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On this episode of Unlocking Us

So glad to be back! Launching our second season with a conversation on one of my favorite subjects (and least favorite experiences): Day 2! It sounds easy enough, but Day 2 is no joke. It’s the messy middle — the point of no return. Join us as we talk about navigating what’s next and why it’s always best to stumble through the darkness together.

About the guest

Brené Brown

Dr. Brené Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston, where she holds the Huffington Foundation Endowed Chair at the Graduate College of Social Work. She also holds the position of visiting professor in management at the University of Texas at Austin McCombs School of Business.

Brené has spent the past two decades studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy. She is the author of six #1 New York Times bestsellers and is the host of two award-winning podcasts, Unlocking Us and Dare to Lead.

Brené’s books have been translated into more than 30 languages, and her titles include Atlas of the HeartDare to Lead, Braving the Wilderness, Rising Strong, Daring Greatly, and The Gifts of Imperfection. With Tarana Burke, she co-edited the bestselling anthology You Are Your Best Thing: Vulnerability, Shame Resilience, and the Black Experience.

Brené’s TED talk on the Power of Vulnerability is one of the top five most-viewed TED talks in the world, with over 60 million views. Brené is the first researcher to have a filmed lecture on Netflix, and in March 2022, she launched a new show on HBO Max that focuses on her latest book, Atlas of the Heart.

Brené spends most of her time working in organizations around the world, helping develop braver leaders and more courageous cultures.

She lives in Houston, Texas, with her husband, Steve. They have two children, Ellen and Charlie, and a weird Bichon named Lucy.

Show notes

Creativity Inc. by Ed Catmull
Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull

Production by Cadence13


Brené Brown: Welcome to Unlocking Us. I’m Brené Brown, and I am so glad to be back, y’all. I missed the podcast. I missed you. I don’t know if it’s weird or not, but when I record the podcast, I feel like we’re walking together or… I was going to say, running together—you’re running, I’m walking fast behind you trying to catch you, or I’m in the car with you, or I’m in your ears in the park or while you’re doing, folding laundry. I just feel like I’m with you, so I’ve missed that connection. I’ve missed you and I’ve missed talking to you. Today we’re going to talk about Day Two. One of my most favorite things to talk about, and least favorite things to actually navigate and struggle through.  So, Day Two today.

BB: I have to say that it is very ironic that the first podcast of Season 1 was about FFTs, F’ing First Times, like our first time in a pandemic, our first time teaching online, our first time learning online, our first time learning how to work with toddlers crawling up our backs while we’re on Zoom. You know, what it’s like to be in a first time and how hard those times are, especially when we don’t talk about them. But if we deconstruct them, we can make them better. Well, this is the first podcast of season two, and the topic today is not FFTs or F’ing First Times. The topic today is Day Two, for better or worse, I think we’re smack-dab in the middle of day two, and day two is no joke, y’all. It’s even, I think, trickier than the beginning; I think it’s even trickier than that first step of our FFTs. But just like how understanding the FFT and breaking it down is really helpful, understanding Day Two really helps, and it also kind of normalizes what we’re feeling.

BB: So, let me tell you about Day Two and how it got its name. For many years, we had a training program for therapists and helping professionals. We don’t have it anymore, because now the majority of graduate programs include content on shame and shame resilience and vulnerability in their curricula. Which was actually not the case, it really just was not… People did not talk about shame 10 years ago or maybe not even five years ago, but we’re talking about it more and more, and so we don’t have this training program anymore. But for years, this is how we brought therapists, counselors into our work. So the trainings were three-day intensives, and let me tell you, day two of these three-day trainings sucked. I mean sucked. So not only in terms of the curriculum, day two meant that we were moving into some of the really tough content, like shame and worthiness, but people were also kind of feeling raw. The first day of anything like the first day of school, the first day of a training, the first day of your work, you’re like, I get the badge and everything’s shiny, and everything feels like a new undertaking, and there’s this sparkle of possibility.

