Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown
Wholehearted living is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It means cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough. It’s going to bed at night thinking, Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging.
When shame becomes a management style, engagement dies. When failure is not an option we can forget about learning, creativity, and innovation.
What we know matters, but who we are matters more
I define vulnerability as uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.
Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.
The willingness to show up changes us. It makes us a little braver each time.
Going back to Roosevelt’s “Man in the Arena” speech, I also learned that the people who love me, the people I really depend on, were never the critics who were pointing at me while I stumbled. They weren’t in the bleachers at all. They were with me in the arena. Fighting for me and with me.
Nothing has transformed my life more than realizing that it’s a waste of time to evaluate my worthiness by weighing the reaction of the people in the stands.
If you’re wondering what happens if you attach your self-worth to your art or your product and people love it, let me answer that from personal and professional experience. You’re in even deeper trouble. Everything shame needs to hijack and control your life is in place. You’ve handed over your self-worth to what people think. It’s panned out a couple of times, but now it feels a lot like Hotel California: You can check in, but you can never leave. You’re officially a prisoner of “pleasing, performing, and perfecting.”
A sense of worthiness inspires us to be vulnerable, share openly, and persevere. Shame keeps us small, resentful, and afraid. In shame-prone cultures, where parents, leaders, and administrators consciously or unconsciously encourage people to connect their self-worth to what they produce, I see disengagement, blame, gossip, stagnation, favoritism, and a total dearth of creativity and innovation.
The majority of shame researchers and clinicians agree that the difference between shame and guilt is best understood as the difference between “I am bad” and “I did something bad.” Guilt = I did something bad. Shame = I am bad.
The most connected and compassionate people of those I’ve interviewed set and respect boundaries. I don’t just want to research and travel all of the time talking about being Wholehearted; I want to live it. That means that I turn down about 80 percent of the speaking requests that I receive. I say yes when it works with my family calendar, my research commitments, and my life.
Empathy is connecting with the emotion that someone is experiencing, not the event or the circumstance.
I also stopped reading anonymous comments. If you’re not in the arena with the rest of us, fighting and getting your ass kicked on occasion, I’m not interested in your feedback.
Don’t squander joy. We can’t prepare for tragedy and loss. When we turn every opportunity to feel joy into a test drive for despair, we actually diminish our resilience. Yes, softening into joy is uncomfortable. Yes, it’s scary. Yes, it’s vulnerable. But every time we allow ourselves to lean into joy and give in to those moments, we build resilience and we cultivate hope. The joy becomes part of who we are, and when bad things happen—and they do happen—we are stronger.
The most valuable and important things in my life came to me when I cultivated the courage to be vulnerable, imperfect, and self-compassionate.
Perfectionism is not the key to success. In fact, research shows that perfectionism hampers achievement. Perfectionism is correlated with depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis or missed opportunities. The fear of failing, making mistakes, not meeting people’s expectations, and being criticized keeps us outside of the arena where healthy competition and striving unfolds. Last, perfectionism is not a way to avoid shame. Perfectionism is a form of shame. Where we struggle with perfectionism, we struggle with shame.
Regardless of where we are on this continuum, if we want freedom from perfectionism, we have to make the long journey from “What will people think?” to “I am enough.”
Quick and dirty wins the race. Perfection is the enemy of done. Good enough is really effin’ good.
We can’t selectively numb emotion. Numb the dark and you numb the light.
If we want to fully experience love and belonging, we must believe that we are worthy of love and belonging.
It’s not what you do; it’s why you do it that makes the difference.
Spirituality emerged as a fundamental guidepost in Wholeheartedness. Not religiosity but the deeply held belief that we are inextricably connected to one another by a force greater than ourselves—a force grounded in love and compassion. For some of us that’s God, for others it’s nature, art, or even human soulfulness. I believe that owning our worthiness is the act of acknowledging that we are sacred. Perhaps embracing vulnerability and overcoming numbing is ultimately about the care and feeding of our spirits.
Most people and most organizations can’t stand the uncertainty and the risk of real innovation. Learning and creating are inherently vulnerable.
When I asked people why there was such a lack of feedback in their organizations and schools, they used different language, but the two major issues were the same: We’re not comfortable with hard conversations. We don’t know how to give and receive feedback in a way that moves people and processes forward.
Most of us can go through the majority of our “faults” or “limitations” and find strengths lurking within. For example, I can beat myself up for being too controlling and micromanaging, or I can recognize that I’m very responsible, dependable, and committed to quality work.
Who we are and how we engage with the world are much stronger predictors of how our children will do than what we know about parenting. In terms of teaching our children to dare greatly in the “never enough” culture, the question isn’t so much “Are you parenting the right way?” as it is: “Are you the adult that you want your child to grow up to be?”
Hope is a function of struggle. If we want our children to develop high levels of hopefulness, we have to let them struggle. And let me tell you, next to love and belonging, I’m not sure I want anything more for my kids than a deep sense of hopefulness.
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.
Sometimes the bravest and most important thing you can do is just show up.
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.…” —Theodore Roosevelt
Daring greatly is not about winning or losing. It’s about courage.