVID. Here I'm on the cusp of literally receiving information. I have been waiting for Darren, my entire life, and this tiny little virus changes everything for me. No boxing gym, no pre-adoption birth certificate.

09:23 AM: The gym was supposed to be my self-care to help me regulate these enormous emotions like anger that I don't have access to basic health information, but as you may remember, anger is just like the tip of the iceberg. The part we can see on the surface but underneath anger are usually other emotions. Like for me, honestly, sadness at having been given up for adoption or grief for the loss of biological parents that I don't even know or shame that I was abandoned and put into a foster home in the first place. So embracing the suck for me is accepting these intense emotions at a time when I already feel powerless, at a time when my in-person workshops were being cancelled or postponed left and right. When I had to help my kids navigate that, "You're not going back to school." Embracing the suck means consciously regulating my self doubt instead of projecting it on to my family or checking out all together. It's a practice and it's not easy. Embracing the suck is different for all of us, but if we don't embrace it, we discharge it. We can do better than that. We're all being called right now to do better, to regulate our emotions like never before.

10:48 DB: One of the things that I can suffer from in a situation like this is certainly impostor syndrome, and a lot of people identify with that so I can come up with ideas all day long. We launched a self-care thing for our members called Meditating Move, which is a series on Facebook, and Facebook Live. And then we did a special issue, COVID issue related of the magazine and then we started this podcast. Now, all of that to a listener or a reader sounds easy, "Oh my God, look at this guy is doing this, these guys are crushing it." On the backend of that it's a lot of self-doubt and questioning yourself and, "What am I doing? Who am I to do this right now? Who am I to launch with this team of amazing people to launch this Facebook Live thing?" And the person who did it with us also was questioning herself, she was like, "Oh my God. I don't know if I can do this." I'm like, "You've got this, are you kidding me. Think about all your training, you're gonna crush this." Or doing a podcast. I didn't know how to do a podcast, but my buddy Collin Kelleher and I at ABMP had been researching this forever, for more than a year. We've been looking information. And then it was just braving it and just saying I got this team of people and I may feel, I may have this self-doubt myself but these people are gonna help me get through this situation, and that's exactly what happened.

12:13 AM: Awesome answer. That is embracing the suck. The Suck could make us not do it, but you can't not do it. We have to step into outside of our comfort zone, we have to step into the unknown right now.

12:30 DB: How do we give ourself permission slips right now in this time?

12:34 AM: Yeah, right. Remember those good old permission slips when we were in school, and my kids miss school where you got a permission slip to go to the bathroom or permission slip to go to the library. So this is just a fun analogy around giving. Literally, if you took a Post-it note and wrote on it, "I give myself permission", again, it's just where self-awareness comes in, we get clearer about what self-care looks like about what it's like to give ourselves permission for what we really need right now, so that we can treat ourselves better during these uncertain and unprecedented time. Because when I think about it, self care right now is not an option, it is like a mandate for showing up sane in these unraveling times, right?

13:25 AM: So some of my permission slip sight now are, I give myself permission to feel, I give myself permission to get it wrong sometimes, this is a big one for me right now, I give myself to be a beginner at online facilitation. It's like, "You get to either not do it Amy, or you can be a beginner." And no one likes... That's vulnerability, being a beginner, right? I give myself permission for extra self-care and tender connection right now. Are there any kind of permission slips that come to mind for you when you think about what would support you right now? I look at, I'm telling you, I'm gonna tell these listeners, he's holding up two post it notes that are yellow that have word... That's perfect, that's a perfect post-it note, they're scribbled little post-it notes, yay!

14:13 DB: So right now, I give myself permission to fully embrace others' experience. That's huge, huge. Because I am coming to work every day and reminding myself, "You're doing good work for people who can't practice right now, you're gonna work hard for people who can't practice right now." So I'm constantly thinking, putting my feet in other people, practitioner's shoes, what would they wanna know? What would they wanna hear right now? And making sure the content is relevant to that, and make sure I'm speaking to that. And the other is giving myself permission to not be perfect, which for me is like, I am a very orderly editor person. So perfectionism is something that's literally we breathe in our office, and there's four editors, and six, seven editors if you count people who moved on to other departments. Perfectionism is kind of baked into being an editor, so I have to dial that back and be okay not being great at everything, or not making sure everything is perfect. That it's getting at it out sometimes, perfectionism is the enemy of getting something done. So it's one of those things about that phrase in the back of my head, so yeah. [chuckle]

15:30 AM: I'm gonna high five you right from this video right here. I love that you brought up that empathy, really embracing another person's experience, because I really think that that's one thing that's missing right now, is we're all in our own suffering. And so I love that you brought up the idea of expanding into others... Accepting others reality. Because it's the same storm, but we're all in different boats here, right? And it looks really, feels really different for each of us. And so, rather than projecting our experience onto someone else's potential experience, really considering what people are going through.

