Daring Greatly – How the courage to be vulnerable can transform our lives

By | October 3, 2016

The book Daring Greatly epitomizes a decade of research on vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame by Brene Brown, who is also a research professor at the University of Houston. The author describes vulnerability as uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure, but she further mentions that the biggest strength lies in accepting these things and daring greatly to show up and let ourselves be seen. We must walk into the arena, and the more we try to bulletproof our personalities or play safe, the more we deprive ourselves from the life’s greatest and joyful experiences.

Daring Greatly - Book Review

Daring Greatly @omygdala

In every society, a culture is the foundation of our existence. A good culture and its values are highly important for the growth and prosperity of every civilization and upcoming generations, especially. I, too, firmly believe in our culture and respect certain things to the core; however, the moments of indelible epiphanies when I realized the foibles and discrepancies in our culture have always saddened me. The core ethos of our so-called modern society vexes me sometimes where I distressfully contemplate over our upbringing and values.

To elaborate further, let’s take an example of Failure. Throughout my life, I considered it as a social disgrace and a stigma. The thought of being sacrilegious by challenging the norms of the society about the misconceptions surrounding the term Failure compelled me to look at life through the lens of unfair wisdom, and the thought of being perfect in everything did lead to occasional outreach sometimes.

And………… I was so wrong. Failures are equally important as success stories. In our continuous pursuit of success, we fail to realize that failures are the most significant stepping stones of our growth, and as per my experiences, failures teach some of the life’s biggest lessons provided you are ready to learn from your mistakes and move on rather than clinging to them for self-pity. And, fortunately, the reiteration of some of these points in Brene Brown’s book Daring Greatly – How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead gave me a delightful experience as it supports my notion that we need to battle with our fear of failures to cherish the best experiences of life. To some extent, my foray into this book allowed me to unite my courage and resilience.

Daring Greatly - Book review

Daring Greatly @omygdala

The Book’s Ethos

Daring greatly epitomizes a decade of research on vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame by the author Brene Brown, who is also a research professor at the University of Houston. The book manifests the concept of vulnerability from a different perspective altogether.

What is vulnerability?: As per vocabulary.com, vulnerability is the quality of being easily hurt or attacked; the state of being exposed. For example, the illusionary feeling of standing naked in front of the audience; the state of being open to injury mentally or physically. A majority of people believe that vulnerability is a weakness; manifesting our easy-to-hurt attitude is a sign of shame and a measure of fear. However, our willingness to acknowledge and own our vulnerability is a courageous act and executing an action by accepting our vulnerability shows our strength of leaving our comfort zone and overcoming the fears.

The author describes vulnerability as uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure, but the biggest strength lies in accepting these things and daring greatly to show up and let ourselves be seen in: a new relationship, an important meeting, a difficult presentation, a speech etc. The more we try to bulletproof our personalities or play safe, the more we deprive ourselves from the life’s greatest and joyful experiences.

“Perfect and bulletproof are seductive, but they do not exist in the human experience. We must walk into the arena, whatever it may be – a difficult family conversation, a new venture, or falling in love – with courage and willingness to engage. Rather than sitting on the sidelines and hurling judgements and advice, we must dare to show up and let ourselves be seen. This is daring greatly.” – Brene Brown

Examples: We all dream of falling in love; we all wait for the grand arrival of Our Special Someone, no matter how imaginary or illusionary or God-like features he or she has in our wildest and crazy imaginations. But when the Cupid’s arrow stuck us filling our ears with fanciful music, there are the following possibilities: the person may or may not love us back, whose safety we cannot ensure, who may stay in our lives or leave without any notice, who may be loyal or may betray us tomorrow – that’s vulnerability. Love is uncertain; it is a risk, but still we fall in love to experience this beautiful emotion. We are vulnerable in love – emotionally weak. It is scary, and we are open to being hurt, but we accept this vulnerability courageously to experience love because we cannot imagine our lives without this crucial ingredient of our happiness.

Another wonderful example which Brene Brown narrates is related to her daughter Ellen. When she was asked by her coach to participate in the swimming competition, her reluctance intervened as she was not a good swimmer. The fear of not winning and the embarrassment of coming last in the competition compelled her to withdraw her name, and she begged her mom to talk to the coach about this issue. Brene Brown argues that you do not have to protect your children at every stage, and there will be times when they must face the situation of disappointment and deal with conflict. The parental instincts would urge you to shield your children all the time, but you have to give them the opportunities to struggle so that they become strong and realize their strength, ultimately believing in themselves. .

So when the author and her husband asked Ellen to participate in the event irrespective of her fallible swimming skills, she was hugely disappointed. And this is where a mother explained to her daughter that sometimes the greatest strength lies in just showing up rather than winning. Sometimes, the bravest thing is to face the situation and overcome the fear rather than running from it as these are the stepping stones of personality and character development.

Daring Greatly - Book review

Daring Greatly @omygdala

But, there is a caveat…..

