Daring Greatly is one of those books that has been messing with my head in the best of ways. I love books that leave you thinking about their ideas and implications for days and weeks afterward. And in 2012 I got two of those books–Quiet, and Daring Greatly.
Much like Quiet, my connection to Brene Brown and Daring Greatly started with a TED Talk video. 2 in fact.
I knew I had to read her book. And in the first few pages she got me. In describing her experience of vulnerability to her therapist, she describes it like this:
“Like I’m coming out of my skin. Like I need to fix whatever’s happening and make it better.” “And if you can’t?” “Then I feel like punching someone in the face.”
Brown, Brene (2012-09-11). Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead (Kindle Locations 119-121). Gotham. Kindle Edition.
So not only was this a book about vulnerability, but from a woman who hates being vulnerable. I can relate. And then there is the research. Oh, how I love evidence and facts and correlations based on real numbers. Sure it’s social science research so it’s messy, but I heart a book that gives you reasons for its ideas, reasons bigger than just “because I think so.”
A little background–Brown is a shame and vulnerability researcher. And through her research on those topics, figured out that the only way to live a “wholehearted” life is through being vulnerability.
One of the things I love the most about Brown is that as she’s describing her realizations about vulnerability being key, she’s also honest and humorous. And at times I feel like we’re the same person. Again, talking to her therapist she wonders if there’s a way around vulnerability:
“I feel it when I’m scared that things are too good. Or too scary. I’d really like for it to be exquisite, but right now it’s just excruciating. Can people change that?” “Yes, I believe they can.” “Can you give me some homework or something? Should I review the data?” “No data and no homework. No assignments or gold stars in here. Less thinking. More feeling.” “Can I get to exquisite without having to feel really vulnerable in the process?” “No.” “Well, shit. That’s just awesome.”
Brown, Brene (2012-09-11). Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead (Kindle Locations 129-134). Gotham. Kindle Edition.
I have so been there.
And some of the book I’m still “getting.” Brown’s discussion of our cultural background and an atmosphere of scarcity is interesting. If I’m understanding her right, scarcity is the background against which we have the challenge of practicing vulnerability, which is no easy task. Brown contrasts scarcity with wholehearted living by saying:
The opposite of “never enough” isn’t abundance or “more than you could ever imagine.” The opposite of scarcity is enough, or what I call Wholeheartedness. As I explained in the Introduction, there are many tenets of Wholeheartedness, but at its very core is vulnerability and worthiness: facing uncertainty, exposure, and emotional risks, and knowing that I am enough.
Brown, Brene (2012-09-11). Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead (Kindle Locations 392-395). Gotham. Kindle Edition.
In some ways, I think this is the concept from the book I am still thinking/struggling/wrestling with the most. Blame it on my Dutch Calvinist upbringing, but I have a hard time with the “I am enough” statement. My theological upbringing says we are totally depraved, we are never enough. But, in Christ we are new creations. Through Him we are enough. But sometimes, to be really honest, that is so. damn. hard. to. get. Like I said, still struggling/wrestling with that part.
One of the most fascinating parts of the book was Brown’s descriptions of myths surrounding vulnerability. That vulnerability is weakness. That you can escape vulnerability. That vulnerability is letting it all hang out. That we can go it alone.
Brown’s descriptions of vulnerability are really paradigm shifts, at least for me. She points out that “We love seeing raw truth and openness in other people, but we’re afraid to let them see it in us. We’re afraid that our truth isn’t enough— that what we have to offer isn’t enough without the bells and whistles, without editing, and impressing.” Or that “Vulnerability is courage in you and inadequacy in me.”
The pragmatist in me also appreciates that not only does Brown point out the myths about vulnerability, but also addresses each one of them. Living it out…well that’s up to us.
The second half of the book is mostly about shame, a counterpart to vulnerability. I absolutely love that she subtitles a chapter “VULNERABILITY AND SHAME IN ONE BOOK! ARE YOU TRYING TO KILL US?” Like I said, she’s funny.
Brown defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.” And she has some really good things to say about shame. A couple really struck me. First, that we can become shame resilient. Not shame-proof, but resilient. And darn it if it doesn’t come back to the self-worth thing.
One of the parts of the book I found absolutely fascinating was Brown’s discussion of how shame is experienced differently by gender. She gives a rich, detailed description of how the experiences differ. It really must be read to be appreciated, but she breaks it down this way-
The primary trigger for women, in terms of its power and universality, is the first one: how we look. Still. After all of the consciousness-raising and critical awareness, we still feel the most shame about not being thin, young, and beautiful enough.
Brown, Brene (2012-09-11). Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead (Kindle Locations 1049-1051). Gotham. Kindle Edition.
She describes motherhood as a close second for women. I almost skipped that section since I thought it wouldn’t apply, but Brown’s research actually found something different:
And (bonus!) you don’t have to be a mother to experience mother shame. Society views womanhood and motherhood as inextricably bound; therefore our value as women is often determined by where we are in relation to our roles as mothers or potential mothers. Women are constantly asked why they haven’t married or, if they’re married, why they haven’t had children.
Brown, Brene (2012-09-11). Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead (Kindle Locations 1051-1054). Gotham. Kindle Edition.
Brown found a completely different pattern of shame for men:
Here’s the painful pattern that emerged from my research with men: We ask them to be vulnerable, we beg them to let us in, and we plead with them to tell us when they’re afraid, but the truth is that most women can’t stomach it. In those moments when real vulnerability happens in men, most of us recoil with fear and that fear manifests as everything from disappointment to disgust. And men are very smart. They know the risks, and they see the look in our eyes when we’re thinking, C’mon! Pull it together. Man up. As Joe Reynolds, one of my mentors and the dean at our church, once told me during a conversation about men, shame, and vulnerability, “Men know what women really want. They want us to pretend to be vulnerable. We get really good at pretending.”
Brown, Brene (2012-09-11). Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead (Kindle Locations 1163-1168). Gotham. Kindle Edition.
Holy crap. Interesting, no?
The rest of the book gives some strategies for living wholeheartedly, and has chapters on both leadership and parenting. I have to say, I feel like I need to read that part again. I was so blown away by the rest I’m not sure I got the ending.
But this, like all great books, left me with a lot of questions. I feel like I need to discuss it with someone, or a bunch of people. And it’s got me thinking a lot about social media–what does vulnerability look like there? Is it different than in real life? I’d guess Brown would say no, but I don’t know.
Like I said, a definite must-read. And if you do, I’d love to know…maybe we can do a book club.