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Good morning, Shauna Niequist! I am so honored to be in conversation with you. Thank you so much for writing your book and for taking the time and energy to speak with me – I am grateful.

Glad to be here, Ben. Glad you read the book – now, let’s get into it!

May I call you Shauna?

Or Majestic Authority on Insightful Writing and All Things YOU Haven’t Learned Yet.

MAIWATYHLY seems……….long……….so, I’ll go with Shauna.

Being a writer is like being a dot-connector

Being a writer (Niequest, p. 2) and being a dot-connector (Albright, 2020, Hell and Other Destinations, p. 203) are two ways of actualizing being a challenger – an enneagram eight.

Madeline Albright described how she is a dot connector, how dot connectors work, and how dot connectors add value to organizations.

With pressure from oneself; from collaborators; from opposition as a constant reality:

As “the pressure to add value is unrelenting …our “curiosity is an asset…[When] faced with a dilemma to be addressed, my mind fills with questions, the names of men and women to contact, and possible routes to a solution. In the same way that people look forward to their morning crossword puzzle, I am energized by clients looking for answers. I also draw on the benefits of experience.”

Madeline Albright, Hell and Other Destinations, P. 203.

Shauna: Wow! Mentioned in the same thought as Madeline Albright! Well, relatedly, “being a writer means being committed to paying attention, to walking through the world as a noticer. It means finding language for the seemingly unspeakable, using words to bridge the divides between us, telling stories that narrate and renarrate who we are in the world and what the world means to us (Niequest, p. 1-2).

Ben: Seeing pathways and strategies that others don’t (yet) see; seeing the third option; seeing another door when it seems we are faced with a limited number of options – this seems similar to me to the “imagining” that Glennon Doyle calls us to in her memoir, Untamed. Also, similar to the strength brought by FDR and Eleanor Roosevelt, as described in David Michaelis’s wonderful biography, Eleanor.

Shauna: “Because that’s how life is – interconnected and multifaceted. We carry around our whole selves ….It may seem chaotic or like a disparate mishmash of topicvs and these….but this is how I think the world works, how ourminds and spirits and conversations work – or at least how mine do” (p. 2).

Ben: True. To others, dot-connectors, eights, can seem just that way – chaotic; disparate mishmashes or topics and themes; jumping from one to another. Yet, this is our strength. From the “rut” that they may be in, our “chaos” may be “too much for them to handle” sometimes. At other times, they may even be jealous from their rut!

Shauna. Yeah; or, we are just annoying and we need to stop and listen.

Ben: Right! We are the best! Good point! Wait, what?

Shauna. Well, “our choices affect one another every day, all the time. Control and independence have been exposed” (p. 3) by the pandemic.

Ben: Whoa. That is a big statement. I know I still operate very much that my choices are my own to control and are independent – that I made my choice without undue influence from others, or that I have “curated/controlled/selected-on-purpose” the influences I allow to be a part of, what I would still consider, my “own” choice.

I hear that you are saying that the pandemic has pulled the curtain back on me. My choices are not “my choices,” at least, not in the way I think and operate like they are.

I supposed my choices are also much more affected by my other choices that I realize as well.

Shauna: Right.

Ben: So, Shauna, “So what do we do?” (p. 3).

Shauna: Those were my words.

Ben: Your choice!

Shauna: Ug. I mean, ha?

Shauna: Right, well, “so what do we do? We pay attention. We accept the world as it is, not as we wish it was. We practice –

Ben: Practice as in, yes, try and try again to improve; but, also, practice as in do something repetitively; regularly; faithfully.

Shauna: Practice as in, “we build rhythms of health and faith and grounding, ways of living that allow our best selves to emerge and our worst selves to recede as often as possible.

Ben: As often as possible. I thought that sentence was headed toward, “as much as possible.” I suppose we can control frequency more than outcome; but that the practice might allow God the most space in our selves, through this regularity/dependability of ours to “show up to practice,” that She can be the one to diminish our worst selves and call out, call forth, our best selves – these best selves that She made.

Shauna: Yes, and, “we help each other.”

