Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Daring Greatly Book Review

Author Brené Brown, PH.D., is a researcher and pioneer in studying shame and vulnerability. She has written two previous books, The Gifts of Imperfection and I Thought It Was Just Me and became well known recently doing a TED talk on The Power of Vulnerability (2010) which had over seven million hits on the website. I loved The Gifts of Imperfection, so I asked for a review copy of Daring Greatly, to see where she's headed in this new book. I found it full of 'home' truths.

Daring Greatly begins with a quote: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles…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…”  Theodore Roosevelt, 1910

We may know on one level that to be human means to be vulnerable – that it’s not a weakness but a way of exposing ourselves to learning and growth, daring to make mistakes, and engaging in what is meaningful in spite of risks, yet how many of us really feel comfortable living from a vulnerable place?

This book is about encouraging leaders, teachers, parents and everyone to find our courage, compassion and connection to other people through the power of vulnerability. As Brown puts it, we are “hardwired for connection.”  Creativity and innovation, good parenting, leadership, all rely on our ability to not use shaming, bullying and blaming as methods to distance ourselves from difficult emotions, or for getting the most out of our children or employees, at home or in organizations.

Vulnerability involves showing up, letting ourselves be really seen, and knowing that our basic worthiness is not in question. However, as Brown asserts, the challenge is great; it does require ‘daring greatly’ because our society in general makes us feel “never good enough, perfect enough, thin enough, successful enough, smart enough” – a lot of which comes from media-driven visions of perfection, or nostalgia for the good old days.

Our fear and discomfort with vulnerability become judgment and criticism – we run away from uncomfortable feelings; but vulnerability is also what we need to experience love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy and hope. If we think of feeling as a weakness, then we shut down, disengage, we don’t dare ask for help, share an unpopular opinion, or stand up for ourselves. That’s where the power of vulnerability comes in.

The most significant barrier to creativity and innovation is the fear of ridicule, and fear of failure and of being wrong. Yet without feeling safe enough to take risks and live with uncertainty, we can’t have real innovation and creativity.  In her chapter on leaders, Brown describes how being comfortable with vulnerability can actually increase creativity and innovation – if bosses feel they have to know everything, and always be ‘in charge’, it makes employees feel they are ‘less than’ or smaller than. Thus, shame and fear lead to lack of innovation because there isn’t a safe environment to make mistakes in.

“We can’t equate defeat with being unworthy of love, belonging and joy. If we do, we’ll never show up and try again,” says Brown. Shame resilience allows us to acknowledge the hurt or disappointment, but not be devastated by it. We see our courage. We dare to stay connected to our emotions and to others in spite of feeling pain or rejection. We practice critical awareness.

Brown posits that ‘self-love is a prerequisite to loving others’. It gives you the courage to show up and be vulnerable, open up to love. Because we fear disconnection, being unlovable and not belonging, we work sixty hours a week, or get involved with affairs or addictions…we begin to unravel. Her solution: own up to your failures and fears; show up, be vulnerable and courageous enough to love and support ourselves and each other. Be real, in other words. Like the Velveteen Rabbit kind of real. Remove the mask, stop pretending we’re invulnerable, and remove the armour, the self-protection. Practice being ‘enough’. 

I find it especially hits home during the midlife transition, and so does Brown. At midlife, she describes how “all that role playing (fitting into perfect gender roles for women and men) becomes almost unbearable…. Men feel increasingly disconnected, and the fear of failure becomes paralyzing. Women are exhausted, and for the first time they begin to clearly see that the expectations are impossible.”

It’s good to be reminded that the cracks are where the light gets in, as Leonard Cohen sings. The book ends with Brown’s strategy or game plan: to change the culture by opening up a discussion on what we lose when we shut down, disengage and lead from fear, and power-over, using shaming, blaming and bullying techniques to get our own way and how this ultimately affects families, schools, and corporations. 

Imagine if we built a corporate culture or instilled family values of being honest and open about our emotions. This would encourage giving honest feedback and allowing room for growth and engagement. Growth and learning are uncomfortable, so it can be expected, and then accepted, which reduces shame, anxiety, and fear.

I believe, like Brene Brown, that the change will begin in families, at home, with our children. It begins when we show up honestly and courageously to have the difficult discussions, show our emotions and not pretend to know it all or armor up. “Have the courage to be imperfect, vulnerable and creative.”

I highly recommend this book, and if you can’t manage to read it, watch her Ted talk at
Reviewed by Jennifer Boire

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