I can’t seem to get away from Teddy Roosevelt! Brene’ Brown begins this book with a quote from a speech of his at the Sorbonne in 1910 in which he talks about the man in the arena being the one who counts and not his critics, the man who strives for great things at great cost. Her title is drawn from these words:
“…who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly….”
Brown describes her research into vulnerability as one that led her to a personal breakdown, which her therapist described as a spiritual renewal. She traces her research course, which began by exploring human connection and discovered in her interviews that the fear and shame of disconnection is what came up over and over again. She says she was hijacked by her data into researching shame, and the flip side of this, a shame resilience that enables people to overcome shame and live “wholeheartedly.” Wholeheartedness comes from a sense of one’s basic worthiness, cultivated through a variety of practices such as letting go of perfectionism, of numbing and powerlessness, of scarcity fears, of the need for certainty and more.
A key to wholehearted living that “dares greatly” that is at the core of this book is the embrace of vulnerability. Vulnerability requires courage and a willingness to press against all the “vulnerability myths” shared by both women and men. But it leads to compassion and connection, nowhere illustrated more than in Brown’s concluding chapter having to do with vulnerability and parenting. I found myself saying “Amen” and “Amen” and wishing that my peers in parenting could have heard this sooner and not inflicted so much pain on each other around being the perfect parent. Her stories of being imperfectly vulnerable with her children and allowing them to dare greatly, even if this just meant showing up, were worth the price of admission.
I found her insightful in the ways we shield ourselves from vulnerability through foreboding joy, where we do not allow ourselves joy because we are waiting for the other shoe to drop, through perfectionism, where we think that by doing things right we will never know shame, and through numbing, by which we deaden ourselves from the painful things in life. Instead, she advocates practicing gratitude in the moments of joy, appreciating the “cracks” in our life that shed light on our humanness, and learning how to feel and lean into our hard feelings while setting proper boundaries.
She also challenges organizations to “mind the gap” and practice “disruptive engagement”–developing awareness of the gaps between strategy and culture and the ways we discourage engagement through corporate shaming practices. Bringing the best that we have often involves vulnerability and risk in disruptively engaging broken corporate culture.
I found this a helpful book that was immediately applicable for me in several situations in which I was mentoring young leaders facing the choices of “safe” disengagement or vulnerably stepping into their work as leaders. Vulnerability is scary for all of us and yet ultimately the only path to real connection and real greatness. Brene’ Brown helps us on that path through her stories and research, even while helping us to see that each of us makes that path our own by walking into vulnerability.