Posts in Category: Hierarchy Mindset

The Ultimate Life Hack: Love, Power, Boundaries and Vulnerability


I’m a big fan of Brene Brown’s work.  Daring Greatly felt like it was written for me and my family.  I saw shame and armor at every turn.  When I read it, I was thrilled to finally have a target for releasing so much of the tension written into the way I see the world.  Embrace vulnerability, even though it’s painful – it’s worth it.  Clear, concise, even some practical examples of how to do so.  It was still difficult and unnatural and exhausting, though.  Then came Rising Strong, with some more tips and examples of how to take the lows and use them to bounce back better than before.  How to make that vulnerability a little less scary and learn from it.  Helpful, but still painful and difficult.

Then I read a simple picture book, The Conquerors.  With it’s clunky drawings and war theme, I was a little turned off, but then it changed my life.  In the book, the general goes and invades all the countries around and conquers them all because he has the best, strongest army.  Then he goes to the last country that was so small he hadn’t bothered before.  This one, however, he can’t conquer like he’s used to.  They welcome him and his army with open arms and teach them all about their way of life.  The soldiers go home and bring the little country’s customs with them.  The general sees it as “spoils of war” but the little country isn’t destroyed in the slightest.  Everybody wins.

When I think about Brene Brown’s vulnerability with myself as the little country, that it’s not me against the world, but rather me showing the world how I do things… Then it becomes really easy to just show up and be myself.  Be seen.  There is no threat, the threat is just a perception.  I can be completely myself and not have to use tons of defensive armor, because this is *my* turf and therefor I’m in charge and you can’t touch me.  If someone comes in and doesn’t respect that, then it’s easy for me to see that it’s their problem, not mine.  Because this is *my* turf and nobody is in control of it but me.  For someone else to try and take control is laughable.  Show up, be seen, live my authentic life.  Ask for help when I need it, learn from my mistakes, go see how other people live *their* lives (but don’t think that I can control the place just because I’m there).  Aaaahhhh.  I can feel the shame melting into a puddle on the floor and leaving me there, strong, myself, and with the strongest boundaries yet.

Then.  Then.  Then, power and love surfaced as relevent topics.  The idea of using my power to do things on my own, power to ask (not demand) for help when I need it.  Power to stand up for what I believe in.  Power to make change.  Power to choose my own life.  Power to keep trying when the first, second, hundredth time doesn’t work out.  This is personal power, and it’s in direct contrast to using power over someone.  With power over someone, you take away their choice.  You gain power while they lose it.  Or else you give your power away to them.  Let them control you.  You create power dynamics, power struggles.  It’s the opposite of consent, and it’s what most of us think of when we think of power as a dirty word.  Or as a holy grail.  Striving for promotions, sibling rivalry, parents yelling at their kids.  Evil overlords.

Finally, love.  Mr. Rogers said, “Love isn’t a state of perfect caring.  It is an active noun like struggle.”  If love is an action, what are the everyday actions we use to show we care?  How do I love someone?  How do I show my love?  What does love feel like?  What does it take to be lovable?  What is self love?  I realized that the actions I use to express love – helping, guiding, teaching, protecting, preventing pain, not causing hurt – those are all power dynamics.  If I show love by helping, then to receive that love, you need to be helpless.  If I show love by guiding, then to receive that love, you need to be malleable without strong will of your own.  If I show love by protecting, then you need to be weak.  If I show love by preventing pain, then when you are in pain, I’ve failed and I’m not lovable.  If I show love by not causing hurt, then how do I speak up for myself when it conflicts with you?  How do I hold strong boundaries and stay true to myself when you are helpless and weak?  And how do you stay true to yourself when I need to feel lovable and I’m trying so hard to help and guide you?  This kind of love feels like strength and weakness.  Power and control.  It’s easy for me to see how we get our identities wrapped up in power dynamics.  I am the teacher.  I know stuff.  Lots of stuff.  More than you, so I can show you I love you by teaching you.  I am lovable because I teach.  How dare you tell me I’m wrong?  How dare you not accept my teachings?  How dare you be uninterested?  Don’t you understand that those things hurt my identity?  Don’t you LOVE me?  Am I not lovable!!?!?  And if I’m hurting, then who caused it, and why wasn’t I protected??  I must not be lovable.