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17:03 DB: Amy, how do we establish a call to courage?

17:09 AM: Yeah, so we establish a call to courage by thinking about where we wanna be braver. So, where is one area where we wanna be bold, we wanna be brave, and then the number two thing we have to look, we have to be honest about what's getting in the way. So for me right now, I mentioned I wanna be braver at facilitating online, but what's getting in the way is the fear of looking dumb, of messing it up, of not being good enough. And those things are real, those emotions are real, and those thoughts that run through my head are real, but I have to reality check those stories, or those things that get in the way. So we just get honest with ourself about "Where should I stretch, where should I grow, how can I serve, how can I support myself or others in a way that's brave, and what's been holding me back?" Does that make sense? Do you have a call to courage at this COVID moment?

18:23 DB: It really comes back to leaning on the support system around me, and knowing that so many people have my back, right? So that goes back to the vulnerability, that goes back to my permission slips. Yeah, my call to courage is to take that step even when it's scary, like you said, so many things I've been doing personally are beginner's mind, beginner's things. So you're like always, you're back to step one, like, "How do I do this? I think I can do this." And making sure... That support system's huge. 'Cause I... Even though I may suffer from that impostor syndrome sometimes, I am somebody who does love to risk things and take a step, and so that's the courage which is to take that first step, and then I lean back on that support system to make sure like, "I got this, right? You guys got me in this?" Or just to make sure I've got that team, because that's what makes me feel, "Okay, we got this. Yeah, we know what we're doing. Okay, we're gonna do this. Yes."

19:24 AM: Nice.

19:25 DB: Yes, right. [chuckle]

19:27 AM: Totally.

19:28 DB: So Amy, tell me one of Brené's things in Daring to Lead. She talks about the arena, tell us about the arena and what that means.

19:39 AM: Yeah, yeah. Well, let's first visualize an arena. So think about whether you're a sports fan, or you've just been to a while ago, a music concert, a venue. And so visualize kind of the arena with all those seats, and then there's like the field or the stage. And so, the arena is really just the metaphor for the moments in our lives when we get to practice our call to courage. So we step out onto the field or out onto the stage as a metaphor for like, "Holy cow. I am gonna step out of my comfort zone and be brave here." Yeah, so the arena is really a metaphor for just the ordinary moments that become extraordinary when we really lean into who we really are and what we're really capable of, instead of being held back.

20:36 DB: Who are some of the people that are in the arena?

20:40 AM: Right, there's all those seats. So if you look around the arena, there's tons of people in there. And some of those people, like you said, Darren, they got your back. But not everyone. [chuckle]

20:54 DB: That's right.

20:56 AM: Right? So, there's this area that we call the cheap seats. And so, anyone who likes to hurl advice or judgment or criticism... And actually, for many of us, sometimes the worst cheap seats are the voices in my own head. Like the inner critic replaying, on repeat, all the ways that I could fail. So sometimes the cheap seats are just... They're embodied in the arena, but they're also in your mind. In your head. Another section, is the season ticket holders. So the people who... The season ticket holders will always show up when we're trying to be brave because they have season tickets. They're always there. So who are season tickets? Comparison, scarcity and shame. "I'm not good enough. There's not enough. There's not enough time, money, energy, whatever. And I'm not... " Imposter syndrome. So, I'm comparing my experience to someone else. Yeah, we're all beginners. Nobody has the COVID playbook. So we are all in this kind of extreme first time. And there are ways in which the outer world has tried to convince us that we're not good enough.

