The Strength to be Vulnerable: On Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly
You’ve probably seen Brené Brown’s 2010 TED Talk on the power of vulnerability. It’s a video that went viral and at the time of this writing has over 18 million views. It remains one of the most watched talks on TED.com
At the heart of Brown’s talk, and at the heart of the decade-plus of research into which she has poured her considerable talents, is a simple truth: the power and necessity of connection for human thriving. The ability to feel connected, her research reveals, is why we’re here. And that ability is directly linked to our ability to be vulnerable.
But what does that mean? How does vulnerability equate with strength and connection, and more importantly, how can I cultivate it in my own life?
Daring Greatly is the 2012 bestseller that condenses Brown’s research into a moving and eminently useable guide to what Brown calls wholehearted living. The book expands on the findings reported in her 2010 book The Gifts of Imperfection, with more insight into the beliefs and practices of wholehearted individuals.
It takes its title from a 1910 speech given by Theodore Roosevelt, as does Cadillac’s new marketing campaign that debuted during the Oscars:
“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… who strives valiantly, who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming… who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly…”
This courage to be imperfect while striving to be one’s fullest, most honest self, is the picture of bravery and daring that Brown wants us to hold in our minds as we investigate the practice of wholeheartedness. In her interviews with the wholehearted, Brown came to understand the fear of disconnection as shame, or the voice inside that says, “I’m not (whatever) enough.” She discovered that vulnerability is the bright side of this human tendency, and the wholehearted are simply those people who believe they are worthy of love and belonging.
Brown is funny, relatable and smart, in a frank Texan kind of way. Her sense of humor and clear writing style make for lucid, eye-opening discussions of shame—something all humans experience but few want to talk about.
After outlining the breakthroughs in the book—namely the finding that vulnerability is the common denominator among the wholehearted— she identifies common myths about vulnerability, the most persistent of which is the cultural proclivity to equate it with weakness and the dark emotions. Brown’s research proved to her that it’s not just about feeling grief and fear, but also about feeling empathy, joy, and hope. The catch? You can’t have one without the other.
Subsequent chapters outline the elements of shame resilience, offer strategies for overcoming what Brown calls “the shame spiral,” and identify the most common ways people “arm” themselves against the vulnerable behavior that would actually bring them freedom and connection. Finally, the book touches briefly on how to apply these strategies in all kinds of settings and callings, from parenting and teaching to running a business, and everything in between.
I love Daring Greatly, and spent the last year reading and rereading it on several occasions. I found I needed to put it down for a while so that I could absorb its messages. It is dense, profound, and life-changing, and sometimes I’ll admit I wasn’t quite up to the challenge.
The Gifts of Imperfection remains my favorite of her books, because it outlines the guideposts of wholehearted living in a way that works for my analytical, checklist-making (ahem, perfectionistic?) mind. If you haven’t read it, I still suggest this one as the best place to start. You’ll have actionable ways to jump into wholehearted practices in your own life. (If you’re feeling extra motivated, see the link below to join Brown and Oprah’s eCourse in art-journaling your way through The Gifts of Imperfection.)
Yet while Daring Greatly repeats some of the information in The Gifts of Imperfection, it shouldn’t be missed. Its case for wholeheartedness is powerfully grounded in new research, and it’s a very inspiring read. Each time I read it, a new facet of her vision of wholeheartedness jumped out at me.
It seems like a simple truth—I am worthy of love and belonging, and today I choose to allow my true self to be seen. But let’s face it—who doesn’t need to hear this message every day?