While taking the clinical mental health counseling master degree program at Southern Adventist University, a professor had recommended my classmates and myself Daring Greatly by Brené Brown. That was almost three years ago. Since I didn’t have the money to buy the book, I had saved it on my Amazon wish list. Determined to save the little money I now have, I decided to look for books on my wish list at the local public library. I had found two on my list and Daring Greatly was one of them.
What I had liked about this book is the author is a shame and empathy researcher who has spent the last thirteen years researching on subjects such as vulnerability, worthiness, courage, and shame (see her website at brenebrown.com). Therefore, she has “the know” on these topics. According to Daring Greatly, Brené has “spent [her] entire life trying to outrun and outsmart vulnerability” (p. 7, para. 1). She has observed this in the cultures of communities, organizations, and even families. Those who are the most resilient to shame, and believes in their worthiness, Brené calls them Wholehearted people. She has created ten “guideposts” for Wholehearted living (p. 9, 10):
- Cultivating Authenticity: Letting Go of What People Think
- Cultivating Self-Compassion: Letting Go of Perfectionism
- Cultivating a Resilient Spirit: Letting Go of Numbing and Powerlessness
- Cultivating Gratitude and Joy: Letting Go of Scarcity and Fear of the Dark
- Cultivating Intuition and Trusting Faith: Letting Go of the Need for Certainty
- Cultivating Creativity: Letting Go of Comparison
- Cultivating Play and Rest: Letting Go of Exhaustion as a Status Symbol and Productivity as Self-Worth
- Cultivating Calm and Stillness: Letting Go of Anxiety as a Lifestyle
- Cultivating Meaningful Work: Letting Go of Self-Doubt and “Supposed To”
- Cultivating Laughter, Song, and Dance: Letting Go of Being Cool and “Always in Control”
Along with this list, she shares her definition of Wholehearted living: “cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough” (p. 10, para. 3). And when one goes to bed at night, he or she thinks “Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging” (Ibid).
Although Brené has written in earlier books (including her dissertation) about vulnerability, she used some of her time of writing Daring Greatly to discuss vulnerability. She has found a relationship with vulnerability with other constructs like belonging, shame, and worthiness (p. 12, para. 1). “Vulnerability is the core, the heart, the center, of meaningful human experiences” (Ibid). It is defined by Brené as “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure” (p. 34, para. 1).
When it comes to organizations (i.e. workplace or school), shame is often used as a management style. As a result, engagement dies. “We have to rehumanize work” says Brené Brown (p. 15, para. 2). “When failure is not an option we can forget about learning, creativity, and innovation” (Ibid).
According to Brené, shame is more likely to be the cause of narcissists behavior. For example “I am only as good as the number of ‘likes’ I get on Facebook or Instagram” (p. 22, para. 4). The yearning of knowing that what I do matters may cause the drive of narcissist-ism. In other words, if one doesn’t drive to be extraordinary, does that mean the person fails to exist? Many communities are plagued with phrases “Never __________ enough” (ex: never good enough, never powerful enough, or never smart enough). to get to the point of saying “I’m enough” is what Brené Brown attempts to help the reader develop. This is called to dare greatly because the person has to make choices that challenge the social climate of scarcity.
Brené also shares several personal examples from her own life experience. With that in mind, she states the difference between vulnerability and oversharing, purging, indiscriminate disclosure, and “celebrity-style social media information dumps” (p. 45, para. 4). When someone overshares, it’s often like one is a deer staring at headlights; very overwhelming! This is why Brené Brown explains that vulnerability requires boundaries and trust. For this type of example, Brené shares how she had to guide her then third grade daughter after a painful lesson of what happens when one shares with someone who isn’t trustworthy. To connect with people, Brené said that it’s like placing one marble at a time in a marble jar; one private information at a time. Then one has to see if the person is trustworthy. If the person is disrespectful, mean, or shares our secrets, the marbles come out of the jar. People who keep the marbles in the jars are those that are trustworthy.
The final thing that I had wanted to share about Daring Greatly is the gremlin concept. Everyone wants others to respect, like, and even admire what they have created or produced. However, those that are not shame resilient connect self-worth with their creations or productions (ex: if others don’t like my painting or project then I have low self-worth). Shame is what keeps one afraid, resentful, and small. Shame is what causes the gremlins to fill our heads with messages such as “Dare not! You’re not good enough!” (p. 66, para. 2). Brené shares in detail about the gremlin concept in Daring Greatly.
Shame starts as a two-person experience (ex: parent, teacher, or caregiver) but, as one gets older, one often learns how to do shame all by him/herself (p. 66, para. 5). One is unable to embrace vulnerability if shame continues to suffocate the sense of worthiness and connection. How to deal with shame? Brené had found men and women who had high levels of shame resilience and shares the similarities within this type of group (p. 74). I will not go into detail because it’s better to read it from the source. But to give some hope to my fellow readers, I will say that “If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive” (p. 75, para. 1). Another tip is to have self-compassion; talk to self as a friend and not an enemy—be gentle with self in the midst of shame.
Brené Brown has written other books; has her own blog; and TED videos. Read more about her at her website: brenebrown.com.