22:17 AM: And some of us have those tapes kind of playing. Because we're in vulnerability already, and so, watch out for those season ticket holders. Comparison, scarcity and shame, they will sabotage your game. Then we have the box seats. So these are the people who built the arena. The people who... Of privilege, who benefit from the current systems and structures. Either consciously or unconsciously. The box seats can, again, consciously or unconsciously perpetuate stereotypes, misinformation or fear. Like, "Women don't do that. That's not my role." Or, "In my family, this was the expectation." And so, it's the systems and the structures that were consciously or unconsciously in place, that kind of keep things the way they were. "Oh, the good old days," or, "How it should be." It keeps us in alignment, in an invisible chamber of like, "Don't act out of alignment with what's supposed to be the way." And then there's the two most important seats. Darren, do you remember those two most important seats in the arena?

23:28 DB: Empathy, self-compassion.

23:31 AM: Yeah, ding ding ding. A-plus, look at you. So, empathy. Like you said, you're not alone. You've got my back. People are rooting for you. Or maybe even asking like, "How can I help?" People who really see you, and they don't expect you to be a super human. They're like, "You get to be you, Darren. With your strengths and your areas for opportunity." And then that self-compassion piece is huge because I think right now, the inner critic for all of us is kinda running rampant. The inner critic is just kinda running around. I don't know, for me it's a mess in here, in my head. And so, remembering this is a moment of suffering. All humans suffer, welcome to being human. "May I be kind to myself right now? May I treat myself the way that I would treat a friend?" And most of us do not do that, Darren. We do not treat ourselves the way that we would treat a friend. We are flipping cruel. Cruel and unusual punishment in here.

24:37 DB: The two that resonate... I mean, they all... Their going to the arena totally resonates with me. The two things I wanted to mention were the cheap seats. The people hurling the barbs and the judgment and the criticism. So I have somewhat of a public face. I'm the editor of a magazine. We're doing this podcast. So, one of the aspects of our association are social media. And so, when we publish things the critics line up. And so... Or they send emails. And especially on a Friday at 4:30, when you're shutting down. And there is your weekend. And now, I'm gonna think about that comment all weekend, so...

25:21 AM: All weekend.

25:23 DB: Yeah, right? So the cheap seats, I accept it. I've got the thick skin when I need it. I accept when people have comments about the good work we're doing, and I also understand that sometimes we don't always knock it out of the park.

25:36 AM: Right. And there's a difference between not knocking it out of the park, and just cruel. Is this feedback helpful? Is it timely? Is it caring? Sure, we want feedback. But ooh, the cheap seats? That's not... That is next level. That's like, "I'm gonna put a nail in your coffin here." And, no. Sometimes I'm just like, "Ooh, cheap seats." And sometimes if I can just say, "Cheap seats." Because... Are they giving you constructive criticism? Or is it like "cheap seats?" Those are the "cheap seats" that are just hurling judgment at us.

26:13 DB: Okay, Amy. How do we step bravely into the arena?

26:18 AM: I don't know. Most people who... Don't step into the arena without a huge breath. I have to do some conscious breathing. Maybe some self-talk, like, "I got this." Maybe a boxed breath or alternate nostril breathing. But yeah, we summon our courage by consciously getting really present. That's what I do. I notice the things that have gotten in the way, and I say not today. "Not today, fear. Not today, shame."

26:52 AM: And I take another deep breath 'cause that's just like the things that got in the way. And then I walk past all that armor, like the armor that I can wear, like I avoid. If I'm too uncomfortable, I can avoid my family or I can avoid a tough conversation. Not usually professionally, but personally. Or perfectionism, like you mentioned before, like I'm gonna present the perfect, bam! Nailed it out of the park or criticizing other people. Well, look at, they didn't get it perfect or... And when you go into that mode of armoring up, you're really just self-protecting, but you just look at that armor, like the pretty pieces like some of them are so shiny, like the helmet or the shield and you're like, "Oh, I want that armor." It feels like protection, but you walk past the armor and you take another, a few deep breaths, because that's terrifying and brave. And you do you, you do... You make... You do the next right thing. You have the next right conversation. You make the next right sales call, or you figure out how you're gonna protect yourself with the right face mask, or you do the research that's gonna make you have more confidence to step into the next phase of being.

28:17 DB: What, you mentioned it, what are some of those telltale signs of armoring up?