BB: By day two, this is dulled. And now you’re kind of in this dense fog where you don’t have the shiny possibility of day one or the running toward the finish line of day three. It’s like hitting the wall. The wall, if you know the wall, if you’re a runner or an athlete of any kind, like if you know the wall, the wall is in day two. So here we are in day two in these trainings, people are tired, and within the groups like this is we’re doing a lot of small group work. Not only do we have the day two of it for us personally, within our groups, we’re also hitting the rocky part of, have you all heard of form storm norm and perform? It’s from researcher, Bruce Tuckman, he studies group dynamics, and he describes that when a group or team comes together and forms, then it’s often rocky for a time while members figure out the dynamics, which is the storm. At some point, the group gets into its groove and gets protective, that’s the norm, and then they start making real headway, which is perform.

BB: And so even the storm of coming together as a new group happens in day two, it occupies the middle space. People find all kinds of ways to… and creative ways, I will say, to resist the difficulty of day two, so these trainings that we had were always in San Antonio at a hotel on the Riverwalk, and so we would always tell people, “Okay, watch the margarita consumption at lunch. We’re going to ask you not to drink while you’re in the program because you need to be clear-headed and clear-eyed, and you need to check into what it is that you want to numb, what’s hard that’s going on for you.” And it’s really funny because no matter how many times we did that training there, we probably did it 30 times. Day two was always just painful until we started naming it, and we would get up in the morning, all the facilitators would meet for breakfast, and we’re like, “Okay, good morning, welcome to day two, welcome we’re in day two, we’re in day two.” And everyone would like do some yoga stretching and have a healthy breakfast, and we’d be kinder and gentler with each other because we knew it was going to be hard.

BB: And it’s funny because the therapists that we trained that went on to do group work, they would always tell us when they were leaving, “You know what, I’m going to do three day intensives with my clients, but I’ll get back with you and give you some feedback about how you can actually avoid the day-two-ness of all this.” And they would always write back and say, “Oh my God, day two sucks, there’s no way. It’s just the middle. It’s the middle.” And here’s the saying… Here’s the sentence for us: The middle is messy, but it’s also where all the magic happens, all the tension that creates goodness and learning. There’s interesting research that says, “If learning is not uncomfortable, you’re not really learning.” Like this is the seat of discomfort, is in day two.

BB: So again, for all of us who are facilitating these three-day intensives, we harnessed our super powers, we learned how to manage it, and it’s funny because it’s very similar to the process that I shared on my very first podcast about how do you get through f’ing first times, how do you get through that really weird first exercise class or that really weird first effort to do something that you’ve never done before? And it follows the same pattern, which is just a pattern I think that we can pick up in our lives in general: name it, normalize it, put it in perspective, then reality check expectations. If we expected everyone to have the same excitement level and buzz as they did on day one, or the same anticipation and feeling of accomplishment they did on day three, we would get into the cycle of thinking, “Oh my God, we’re failing at this training and something’s wrong with them.” And we would probably gear up our energy, which would make people even more day-two-y. So again, name it, normalize it, put it in perspective, and reality check expectations around it.

BB: It’s funny because day two or whatever that middle space is for your own process is when we’re in the dark, the doors close behind us, we’re too far in to turn around and not close enough to the end to see the light. In my work with the military and veterans, they talk about this kind of dark middle piece as “the point of no return.” It’s an aviation term coined by pilots for the point in the flight where you have too little fuel to turn around and return to the originating airfield, so you have to go forward. It’s strangely universal, and it goes all the way back, this kind of saying about the point of no return, actually tracks all the way back to Julius Caesar’s famous, “The die is cast.” Which was spoken in 49 BC as he and his troops made the river crossing that started a huge war. I think this is crossing the Rubicon. I think that’s the Rubicon River I think in Italy was actually… because I’ve heard people refer to the point of no return as also, we’ve crossed the Rubicon now.

BB: And it’s really funny because the saying, I can’t pronounce it, I’ll give it my shot: Alea iacta est—the die is cast. Up until I heard that, I think for decades, I thought the die has been cast, like when you’re dying a piece of fabric, but it’s a die as a singular version of dice, like one cube, and you’ve thrown it and it’s rolling but it doesn’t matter now because it’s been cast. Your future is set now because that stuff is already in motion. Whether it’s an ancient battle strategy or the creative process, or a pandemic, at some point we are in the dark, there’s no turning back. The only way is forward and most of the time, we can’t see what that way is, otherwise it wouldn’t be anxiety-producing to be in the middle. We’re in Day Two. We’re in Day Two of the pandemic, we’re in Day Two of the long overdue racial reckoning. We’ll start with the pandemic. There’s no turning around, there’s only going forward, and we have no idea how long or how far we’re going to need to go. My prediction is that September, October and November are going to be hard as hell.