Ben: So, what does practice look like? If we looked at you, Shauna, in a moment when you were “practicing,” what would we see? How is that moment different from one where you are not at practice but “in the game; or not at the ballpark?”

Shauna: Practice is when “we discipline ourselves to stay on the lookout for signs of hope,f or sacred moments and divine fingerprints even in a desolate and quite landscape…” (p. 3).

Ben: Ah! The strengths of Eights can help! We can help connect those dots! We just need to, like you said,

  • Pay attention
  • Accept the world as it is, not as we wish it was. [Really hard for Eights. Look at FDR treating his own polio, convinced it was the waters fault and that, from the water, his healing would come; then, proceeding perhaps a harder, longer, more painful way for him and certainly for those around him – e.g., Eleanor’s’ discomfort at Warm Springs as she could “see through the holes in the walls” and as she could not overlook the racism and Jim Crow that FDR did not, “pay attention to.”
  • Then, we look to nurture up, to call out, to bring forth like flowers/produce in the garden, our best selves and we look to push away our worst selves.
  • We look to connect the dots to the things of health and faith and grounding.
  • We look for signs of hope, for sacred moments and divine fingerprints.
  • Eights can help, especially in a desolate and quiet landscape!

Shauna: Especially in “this desolate and quiet landscape” right now with the pandemic and our human uncertainty and self-protecting-self-focus coming out (hopefully) of the pandemic into a more tentative, desolate, quiet, frightening landscape than we went in from.

Ben: Talk more about what makes a landscape frightening, please?

Shauna: This pandemic, and roughly 2019-2022, “has been a season of near-constant untethering and unbelonging, wandering and fumbling, and ultimately discovering a million beautiful surprises after a couple of very dark years (p. 4).

Ben: Dang; years needed to get to a pay-off of a “million beautiful surprises.” Long-haul. Can’t short-circuit, short-cut, this.

Shauna: Nope.

“There are seasons for tidy prose, and this is decidedly not one of them. This is everything I know – wild and messy, accompaniments for the hardest stretches of the journey (p. 4).”

Ben: What is it like, after these seasons, and into the frightening, dark, unknown that is the only true future, because anything else would simply be an illusion from self-deception?

Shauna: After, there is “what remains, in all our lives, when the deals and agreements and myths and illusions have been washed away by pain and loss and years (p. 4).

Ben: Years!

Shauna: Again, the deals and agreements and myths and illusions [can ONLY BE] WASHED AWAY BY PAIN and LOSS and YEARS (p. 4).

Ben: So, if we think we’ve found another, a different, an easier, a cleaner, a less-painful, a shorter “scrub-brush,” then we are simply self-deceiving again. Eights are so good, and so prone to, self-deception.

Maybe more so than others?

We are really good at it. We don’t even call it self-deception when we do it, of course. We call it, “future-thinking; strategic planning; vision…..” these can be good, and we are good at them, but, these can be easily employed and forced onto self and others to overlook the pain, the loss the years….and we are skillful at employing these deceptions on self and others. BUT LIFE ALWAYS CATCHES UP TO US.

Again, just like FDR and polio;

eventually, he literally could not outrun life.

Even the day before,

he tried to hang with younger people

and party and be vivacious….

Where have I deceived myself this week?

Where am I deceiving myself right now?

Shauna: Thus goes “the search for grounding when nothing feels stable (p. 4).

Shauna: This is “learning to stand alone” (p. 4).

“Learning to stand


leaving behind the identities you believed

the identities

you believed you could never live without”

(p. 4).

Shauna Niequist

Ben: The identities which we self-deceive ourselves that we “are” or even that we “are not.” Often very clearly seen by those around us.

Like a wino with a $20 bill,

forever and eternally yours.

Bill Mallonee, audible sigh

Ben: Everyone around you sees it; they see you.

you can map the lay of the land
yeah you can describe the sad terrain
let us survey all the borders
yeah but it all still looks the same
when you find there’s nothing special
yeah about that big hole in your heart
’cause everybody’s got one
with precious little time to talk about it

bill mallonee, nothing like a train