Winning Number ‘Mates: Thoughts from Oprah’s Lifeclass with Brene Brown

In life there are playmates, cast mates and soulmates. Which are you?

Last month I was at the taping of Oprah’s Lifeclass with Brené Brown (that aired last night), and Brené said something that struck me. Now, I’ve been studying with her for over a year. I took her class in Summer 2012 as a grad student, which is when I was first introduced to her and her research. Then I enrolled in her training to be a certified facilitator of her work, and am currently completing that process. I’ve had 4 direct and deep passes with her work in less than a year. And last month, I heard something new. Well, not “new” exactly, but poignant.

Brené said that if you have one (ONE!) such person in your life with whom you can share, connect, fall, laugh, love…be yourself – you are truly blessed. Two or three? You’ve won the lottery.

This got me thinking about the people in my life, and about how I show up in other people’s lives. I can say that as I’ve gotten older my circle has shrunk, and that’s good. But I’m definitely a lottery winner, based on the criteria. For me, those winning numbers aren’t any of the three ‘mates’ I’ve described above, though. I know we toss around the word “soulmate” and use it to define that one person with whom we connect so deeply it’s at our core. I think the ‘winning number people’ are more than that – and I think they grew, over time, through a constant dance of trust and vulnerability. Let me first describe what each category means:

Playmates:  (no, not the bunny kind) these are the people with whom you can always have a laugh or a good time. They’re great sandbox friends, because you know they will laugh if it gets messy, and dig into the sand without a care right alongside you. They dangle from the jungle gym bars and they dance barefoot in the grass. They know how to play, and they play well with you. In life, we all need playmates. As children, that’s mostly what we have, and moms refer to them as “play dates” for a reason. As adults, we tend to have less playmates and more cast mates.

Cast mates: these are the people who work and live alongside you, playing their “role” in your life’s play, and you in theirs. There may be connection, there may be shared interests, and there may be many reasons that their roles cross with yours. They walk alongside you in the theatre of life, for a reason, a season, or a lifetime – as the old saying goes. They’re important, because without them your play wouldn’t be nearly as effective, rich or illustrious. Which brings us to the soulmates.

Soulmates give our life meaning. They are the cast mates and playmates who embody a deeper level of connection with us. Typically, we use the word “soulmate” to describe a partner or spouse. Someone with whom we’ve connected so deeply, so intrinsically, that it can feel like two halves of one whole reuniting. People now say “soul sister” or “soul twin” to describe someone with whom they feel this connection who isn’t a spouse or partner. In my opinion, a soulmate can also be a friend or a family member. So, I’m tweaking the colloquial definition just slightly. In truth, a soulmate is someone who always has your back, and you theirs. It’s a person you’ve connected with on a deep invisible level, someone who is more than a friend or partner. Which brings me to the lottery friends Brené was talking about. I think this goes beyond “soulmate,” and I don’t think we have a word for it, yet.

My winning numbers are the people in my life that I can turn to, at any time, and know they’re safe. They’re safe for me to be silly with, for me to be serious with and for me to be vulnerable with. The winning numbers people are those with whom I have built a tangible, profound relationship over time. These are the people I can fight with, and know it’s not the end. They are the people I cannot hear from for weeks, or months, and know nothing has changed between us. These are the people who can hear my story – who have earned the right to hear my story – and who can hold space for me regardless of what I’m saying, without judgment. And these winning lottery numbers are the individuals who also know I will do the exact same for them. This is more than a soulmate, because it’s about more than shared connection.  It’s about action, which is why I don’t necessarily agree with the lottery metaphor.

Lottery implies chance. And while there was luck (fate?) involved in my meeting these people the rest was not up to chance. It was choice. I chose, repeatedly, to take a risk with these individuals, and open myself up – be vulnerable. At first it would have been small things, then steadily growing bigger. And with each risk, when I was met with understanding and love (aka: empathy), the relationship grew. It wasn’t perfect (there is no such thing). There were fights and it was messy, and not every risk was met with open arms, from them or me. But it was steady, deliberate, and thoughtful. And they did the same with me.

With these folks, the actions we take in our relationship are congruent with the value we together hold of our relationship. There is no word for these individuals yet, because they can be anyone: partner, friend, parent, sibling, etc.

So – I’m back to the question: Which are you? And who are your various ‘mates?

To offer a new perspective and phrase, Oprah had two of her “daughters” in the audience from South Africa. She told the story of how when she asked them if they had made any new friends at school yet, they replied with, “we have people we smile with.” I think this is a great example of knowing (at such a young age!) the importance of building relationships and giving them time to grow and become what they will. Some will stop at play, others will fill a role in your life and others still will connect deeply with your soul. And then there are those that transcend all three and become something even more. They add meaning to our lives, but more importantly they help remind us of our own meaning in life. What a gift!

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