28:23 AM: So, armoring up [chuckle] happens in a nanosecond. So, for me, I needed to like slow it down, so I can really see what's happening. Because bam, there's that Viktor Frankl quote like, "Between stimulus and response, there is a space, and in that space is our power to choose. And in our choice is our growth and freedom." But when stimulus and response are glued together, someone says something, hurls judgment at me, and I'm automatically putting my armor on, like I look like a robot. It's heavy behind this, you can't see me, you can't feel me, I'm hating you, whatever. I'm sending jabs out of my... [chuckle] my eye sockets. No. I have to slow this down to like, for me, usually it's leaning into the somatic sensation. So, I feel a defensiveness like shh in my body. I can feel the rigidness and tightness. I feel like a surge of adrenaline. Like I am ready to fight you back. And my thinking, my thinking starts finding faults in the other person and I start making like an attack list [chuckle] in my head of like, "Oh, well, you think that, well let me tell you."

29:43 AM: So, for me, there are telltale signs, which usually is... "I'm gonna giddy up, I'm gonna fight you back." And so, when I find giddy-up, I'm... [chuckle] I'm ready and let's do this, I already know that my armor is already fully on. But when I can start to just like, ooh, I feel the adrenaline, or I feel... I can pause and I can go, "Oh, you know what, I'm actually getting really defensive right now. I would love to take five minutes, so I can just take a walk, play a song. I probably won't be able to listen really great right now. So, I would love to circle back with you in five, 10 minutes. How does that work for you?" My husband is like, "As long as you don't avoid this forever," 'cause I'll make those five, 10 minutes be like 30.


30:32 AM: No. So, yeah, no, you gotta circle back. If people give you permission to circle back because you gotta be honest when you're not gonna listen or when you're already hating.

30:44 DB: So, how do we break through that self-armor mechanism?

30:49 AM: We learn more about ourselves. So, we learn more about our strengths and our areas for opportunity. So, there is a website, Dare to Lead, there's an assessment on that website. I think you might mention it at the end, so I'll just let you do that. But taking that assessment, getting the feedback about like, "Hey, this is what I'm strong at, these are my areas for opportunity." Learning more about self-protection or emotional, we call it emotional armor, but we all have ways of self-protecting. It's human. [chuckle] Fight, flight, or freeze. We are not gonna just... It's our self-preservation mechanism. So, we learn more about our own protection. We learn our favorite pieces, and we figure out how to practice self-compassion as we play with the idea of taking armor off or maybe some day not putting it on.


31:51 AM: I also like to say, like what I said in class, we have an accountability buddy. Someone else who also wants to be brave and can we check in with them every once a week or every other week to share our successes and setbacks, because unless we're speaking about this, unless we're wrapping language around this, it's this thing that's happening in my head and it's just, it's a lot. And so, I need to have a human being who wants to be brave with me, so that we can be like, "Oh, man, this worked, this didn't work," so that we can celebrate and circle back. [chuckle] Just because we messed up, it doesn't mean we're out of the game. It means we get to figure out how to clean up our mess, like think about it, like clean up your mess. And slowly, with commitment, we increase our conscious competence. We celebrate our small wins, we circle back to fix our mistake, and our confidence grows. We actually like ourselves better, our connections feel deeper, and we inspire other people to be braver with their lives. We do our part to make the world a braver and brighter place.

33:02 DB: Oh, that's beautiful. That is beautiful for our audience to hear. And for massage therapists, again as they're struggling with this, whether they cannot practice or whether they're beginning to practice, it's just uncertain times for everybody right now. And this is one of those, I just really wanted to bring you on to give people a little bit of that fight in them. And then also the ability to self-compassion, and also empathy for others who are also feeling this, because there's been a little bit in the field, you'll see people attacking each other and especially on social media. Take a break from the social for a little bit. [chuckle] It's good mentally to not be on there all the time. I wanna thank you so much, Amy, for joining us today. You may reach Amy at conscioustime.com or email her at amy@conscioustime.com. And she'd like to encourage you, as she mentioned, to sign up for this free resource at daretolead.brenebrown.com/assessment. Thank you so much for joining us today!

34:08 AM: Thank you so much for having me on and having this conversation. It's an important conversation and my hope is that there will be pods of people, there will be therapists, and there will be people all over that start to have this important conversation, because it takes practice and we need to do this work.

34:30 Speaker 4: This has been a production of Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals. ABMP is the leading association for massage therapists and bodywork professionals in the United States and beyond. From liability insurance to professional advocacy, award-winning publications, to the world's largest continuing education library for massage, to this podcast, no organization provides more for its members and the profession than ABMP. ABMP works for you.

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