Brene Brown, Vulnerability and Daring Greatly


“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 enthusiasms, 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 fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”― Theodore Roosevelt

Last week, I went to see Brene Brown speak in London as part of her publicity tour for the UK release of Daring Greatly. This was the second time I had seen her speak and it was just as entertaining, moving and insightful as the first. In this post, I want to share with you some of the key moments from the talk.

First of all, if you haven't seen Brene in action, check out the TEDX Houston talk that made her famous. She's also written several books, including Daring Greatly and The Gifts of Imperfection, which are all about her work as a shame and vulnerability researcher.

What is vulnerability?

"Daring Greatly is about showing up, walking into the arena and not knowing what's going to happen."In other words, it's about doing your thing, putting your stuff out there and accepting that the chips will fall where they may."It's the courage to show up when we don't know what's going to happen next."Vulnerability is getting up on stage, bringing up the elephant in the room, saying "I love you" first, trying something that might fail, expressing our deepest shame and expressing our deepest enthusiasm. The truth is, if we really, truly want to live, that requires vulnerability:"You can be courageous or you can be comfortable, but you can't be both. They're mutually exclusive."Brene Brown

Everyone is vulnerable

The ideas that vulnerability is a weakness, we can choose not to be vulnerable and that we can go it alone without really being vulnerable in front of others are myths. Everyone is vulnerable. 

If we don't accept that in ourselves, it comes out all wonky. We get defensive, we explode, we cower and we hide ourselves away, until "We wake up in our 30s/40s and think 'oh my god, no one sees me, no one knows me.'"

One of the points Brene made that impacted me most strongly was the idea that when we shut off our vulnerability, we manage to somewhat repress the fear and pain that come with it. At the same time, we also shut down other, more desirable feelings like joy. Feeling joy is one of the most vulnerable states to be in, simply because we have more to lose.

"What we're doing when we dress rehearse tragedy... is beating vulnerability to the punch."

Relationships and vulnerability

"Vulnerability minus boundaries is not vulnerability at all - it's attention seeking, trying to hotwire a connection with someone."

Generally speaking, we have a funny perspective on vulnerability in relationships: in others, it's viewed as courage; in ourselves, it's viewed as a weakness.

"When we meet people, we expect vulnerability from them, and it's the last thing we want them to see in us."

We cannot make others be vulnerable, only model our own vulnerability for them - because it's important to us to live with vulnerability and courage, not because we want others to change.

"Choosing to live courageously puts a real filter on the people you can tolerate hanging out with beacause you want to live a life that's aligned with your values. It can be a very uncomfortable mirror for other people."

Genuine authentic support focuses on the endeavour, not on the outcome. People don't have to share all of your values (although certain shared values are deal-breakers), but they do need to respect them.

Tips for vulnerability

1. Start with awareness: Notice your armour and your shields against difficult situations now. Do you turn to anger? Do you shut down and refuse to engage? Do you withdraw, storming out or going to sleep? What are the trigger points behind your shields? In other words, when do you feel most vulnerable?

2. Be real: Talk about how you feel, starting with "I feel". Talk about the thoughts that are flying around your head, starting with: "The story I'm making up..."


"Vulnerability is not as terrifying and as dangerous as getting to the end of our lives and wondering what would have happened if we'd shown up as ourselves."

 Thanks to Brene Brown for an inspiring and thought-provoking talk. I hope you'll go and check out her work.

[mailerlite_form form_id=1]