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There was only one variable that separated the people who have a strong sense of love and belonging and the people who really struggle for it. And to me, the hard part of the one thing that keeps us out of connection is our fear that we're not worthy of connection, was something that, personally and professionally, I felt like I needed to understand better.

And that was, the people who have a strong sense of love and belonging believe they're worthy of love and belonging. So what I did is I took all of the interviews where I saw worthiness, where I saw people living that way, and just looked at those. I have a slight office supply addiction, but that's another talk.

I want to hack into these things that I know are important and lay the code out for everyone to see. Because, by the time you're a social worker for 10 years, what you realize is that connection is why we're here.

And when you ask people about connection, the stories they told me were about disconnection.

So very quickly — really about six weeks into this research — I ran into this unnamed thing that absolutely unraveled connection in a way that I didn't understand or had never seen.

They're willing to invest in a relationship that may or may not work out. And now my mission to control and predict had turned up the answer that the way to live is with vulnerability and to stop controlling and predicting. You can't numb those hard feelings without numbing the other affects, our emotions. So when we numb those, we numb joy, we numb gratitude, we numb happiness. The more afraid we are, the more vulnerable we are, the more afraid we are. We just need you to be authentic and real and say ... We'll fix it." But there's another way, and I'll leave you with this.

The other thing that they had in common was this: They fully embraced vulnerability. Because what we do is we take fat from our butts and put it in our cheeks. And when you hold those perfect little babies in your hand, our job is not to say, "Look at her, she's perfect.

They believed that what made them vulnerable made them beautiful. My job is just to keep her perfect — make sure she makes the tennis team by fifth grade and Yale by seventh." That's not our job. You're imperfect, and you're wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging." That's our job.

So, I'll start with this: a couple years ago, an event planner called me because I was going to do a speaking event. Why don't you just say I'm a researcher-storyteller." And she went, "Ha ha. And so I thought, you know what, this is the career for me, because I am interested in some messy topics. It's what gives purpose and meaning to our lives. It doesn't matter whether you talk to people who work in social justice, mental health and abuse and neglect, what we know is that connection, the ability to feel connected, is — neurobiologically that's how we're wired — it's why we're here.

And she called, and she said, "I'm really struggling with how to write about you on the little flyer." And I thought, "Well, what's the struggle? There's no such thing." So I'm a researcher-storyteller, and I'm going to talk to you today — we're talking about expanding perception — and so I want to talk to you and tell some stories about a piece of my research that fundamentally expanded my perception and really actually changed the way that I live and love and work and parent. When I was a young researcher, doctoral student, my first year, I had a research professor who said to us, "Here's the thing, if you cannot measure it, it does not exist." And I thought he was just sweet-talking me. " and he was like, "Absolutely." And so you have to understand that I have a bachelor's and a master's in social work, and I was getting my Ph. in social work, so my entire academic career was surrounded by people who kind of believed in the "life's messy, love it." And I'm more of the, "life's messy, clean it up, organize it and put it into a bento box." And so to think that I had found my way, to found a career that takes me — really, one of the big sayings in social work is, "Lean into the discomfort of the work." And I'm like, knock discomfort upside the head and move it over and get all A's. So I thought, you know what, I'm going to start with connection.

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