Daring Greatly

In a macho world of alpha-males, ego's the size of Trump's; where everyone wants to appear strong, confident and know what they are doing - a world where Machiavelli's theories are more praised today than ever before, it was refreshing to read Brené's book - Daring Greatly; a book about having the courage to be vulnerable.

I first heard of Brené Brown through TED talk, where she sits just behind Simon Sinek; another favourite of mine, in 2nd place on the 'most watched'; list at 25 million views.

This book, one of her three New York Times bestsellers, explains how vulnerability is at the core of all feelings – not just bad ones like fear, anxiety and shame, but also good ones like love, joy, and passion.

She says that we could all use a little more vulnerability in our lives, because it’s neither bad nor good. It just is, and embracing it means being courageous.

Brené defines vulnerability as uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure. With that definition in mind, let’s think about love, she says. Waking up every day and loving someone who may or may not love us back, whose safety we can’t ensure, who may stay in our lives or may leave without a moment’s notice, who may be loyal to the day they die or betray us tomorrow — that’s vulnerability.”

When we spend our lives waiting until we’re perfect or bulletproof before we walk into the arena, we ultimately sacrifice relationships and opportunities that may not be recoverable, we squander our precious time, and we turn our backs on our gifts, those unique contributions that only we can make, says Brown. Perfect and bulletproof are seductive, but they don’t exist in the human experience.

The three most powerful points I took from the book were;

  1. Vulnerability means strength, not weakness.

  2. Understand and verbalise your shame to make it go away.

  3. Children can only become who you are, so be a role model.

Being vulnerable shows strength, not weakness.

Brené makes two core points about vulnerability.

  1. Vulnerability isn’t good or bad. It’s not a black and white subject. It’s just a part of life and if you experience it, it means you’re able to feel things.

  2. Allowing yourself to actually be vulnerable is a sign of strength and courage. It’s a lot easier to avoid the things that might make you vulnerable, rather than lean into them. But that also means we’re missing out on a lot of good things.

Brené gives an example, if you’ve ever loved someone you know that being in love makes you very vulnerable. You allow someone into your heart and give them incredible power, which includes the power to hurt you. But only if you accept this state of vulnerability do you have a shot at all the love, joy and kindness you might experience from that relationship. This means vulnerability isn’t just the source of pain and grief, but also the root of many positive emotions.

You could also hide from the things that make you vulnerable. The responsibility for a project at work. The girl or guy you haven’t seen in forever. The art you want to create. But you know that’s just because you are pushed outside your comfort zone. Leaning into vulnerability is something only the strong, the truly courageous can do.

Build a resilience to shame.

What’s worse than completely bombing in front of a large audience? Being ashamed about bombing it and never doing one again. There’s a quote that goes “Failure is temporary, giving up is what makes it permanent.”

Brené says that shame is what makes us give up.

  • “I’m ashamed that I wasn’t there for my son when he was little.”

  • “I’m ashamed I didn’t try harder at being a good wedding planner.”

  • “I’m ashamed at work, because my co-workers talk about me behind my back.”

Have you thought any of these? Or other variations? There’s a certain level of ridicule to be found in every single shame you express. Pinpointing what actually makes you feel ashamed and saying it out loud takes a lot of power from shame, says Brené.

We judge people in areas where we’re vulnerable to shame, especially picking folks who are doing worse than we’re doing. If I feel good about my parenting, I have no interest in judging other people’s choices. If I feel good about my body, I don’t go around making fun of other people’s weight or appearance. We’re hard on each other because we’re using each other as a launching pad out of our own perceived deficiency.

Nobody wants to talk about shame. It’s uncomfortable. But the less you do, the more power it has over you. Instead, pull at it. Drag it out. Throw it into the light, says Brené. Address it directly. You’ll see things aren’t as worrisome as they seem and that you can live past failure.

Be a role model for your kids, it’s the only way they learn.

Whether you have kids or not, your children can only inherit qualities you possess yourself, says Brené.

If you’re sloppy, your children will be sloppy. If you’re organised, your children will be organised. And if you’re constantly shame-ridden, you’ll traumatise your kids by making them feel the same.

If you’ve been bullied, threatened or otherwise traumatised as a kid, you know that most childhood trauma comes from shame. Shame about an event, behaviour, or even just about how others have treated us.

Raising children who are hopeful and who have the courage to be vulnerable means stepping back and letting them experience disappointment, deal with conflict, learn how to assert themselves, and have the opportunity to fail. If we’re always following our children into the arena, hushing the critics, and assuring their victory, they’ll never learn that they have the ability to dare greatly on their own.

Therefore, it’s your job to make your home and family a shame-free zone, says Brené. It’s the only way your kids will grow up feeling worthy, loved and able to truly be themselves. Instead of talking about values like honesty, courage and ambition, live them. Be honest. Be courageous. Be ambitious. The best thing you can do for your kids, born or not, is to be a role model. It’s all the parenting they need.


What I took from it.

I think the reason Brené’s TED talk and work responds with so many people is that she went through all of the struggles, or crucibles as Bill George puts it, she describes herself. When she first discovered that vulnerability was at the core of any life, especially any good life – she broke down.

Researchers and scientists aren’t exactly out to be vulnerable. They’re trying to measure things so they can predict the future better. That’s quite the opposite, so it took some time for her to deal with this new situation and data. You can feel that in her talks and writing. You can sense that she’s seen the dark side. And she’s here to tell us that we should be vulnerable and that we will be okay.

The book starts with a quote from a speech that Teddy Roosevelt gave in 1910. I had to include this as it struck a note with me. In it, Roosevelt said:

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”

My Rating

At first it was all about Brené accolades, PhD this and millions of TED Talk hits, that. That put me off from the start , we know your acronyms; it's all over your front cover. Perhaps humbleness is the opposite of vulnerability. But I persisted and glad I did. This book was a good read. I think it is especially helpful for parents and business leaders. I found the last two chapters to be the most engaging. I think the author did a good job of synthesising a lot of research that most of us would probably find dull and boring and making it understandable and relatable. But I'm not sure I had a lot of take-away's from this book that will be especially memorable.