BB: Here’s why. September, believe it or not, is our new year. As much as we’d like to think that January is the restart for us, it is not. In publishing, they call January “the new year new you,” and that’s where they slot new year new you books or magazines, say, it’s new year new you, let’s run all the stuff that’s about New Year’s resolutions and expectations that are going to leave us in shame shit storms, but all that stuff is driven by this idea that January is the new year, new you. But really for most of us, the Tuesday after Labor Day is launch, go time. That is just in our wiring to be like, “time to go back.”

BB: The kids are in school, they’ve got their shiny notebooks, they’re all set, they’re still excited, there’s not too much homework yet.  We’re back at work after the summer schedule weirdness, we slip into this rhythm, and this rhythm is like as much a part of us as I don’t know, the circadian rhythm, that internal process that regulates our sleeping-waking cycle that repeats every 24 hours. We’re wired for September like I’m wired to stand and kneel at Catholic church. Like I’m just up, down, Communion, pass the peace. Like I’m a liturgical girl. Like we are wired for it that way. My gut, and I hope I’m wrong, is that our desire to get back to normal, that yearning that is just wired in us, will override what probably makes sense for us to do in terms of containing the virus and continuing to distance and mask.

BB: Texas was in a crisis a couple of months ago, and our leaders—slow, slow—finally got serious about masks and social distancing, and containment now is within our reach in the state, which it was horrendous here, and mostly, honestly, due to the politicizing of COVID safety measures. But I’m not sure we can stay in containment like we are now. If we could, we could safely figure out how to go back to school, we could safely figure out how to move around, and I do believe we need to think and act and work seriously to get schools back and kids back in connection, but not at the peril of virus containment. Otherwise, we just go back into lockdown again and it gets worse. I think what we’ll probably… And this is just, I’m embarrassed to say this out loud, but I’m going to say it, but I think, at least in my state, which you know, as Molly Ivins said, “I love Texas dearly, but I only discuss it among consenting adults.” I feel the same way. I’m a Texan, fifth generation. I think we’ll start making really bad decisions around football, so I think what we’ll see is containment, easing back in, and then the inability and the lack of will power to stay.

BB: And so I think we’re going to get whipped around a lot, like the roller coasters that you ride that are in the dark, and the hardest thing about them is that you can’t anticipate the turns or the falls, and so you’re just like in total lock from head to toe. I think we’re going to get whipped around a lot around going to school, coming back, being able to do some more stuff, that being taken away, and I think that’s going be hard when you integrate that with our September, “let’s go back and launch” inner cycle. I think we’re also going be trying to figure out work, and childcare, and job searches, and the whipping around is going to lead to probably some low-grade anxiety and depression from disconnection.

BB: We’re in Day Two. We just can’t turn around now, we’ve got to go forward, but we can’t see where we’re going. Here’s the analogy, we’re on the Space Mountain ride, this is the perfect analogy, it’s like, you just cannot anticipate the turns and the drops, and the climbs, and we’re in that part where the voice comes on, you’re already strapped in and it’s moving forward, and even though you want to scream, “Hey, I changed my mind!” Too late. Like, you’re on the ride, we’re on the ride. In terms of the fight for racial justice, mercifully, there’s no turning back. We have to move forward and no one knows exactly what that means, what it’s going to take or what it’s going to look like. We just know that it is so long overdue. It is the right thing to do, and it’s going to happen. I think there’re a lot of us, I put myself in that group, that there’s no turning back now. I am only sad that it took so many Americans so much time to realize the pain and trauma and injustice, but now that we’ve seen it and we’ve known it, this kind of “let’s go back to normal, this is consuming too much of my bandwidth” is No. That’s just No.