Show me you love me

I want love to feel like acceptance, to feel expansive, like being understood, like safety and security.  Like the best place to explore and experiment and figure myself out.  The safe landing pad.  Open, cozy arms.  Shoulders to cry on.  And so I’m upgrading my love actions with listening, understanding, and respecting boundaries.  Self love as understanding myself, figuring out my own boundaries, and respecting them.  I’m releasing the power dynamics and outgrowing the need for an identity in order to be lovable.  I am unconditionally lovable purely because I exist.  I am lovable because I have needs and limits and I communicate them.  I am interesting because I’m a person and I have a story.  I’m lovable because I don’t have it all together.  I can see and respect and love you and not be threatened by you, because there are no power dynamics in our relationship.  

And just like that, the vulnerability armor explodes into a cloud of glitter that sticks to the puddle of shame on the floor.  And I’m free, and can walk away.  There is pain, and there is hurt, there is old trauma that I can finally process and it will cause tears, but there are shoulders to cry on and feeling low is just another way to be lovable.  Conflict is a chance to better understand someone (love!).  Failure is an opportunity for understanding (love!).  In order to be lovable I just need to exist.  I just need to exist.  And when there isn’t someone right there to shower me with love when I need it, there’s always self love – it’s not a booby prize.  I can always understand myself and my own needs and limits better, and use my power to get them met.  And that feels really, really good.


Review: Ruby’s Wish


Ruby’s Wish by Shirin Yim Bridges is the true story of the author’s grandmother, Ruby.  She is invited to go to school as a child, and she loves it.  However, she still needs to do her household learning as she is a girl.  While the other girls drop out, she stays and thrives.  She resents being a girl but tries to hide it from her grandfather.  He comes through in the end, though, and allows her to go to the University rather than being married off.

Pros: There are great themes of perseverance and being true to yourself.

Cons: There are elements that clash with Care and Feeding mindset.  Namely, Ruby is not in charge of her own life – she is at the mercy of her Grandfather’s decisions.  He has ultimate power/authority over her.  She feels the need to lie to him to cover up her intentions.  I don’t like how they deal with boundaries and vulnerability.

Overall: This book didn’t work for me.  I was looking for something that modeled personal power and got the opposite.




The basic needs of movement, rest, fuel and engaging your mind have been around for all of time.  No person in the history of time can survive for very long without these basics.  And yet, there are so many ways to think about *how* to get those needs met.  So many belief systems or mindsets that we, as the human race, have evolved around getting our needs met.  I’ve been focusing on two.

The first mindset is what this blog is all about.  I call it Inside Out, or the Care and Feeding model.  The idea is that you put your basic needs first, and that you are responsible for both making sure your needs are met, and for trusting that they will be met in the future.  This may mean other people actually meeting the need, or it might mean you meeting it yourself, but if it’s not working, then it’s your job to do what it takes to get it working.

The second, I’ve been calling Rise the Ranks, or Hierarchy mindset.  In this system, everything is ranked, whether it’s salary, job title, academic grades, clout, authority, success, personal preferences, social ladders, or how hard you’re trying… It’s all ranked.  I see each ‘thing’ as a ladder, and then as a person, you choose which ladder(s) you want to define your identity, and you try to rise.  Rising is good, and staying still is acceptable, but falling lower is shameful.  And because shame is a social construct, image is really important – more than your actual position on the ladder, it’s about where others perceive you to be.

I call them mindsets, because which mindset you’re using colors how you see everything.  This article sums that concept up nicely.  The way you do anything is the way you do everything.  It’s a kind of a limbic imprint.

