Daring Greatly

What a wonderful title for a great book on a sensitive subject!

Social science researcher Brené Brown uses a phrase from Theodore Roosevelt’s “Citizenship in a Republic” speech delivered at the Sorbonne in 1910 to frame what she’s learned from exploring the concepts of vulnerability and shame. Her book makes the information relevant for today’s families, schools, workplaces, and individual lives.

The famous “man in the arena” excerpt from the Teddy Roosevelt speech goes like this:

“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 enthusiasm, 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 he fails while daring greatly….”

Brown opens her book with this quotation and says it describes what her more-than-a-dozen years of research into the concept of vulnerability taught her. “Vulnerability is not knowing victory or defeat, it’s understanding the necessity of both; it’s engaging. It’s being all in.”

While our culture may consider vulnerability as weakness, Brown disagrees: “Our willingness to own and engage with our vulnerability determines the depth of our courage and the clarity of our purpose; the level to which we protect ourselves from being vulnerable is a measure of our fear and disconnection.”

Although we might tell ourselves we must wait to do anything until we’re “perfect” or “bulletproof,” Brown reminds us that those qualities “don’t exist in the human experience.” She urges us to “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.”

The book provides plenty of personal examples from Brown’s “adventures in the arena,” which gives her the credibility to talk and write about the topic. She tackles the concept of scarcity as it reflects “our culture of ‘never enough’” where we’re always comparing ourselves to some impossible ideal and not measuring up (shaming or being shamed), so we disengage. That means we lose out on life and our families, schools, and workplaces lose out on the unique gifts we have to offer.

Brown debunks the vulnerability myths—from perceiving the concept as weakness to seeing it as “letting it all hang out” or thinking we can “go it alone”—and explains the critical difference between guilt and shame:

“Guilt = I did something bad.
Shame = I am bad.”

She also offers a guide for “disruptive engagement” as a way of “daring to rehumanize education and work” by ending the cultures of shame in our workplaces and schools and learning how to provide constructive feedback to keep everyone engaged in the effort. And she provides a chapter on “Wholehearted Parenting” that builds on her work about living a “wholehearted life” found in her earlier books.

Brown has now been into the touchy topics of shame and vulnerability for more than 12 years and shows no signs of stopping—nor do we want her to. She’s unearthed important information from the questions she asks her research subjects and the stories they willingly tell her about their lives and experiences.

She gained national attention—seemingly overnight—when her TED videos went viral, so take a look.

2010 TEDxHouston video—The Power of Vulnerability [20:19]

2012 MainStage TEDtalk video—Listening to Shame [20:38]

Then, go get her books because you’ll want to learn more about what’s going on under the hood. In addition to Daring Greatly, she’s written I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t): Making the Journey from ‘What Will People Think?’ to ‘I Am Enough’ and The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are—Your Guide to a Wholehearted Life.

Brown’s work can help you get a handle on how to deal with your own perceptions of courage, vulnerability, fear, work, school, home, family, and life—and shift away from today’s all-too-familiar scarcity culture filled with shaming, bullying, and attention-seeking.

Copyright ©2014 Jill J. Jensen | Clarity from Chaos

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