BB: One of the people that I have interviewed for this season of the podcast is poet, writer, activist Sonya Renee Taylor, and you’ll get to hear her podcast in a couple of weeks, and she wrote something that’s so beautiful. She writes, “We will not go back to normal. Normal never was. Our pre-Corona existence was not normal, other than we normalized greed, inequity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction, disconnection, confusion, rage, hoarding, hate, and lack. We should not long to return, my friends. We are being given the opportunity to stitch a new garment, one that fits all of humanity and nature.” That’s where we are, but we don’t know what that’s going to look like. And just by definition, that’s anxiety producing. Beautiful, true, and hard and unknown. Day Two.


BB: So, what do we do about this challenging convergence of Day Twos? Well, this is for me where Pixar and Joseph Campbell come into play. So several years ago, I spent the day at Pixar, I did a talk for all the Pixar employees. I worked with a small group of people around a specific film, and then I had lunch with Ed Catmull, who at the time headed up both Pixar and Disney animation, and some of the leaders at Pixar, mostly producers, directors, animators and writers. You have to understand that this experience was like a dream come true for me. I am such a Pixar fan, I’m such a Disney fan. When they called to ask if I’d be interested in going, all I could think of is, “Oh my God, I should wear my Jessie cowgirl outfit, that would be so fun.” Steve was like, “No, no. I don’t think you should.” I’m like, “I could go as Dory. Just keep swimming and just keep swimming.” He’s like, “No.” And Ed Catmull, his book Creativity, Inc. was life-altering for me. It was just profound, and I’ve since developed a relationship with Ed and we’re friends, and he’s mentored me on really important aspects of storytelling, so this Pixar experience was huge for me.

BB: So at lunch this day, our conversation was really focused on this unavoidable uncertainty and vulnerability of the creative process, and these filmmakers were explaining how frustrating it is that absolutely no amount of experience or success gives you a free pass from this daunting level of doubt that is a part of film making. And as they were talking, I was thinking, “Day Two? Sounds like Day Two. I think they’re talking about Day Two. This is Day Two.” And all of a sudden, I just looked at Ed and said, “Oh my God, I totally relate to this, I get this. You can’t skip Day Two.” And Ed immediately knew that I got it, what I was talking about, and we were completely connected, and he smiled in a way that was like, “Right, you can’t skip the middle.” As we wrapped up our lunch conversation at Pixar, one of the writers in the room shared an observation about our discussion, and this is after me explaining Day Two, and he said, “You know, Day Two is like the second act in a three-act story. It’s always the toughest for our teams. It’s where we struggle with our characters and our narrative arc.”

BB: Everyone in the room was like, “Oh my God, yes. It was just like, Day Two, Act Two, so tough.” When I got back to Houston, I got this great email from Ed that said, “Man, that Day Two conversation sent a jolt through our room, and through Pixar.” And I couldn’t stop thinking about the connection between Day Two and Act Two in storytelling, so I emailed Darla Anderson, a producer that I had met at Pixar, who’s behind some of my favorite films: Toy Story III, Monsters, Inc., A Bug’s Life, Cars, and oh my God, my all-time favorite Pixar film by far, Coco. And I asked her if she could help me understand how they think at Pixar, the traditional three-act structure of storytelling. I thought, maybe if I learn about storytelling, I can crack this Day Two misery. I have read a lot about storytelling, everything from the neuroscience of storytelling and screen writing; I knew there was an answer in here. So Darla explains that Act One, think about this, is where the protagonist, the main character, is called to an adventure or called into a journey, accepts the adventure, and the rules of the world are established.

BB: So, when I say the rules of the world are established, it means that we understand the landscape of things. We understand what the rules are, we understand, “Okay, in Black Panther, Wakanda’s hidden away. Oh, but they’ve got a material source that people are after, so there’s something valuable, but the world doesn’t know.” We start to understand what the rules are. Act One is also the inciting at the very end of Act One, the inciting incident. That’s when the shit hits the fan. Something really hard happens.

