Book Review: Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly
5/5: My good friend, Carina, gifted me this book last Christmas and to be honest, I was hesitant to read it. I read Brené Brown’s book, Rising Strong, previously and I just wasn’t that into it. (I gave it a 3/5 for reference.) That being said, I had heard nothing but great things about her earlier book, Daring Greatly, so I finally decided to give it a chance last month. And I am so glad I did! The subheading to Daring Greatly is: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. I know, not that enticing for most. But, if you can look past that clinical title, it really delivers. (That being said, Brené Brown is a researcher, so this is not a light read. You will need to take your time to fully understand and absorb all of the messages.)
The phrase Daring Greatly, itself, comes from this Theodore Roosevelt quote:
“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 at best knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”
If that quote gives you the feels, I promise the rest of the book is worth it. This book challenged my assumptions and beliefs about uncertainty, risk, shame, and courage. Whether it be a relationship, career move or difficult conversation, I now see vulnerability as building engagement and connection, rather than as a weakness. This book was really insightful and redefined shame and vulnerability in a way that I can use in my personal and professional life. For some, this might not be new information, but for those of us that have trouble being vulnerable and/or have issues with shame/shaming others, this is a must-read.
*All concepts and ideas below are that of Brené Brown’s (not Grace Built Co.) and are from the book Daring Greatly. This post contains affiliate links.*
“Perfect and bulletproof are seductive, but they don’t exist in the human experience. We must walk into the arena, whatever it may be–a new relationship, an important meeting, our creative process, or a difficult family conversation–with courage and the willingness to engage. Rather than sitting on the sidelines and hurling judgment and advice, we must dare to show up and let ourselves be seen. This is vulnerability. This is daring greatly.”
Daring Greatly has an Introduction + 7 Chapters and Final Thoughts. It also includes a brief chapter at the end about practicing gratitude. The main chapters are: Scarcity: Looking Inside Our Culture of “Never Enough”; Debunking the Vulnerability Myths; Understanding and Combating Shame; The Vulnerability Armory; Mind the Gap: Cultivating Change and Closing the Disengagement Divide; Disruptive Engagement: Daring to Rehumanize Education and Work; Wholehearted Parenting: Daring to Be the Adults We Want Our Children To Be. I know, it sounds overwhelming and challenging. And, it is. But, it is also worth the effort.
Keep reading to learn what I feel are the 3 biggest takeaways from this must-read book.
It only takes a few seconds for people to fill in this blank: Never __________ enough. It looks something like this: Never good enough. Never thin enough. Never successful enough. Never smart enough. Never certain enough.
This feeling is scarcity, according to Brené Brown and scarcity (the “never enough” problem) “thrives in shame-prone cultures that are deeply steeped in comparison and fractured by disengagement.” So, how does this apply to work? Consider the following:
- Do you or your managers use the fear of being ridiculed as motivation?
- Is your self-worth tied to your professional accomplishments or your productivity?
- Do you struggle with perfectionism?
- Do you or your managers compare you and your co-workers overtly?
- Is one way of working celebrated and held up as the standard?
- Are you allowed to be creative and use your unique talents and skills?
- Do you fear speaking up about your experiences and ideas?
Can you answer yes to some of these? I certainly could answer yes to most of these at previous jobs. I’m not doing enough. I’m not productive enough. I feel like I am always failing. These thoughts were always in the back of my mind. This is what Brené is describing as scarcity in this book. What is the counter approach to living in scarcity? It is not abundance, but rather, “the opposite of scarcity is enough.” Or in other words, facing uncertainty and being open to taking risks, and still knowing (even if it doesn’t work out) that you are enough.
Now, I understand that isn’t mind-blowing information, but, it is an important reminder to all of us. It is very easy to fall into the trap of comparison at work and start to feel like our accomplishments are not up–to–par. Unfortunately, when that happens, we start to place that pressure on ourselves, in ways that manifest as “never enough.” But, when you read through the bullet points above, you can quickly see that those tactics (shame) do not produce productive or engaged employees/work. So, while we can not always change the way our managers/bosses use shame to motivate, we can recognize that we do not need to tie our self-worth to their inability to manage effectively.
“Yes, we are totally exposed when we are vulnerable. Yes, we are in the torture chamber that we call uncertainty. And, yes, we’re taking a huge emotional risk when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable. But there’s no equation where taking risks, braving uncertainty, and opening ourselves up to emotional exposure equals weakness.”
There are many myths surrounding vulnerability and Brené Brown does a great job of explaining why these assumptions and perceptions are incorrect. One of the main vulnerability myths is that vulnerability is weakness. In this book, Brené explains why that can be a dangerous premise. “When we spend our lives pushing away and protecting ourselves from feeling vulnerable or from being perceived as too emotional, we feel contempt when others are less capable or willing to mask feelings, suck it up, or soldier on. …we let out fear and discomfort become judgment and criticism.”
When I read that, I immediately thought yes, yes, yes. Did you?
For me, the key to understanding why vulnerability is important was this: “Vulnerability isn’t good or bad: It’s not what we call a dark emotion, nor is it a light, positive experience. Vulnerability is the core of all emotions and feelings. To feel is to be vulnerable. To believe vulnerability is weakness is to believe that feeling is weakness.”
In that context, it’s really powerful. I have always been an emotional person (I cry at literally everything) and I have often felt shame for expressing my emotions because those around me were always holding back their emotions. After reading this book, I could see that I was attaching failure to crying, and also perceiving that others see my emotional state as weakness. With this book, I was able to reframe that attachment.
Other vulnerability myths include: vulnerability is letting it all hang out; we can go it alone; I don’t do vulnerability.
Acknowledging that you are enough is a way of discarding the shields we use to protect us from having to be vulnerable. For example, we often don’t allow ourselves to feel joy. We are often preparing for the worst, however, preparing for the worst does not actually prevent us from feeling the grief when those things happen. Not only that, but it also prevents us from fully experiencing the ordinary moments.
Another shield we use is perfectionism. “Perfectionism is not the path that leads us to our gifts and to our sense of purpose.” Is it also not “the same thing as striving for excellence,” “self-improvement,” “the key to success,” or a “way to avoid shame.” This can be really insightful thinking in the career arena. I, for one, am really hard on myself when I make a mistake because I view imperfection as shameful. (I learned this from reading this book!) But, after reading through The Vulnerability Armory chapter, I had a deeper understanding of how the perfectionism attitude is hindering me rather than helping me. Striving for perfection has not minimized the feeling of shame but rather enhanced it.
So, how do we embrace vulnerability rather than shielding ourselves from it? Brené shares a few tactics:
- Set boundaries. For example: if the constant stream of technology gives you anxiety (feeling like you always have to check your email and respond right then, for example) you need to change the behavior that leads to anxiety, rather than managing the anxiety. Aka, setting boundaries.
- Find true comfort rather than using tactics that numb you. “Sitting down to watch one of my favorite shows on television is a pleasure. Flipping through channels for an hour is numbing.”
- Nourish your soul.
These are just a few of the many, many things Daring Greatly addresses in terms of shame, courage, and vulnerability. There are several tactics you can apply to your personal and professional life that will really transform the way you interact with yourself and others. If you are interested in reading Daring Greatly, pick it up at your local library or buy here.
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