We are very familiar with establishing the basic settings in our TVs, cameras and other devices. Imagine setting the tint of your television to maximum green. No matter what appears on the screen, everything will have a greenish cast. Similarly, if the brightness is set on dim, your screen will show an unusually dark picture. A similar mechanism is at work in our brains. This mechanism, called a limbic imprint, has been deliberately used for thousands of years to train animals, everything from dogs and horses to elephants and circus bears. For example, baby elephants are routinely chained to a small stake in the ground early in life. The elephant rages against the stake with all his might for a few days, until he finally stops. When he grows up and has enough strength to pull this stick right out, he doesn’t ever try.

In each mindset, you have needs, you have rewards – what you expect to get once your needs are met, and you have tools that you use to get your needs met.  And in each, there are things to avoid, as they will make life harder.

In the Care and Feeding mindset, your primary needs are the basics – Movement, Fuel, Rest, and Engage your Mind.  By meeting those needs in a social environment, you meet your need for Connection.  When your needs are met, you have organically found an identity and you know who you are.  You are more empathetic and generous.  That is your reward.

In the Hierarchy mindset, your primary needs are your Identity, and to Rise.  The idea is that if you are successful enough, if you play the game well enough, your basic needs and your need for connection will be taken care of.  Being taken care of is your reward.

It has been an interesting exercise to take different things and try them on in each mindset.  Listening, for example.  In Care and Feeding mindset, listening is a useful skill, that leads to more connection and helps everyone rest.  It is very powerful for improving life for everyone – If I can listen to you, you can process and rest.  You can then use your energy for meeting other needs more efficiently, AND we’ve connected.  And maybe as you’re meeting your needs more efficiently, I can benefit.  Or maybe I can’t, but someone else can.  Once your needs are met, you are free to be generous with others.  In Hierarchy mindset though, it’s a different story.  If I listen to you, then I’m helping YOU and hurting myself.  It’s all a competition.  By boosting you, I’m endangering me.  It’s like grading on a bell curve in school – if there are only so many A’s, then it’s not in my best interest to help anyone else learn the material.  Or maybe I listen to you and it hits too close to home and now I need to spend energy thinking about it instead of rising the ranks.  Or maybe you listen to me and now, horrors, you see that I’m not the image that I’m projecting.  Ooooohhhh that’s shameful.  I’m not as good as you thought I was.  And now I won’t be taken care of.

Similar thought patterns could go into the concept of generosity.  In Care and Feeding mindset, generosity is great.  You’re fulfilled, the other is helped, everyone’s happy.  In Hierarchy mindset, the primary motivator is to show how high up the ranks you are.  Which can also make it shameful to be the *receiver* of generosity.  Or maybe you’re grateful for the generosity, but only so far.  Once you’re out of your hole, you’d better be the one giving.

How about judging other people?  In Care and Feeding mindset, there’s no point.  Oh, you’re dirty and hungry? Here, use my shower and eat my food.  You’re struggling? I’ll listen and help you brainstorm.  You did WHAT!?  I’m going to watch and see if I can learn something new.  In Hierarchy mindset, it’s a super powerful tool.  About as useful as listening is to Care and Feeding mindset.  Oh, you’re dirty and hungry?  Well I’m clean and fed, I’m better than you!  You’re struggling?  I’m glad *I’m* not in your shoes.  You did WHAT!?  I am clearly higher up the ladder than you, that’s nonsense.

Shame is really useful in the Hierarchy mindset because it reinforces the ladder, and motivates rising.  And really, if what you’re doing *isn’t* rising the ranks, then I don’t want to be associated with you because you’re likely going to bring me down with you.  The bottom is a shameful place to be.  Falling is even more shameful.  If you’re important to me and I see you falling, I’m going to shame you to remind you of where you’re headed!  Stay on track!  Our lives depend on it!  We won’t eat!  I picture ancient agrigarian cultures who had to work so hard just to survive, there was no room for the bottom of the ladder, you really would die and bring the whole family down with you.

I define shame as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection. -Brene Brown

It’s interesting to note that the tools that are so useful to Care and Feeding mindset pretty much sabotage Hierarchy mindset and vice versa.  Care and feeding thrives on listening, curiosity, and collaboration.  Hierarchy mindset thrives on shame, judgement, and authority.