BB: So, listen to what Act Two is, which I think is so interesting. Act Two is where the protagonist looks for every comfortable way to solve the problem. Every easy way to solve the problem. Every way to solve the problem that does not require the hero’s vulnerability. How can I solve it without being vulnerable? And it’s not until the lowest of the low moment happens, where our protagonist, our hero, realizes, “I can’t solve the problem without vulnerability.” We go to Act Three, which is where the protagonist learns the lesson, proves that she has learned the lesson, proves it at all costs, which is primarily vulnerability. And it’s all about redemption. Our character has gone on this journey, has learned about the importance of… Has had horrible trials and tribulations, but has learned about the value of stripping it all down and putting yourself out there and being brave and vulnerable.

BB: So, when I read this from Darla, my first thought was like, “Oh my God, holy crap, this is Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey.” Joseph Campbell, American scholar, professor, writer, best known for his work on comparative mythology and religion, and Campbell found that countless myths from different times and cultures all around the world share this fundamental stage and structure, which he calls The Hero’s Journey, or some people call it the monomyth, like one myth. And it came back to me, because this whole idea is introduced in a book called The Hero with a Thousand Faces, which, every Jungian and Joseph Campbell book was on my mom’s bookshelf in the ’70s. Probably your mom’s bookshelf or your bookshelf, or your family’s bookshelf as well, and I read all of these in my 20s, re-read them in my 30s, and so I’m like, “Oh my God, storytelling and how we handle stories, this can help us because we’re in the middle of a story. And we can’t get through the end until we’re vulnerable.”

BB: I shot an email back to Darla and said, “Hey, is my Joseph Campbell comparison on target?” And she said, “Yeah. We reference Joseph Campbell and the hero’s journey at the beginning of every film.” Which is so cool, like who knew that? What’s that thing called in films? An Easter egg. As the protagonist in the story of the pandemic, as a protagonist in the story for the fight for racial justice, we can continue to try to solve the crisis in every way that we can imagine that doesn’t involve being vulnerable and real, or we can understand that there’s really no way to solve Day Two until we get vulnerable faster, maybe we can keep the lowest of the low from happening although I think it’s already happened and it continues to happen. In sobriety, we call that a high bottom, looking for the high bottom. Do you really have to end up almost dead or in jail before you realize there’s a problem? Can we accelerate our commitment to just being real and vulnerable and saying, “God, we’re in Day Two.” But we’re not turning back, and not turning back is okay, because we have a fight to fight in front of us.

BB: And in order to get there, we’re going to have to strip it all down and get really deeply, messy, human. When we look at our lives right now, our work, our family, our faith, our friends, what would it mean to get a little bit more honest and a little bit more human and vulnerable right now? What would we say or ask for? I think around race, the most vulnerable thing we could do collectively right now is own the truth of our history. Our brutal story of slavery and the systems that were built to support the dehumanization of people. If we could say “we’re at the point of no return, thank God, let’s just take it all off and get honest,” what would happen? How much faster and how much more effectively could we stop the brutality and make change? I think what sucks and what’s the hardest part about Day Two is exactly what Ed and the Pixar team pointed out that it’s a non-negotiable part of the process, whether it’s a pandemic or an uprising or a difficult process at work, a fight with our partners; experience does not give us easy passage through the middle space.

BB: I want to say that again: No matter what the middle is, experience does not give us easy passage through struggle. Experience only grants us a little grace that whispers, “This is a part of the process. Stay the course. Stay the course.” We’re in Day Two friends, and again, experience doesn’t even give us a little spark of light in this mess right now, it only gives us a little bit of faith that we can navigate it together. Most of the time when we’re in complete darkness, we wave our arms around to reach out and grab someone who can walk with us, to get our bearings, to give us perspective, to hold on to. I think it’s that time. The middle is messy, but it’s also where the magic happens. If we believe in ourselves, if we reach out together, and if we lean into a little bit of that grace that says, “We can get through this.”

BB: I’m so grateful for the podcast. I’m grateful to be back. I think we are in the messy middle, and I think we have to unlock the path, we have to unlock people, and then we have to unlock ourselves. I hope this is what we do together with Unlocking Us. Thank you for listening, and again, I’m so grateful to be reconnected, and I was going to say walking with you through this, but stumbling in the dark with you reaching out for each other, grateful.


© 2020 Brené Brown Education and Research Group, LLC. All rights reserved.

Brown, B. (Host). (2020, September 2). Brené on Day 2. [Audio podcast episode]. In Unlocking Us with Brené Brown. Cadence13.

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