Book Review: Daring Greatly, Brene Brown
Brene Brown, author of Daring Greatly, is a dedicated researcher and open practitioner of vulnerability, which she defines as “uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure.” Initially, Brene set out to study human connection and soon discovered that vulnerability was at the heart of connection. Vulnerability drives the connectivity in our relationships, our schools, our workplaces and our world. In order for connection to manifest itself, she says, “we have to let ourselves be seen, deeply seen.”
Vulnerability is the willingness to say “I love you” first, to do something where there are no guarantees, or to invest in a relationship that may or may not work out. Being vulnerable is letting go of control, perfectionism and our facades and to finally start loving and being ourselves. Everyone loves vulnerability in others but rarely give themselves the courage to be seen. “Vulnerability is the last thing I want you to see in me but the first thing I look for in you.”
We live in a culture of scarcity, meaning we’re conditioned to believe that we are never-enough. That we never work hard enough, aren’t rich enough, aren’t successful enough, aren’t skinny/strong enough. Somehow we always find ways to be inadequate, behind, losing, and lacking in something. As we begin to move out of the scarcity mindset, we don’t move into an abundance mindset as one might think, but instead take the belief that we are already ‘enough’, or what Brene calls wholeheartedness.
Those who live wholeheartedly are the people who have the courage to be imperfect, the strength to be compassionate to yourself first and then to others, and as a result of authenticity, build connections. It turns out that people with a sense of worthiness, of love and belonging, believe they are worthy of it and take the ‘enough mandate’: 1) I am enough 2) I’ve had enough 3) Showing up, taking risks, letting myself be seen is enough.
So what keeps us from not being enough and living a life of wholeheartedness? The answer is shame, the fear of disconnection. The fear of being seen and then unloved. So long as we care about connection, shame will always be a powerful force in our lives. Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging. The tonic to this poison is not shame resistance (which isn’t possible), but rather empathy: the ability to connect with the emotions that someone is feeling, not the circumstance or event.
OUR VULNERABILITY ARMORY
It’s easy enough to blame culture, but eventually we’ve got to look inside ourselves and take responsibility because instead of cultivating our vulnerability skills, we all too often dig into our vulnerability armory to protect us against being vulnerable. These metaphorical masks act as personas which make us feel safer even when they become suffocating. The armory consists of three pieces of equipment: foreboding joy, or the paradoxical dread that clamps down on momentary joyfulness; perfectionism, or believing that doing everything perfectly means you’ll never feel shame; and numbing, the embrace of whatever deadness the pain and discomfort and pain (117).
WHY WE NUMB
Numbing… we all do it. At times, we’re desperate to feel more or less of something, to make something go away, or to have more of something else. The most universal numbing strategy is crazy busy, but drugs, alcohol, medication, coffee, sugar, and gambling all fall into this bucket of escaping reality by falling into comfort. As we numb (which we all do), it’s not what you do but why you do it that makes the difference (142).
The opposite of numbing is not sobriety, it’s connection. We’re all in some way looking to fill the void of connectivity with something outside ourselves because we may not believe we have that connection within. That we are already enough.
When the wholehearted were asked about numbing, they said (142):
1. Learning how to actually feel their feelings
2. Staying mindful about numbing behaviors
3. Learning how to lean into the discomfort of hard emotions
I found it incredibly exciting to hear that mindfulness played a role in wholeheartedness. Mindfulness is taking a balanced approach to negative emotions so that feelings are neither suppressed nor exaggerated. We can’t ignore our pain and feel compassion for it at the same time. Mindfulness requires that we not over-identify with thoughts and feelings so that we get caught up and swept away by negativity.
Spirituality also 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 (151).
Brene moves into speaking to organizations: that the greatest challenge for innovation and disruption is the fear of shame and vulnerability (186). Shame can only ride so far in an organization before people disengage to protect themselves (192). When we disengage we don’t show up we don’t contribute and we stop caring. Disengagement is the single greatest issue underlying most schools, organizations and politics (176). If shame is driving this ship, blame is riding shotgun as a symptom of shame, and we see it all the time in teacher/parent, manager/employee and political debates.
For teachers, teaching is about love. It’s not about transferring information but rather creating a sphere of mystery and imagination and discovery. “If you’re comfortable, I’m not teaching and you’re not learning. It’s going to get uncomfortable in here that’s OK. It’s normal and it’s part of the process” (194).
The goal is not getting comfortable with hard conversations but rather normalizing discomfort. “We believe growth and learning are uncomfortable so it’s going to happen here you’re going to feel that way we want you to know that it’s normal and it’s an expectation hear you’re not alone and I ask that you stay open and lean into it” (198).
To be vulnerable is to feel — the very thing that gives purpose and meaning to our life.
Vulnerability is the center of all meaningful human experiences.
Vulnerability is not weakness. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.
You see, “daring greatly” is not about winning or losing. It’s about courage.
To connect to ourselves and all other human beings, we must cultivate vulnerability while rejecting perfectionism, which is not to be found in humanity. We are enough, and it’s time to show up, take risks and let ourselves be seen. At the end of this life, we will not regret what we have done, but will only regret what we had not done, but wished we had.
“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,
so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls
who neither know victory nor defeat.” – Theodore Roosevelt
Let me know your wisdom, feelings and insights! How can we dare greatly?