In a way, accepting vulnerability means making peace with our emotional exposure and letting our feelings out via sharing with others; however, sharing has to be done with the people who have earned our trust. For obvious reasons, there cannot be any guarantees when we risk our sharing, but this has to be done with the people who have grown in the relationships and have earned the right to hear our concerns. In case we expose our vulnerability to someone after 1-2 meetings, that is an example of desperation and not being vulnerable.

Here are Four Inspirational Quotes from the book which I am sure will stay with me forever:

1. We must become that person first which we want our children to be.

There is nothing known as perfect parenting; in fact, one aspect which you would see a lot in my articles is “Nothing is perfect”. We all learn from the experience; does not matter how much we are prepared for the situations. Similarly, parenting is a unique experience where parents do mistakes, stumble, fall but quickly rebound to move further. I conjecture that good parenting is the most challenging, nerve-racking, demanding, and beautiful role in the world, and when dealing with children specifically, actions speak louder than the words. Hence, along with emphasising our culture and its aspirational values (what we are actually doing, thinking, and feeling), we must implement or manifest them first before we want our children to implement these in their lives.

For example: Giving a lecture on honesty to our children is a vain attempt unless we demonstrate the same behaviour with others. The real power lies in the actions we take.

“Raising children who are hopeful and who have the courage to be vulnerable means stepping back and letting them experience disappointment, deal with conflict, learn how to assert themselves, and have the opportunity to fail. If we are always following our children to the arena, hushing the critics, and assuring their victory, they will never learn that they have the ability to dare greatly on their own” – Brene Brown

2. Moving from “Never enough” to “I am enough”.

The conundrum of “Never enough” is rampant these days. We often hear the following phrases: Never successful enough, never beautiful enough, never thin enough, never fair enough, never rich enough etc. We see scarcity everywhere; hence, disregarding the things we have enough. Any idea what fuels this issue?: Shame, Comparison, and Disengagement. The practice of blaming and finger-pointing norms stimulate shame which leads to scarcity issue. The demeaning practise of comparing our skills and talent with others leads to scarcity thoughts. And, the feeling of lack of belonging, the struggle of getting seen and heard causes disengagement which, again, becomes the root cause of scarcity.

Believe in yourself, learn new things, grow in the endeavours you love, and value what you have. Rather than saying “Never enough”, tell to yourself “I am enough”.

3. The misunderstanding of attaching your self-worth with the products you make.

Are you scared to ask a question in a meeting or a large session? Are you scared of taking risks or doing anything big due to the way people would judge you? If yes then you are doing something horribly wrong. Yes, we are being vulnerable in these situations which we must accept courageously; however, the biggest problem is that we attach our self-worth with the products we make, and if these are not accepted well by our friends or peers or colleagues, we consider ourselves worthless. We attach our worth with the number of likes on Facebook; the more we get them, the more we are worthy and belong to the society. If we associate ourselves with a project, and in case it is not accepted, we are shattered, and we lose out worthiness.

We fail to understand that the projects or the products are just a small part of our lives; they do not govern our worth. We put our self-worth on the table, and, hence, we suffer for the consequences. We are far more than an idea, a painting, or a good technical project. Yes, we are disappointed when our work is not well received, but the effort is all about what we do and not who we are. We must liberate ourselves from the pressure of what others might think of us.

4. The idea of vulnerability is the birthplace of creativity and innovation.

As mentioned before, due to the fear of humiliation, we do not ask questions, or we are hesitant to share certain ideas. Hence, in these cases, our fears take a toll, stopping us to bring creative thoughts on the table. This epitomises the rejection of our vulnerability element as we are too scared to go ahead and walk in the arena. In many organisations, shaming peers is a part of their culture where the scenarios of blame game, managers bullying employees, and leaders criticising employees in front of other colleagues etc. are common. These instances lead to shame which further breeds fear and disengagement, and, ultimately, we do not dare to accept our vulnerability in such a shame-penetrated culture.

Kevin Surace, the American technology innovator, a serial entrepreneur, and the CEO of Appvance, once mentioned:

“People believe they are only as good as their ideas and that their ideas can’t seem too ‘out there’ and they can’t ‘not know’ everything. The problem is that innovative ideas often sound crazy and failure and learning are part of revolution. Evolution and incremental change are important and we need it, but we are desperate for real revolution and that requires a different type of courage and creativity.”

The fear of humiliation or shame kills creativity and innovation; hence, it is extremely important to build an environment of respect, honesty, and constructive feedback. This is not a one-man job; instead, the implementation of shame-free environment requires the deliberate attempt from the leaders, mentors, and colleagues. The author adds:

“A daring greatly culture is a culture of honest, constructive, and engaged feedback. This is true in organizations, schools, and families. Without feedback, there can be no transformative change. When we do not talk to the people we are leading about their strengths and their opportunities for growth, they begin to question their contributions and our commitments; hence, disengagement follows.”

Daring greatly is a wonderful read. My foray into this book brought back the vivid memories of my corporate stint where the good, bad, and ugly experiences changed my perspective towards the life.

Note: In the spirit of full disclosure, the link to the book above is an affiliate link, which means that I may get a commission if you decide to purchase the book from Amazon. I only recommend books that I love myself, so I know you will be in good hands.

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