Daring Greatly - Critical summary review - Brené Brown

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Daring Greatly - critical summary review

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Self Help & Motivation

This microbook is a summary/original review based on the book: Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead

Available for: Read online, read in our mobile apps for iPhone/Android and send in PDF/EPUB/MOBI to Amazon Kindle.

ISBN: 1592407331

Publisher: Avery

Critical summary review

In his speech entitled “Citizenship in a Republic,” Theodore Roosevelt used the phrase ‘’daring greatly’’ to describe a man who dares to face the challenges of life without the fear of failure. For Brené Brown, ‘’daring greatly’’ means the ‘’willingness to own and engage with our vulnerability.’’ Many would disagree with her interpretation of this phrase, as they link vulnerability with weakness. In ‘’Daring Greatly,’’ Brown makes a convincing case as to why vulnerability is anything but a weakness. It is an exquisite emotion we all inevitably need to accept in order to make the most of our life’s journey. So, get ready to hear her arguments!

Research on empathy and shame

Brown’s job does not belong to a conventional category - she is a shame and empathy researcher. Her research on empathy began in her late 20s when she quit her management position at AT&T to enroll in a bachelor's degree in social work. The main motive behind this decision was her wish to ‘’fix people and systems.’’ After graduation, she decided to pursue further education in this field, and enrolled in both master's and doctoral degrees. She says that just one word can sum up everything she learned while studying social work: connection. ‘’Connection is why we’re here,’’ writes Brown. ‘’We are hardwired to connect with others, it’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives, and without it there is suffering.’’ Wanting to discover the anatomy of social connection, she decided to research the topic further. 

However, at the beginning of her research, she realized that research participants could not talk about their relationships without talking about their belief that they were unworthy of them. ‘’[They] kept telling me about heartbreak, betrayal, and shame - the fear of not being worthy of real connection,’’ she recalls. Therefore, she expanded her research and spent six years studying what shame is, how it works, and how we come to the belief that we do not deserve the love of others. 

Her research on shame led her to conclude that people who were resilient to shame (those who she calls ''wholehearted'') derive their feeling of worthiness from the courage to be openly vulnerable. They are aware of their imperfections, and they do not think they are something they should hide. Brown says: ‘’Wholehearted living is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It means 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.’’’ 

Narcissism through the vulnerability lens

    How challenging is the study of empathy in this contemporary society that is often described as self-absorbed, focused on power, success, appearance, and being special? ‘’You can’t swing a cat without hitting a narcissist,” many would say to describe the pervasive need for admiration in the modern world. Take Facebook and Instagram as examples. Rather than being used for socializing and connecting with people, they have mostly become platforms where individuals can present themselves to others in a favorable light. The overall tendency of self-absorption is not just speculation made by the older, more traditional generations. Research conducted by Jean Twenge and Keith Campbell shows that the rate of narcissistic personality disorder has more than doubled in the United States over the past 15 years.

    Brown believes we should look at narcissism in our society through the vulnerability lens. She writes: ‘’When I look at narcissism through the vulnerability lens, I see the shame-based fear of being ordinary. I see the fear of never feeling extraordinary enough to be noticed, to be lovable, to belong, or to cultivate a sense of purpose ... Shame is more likely to be the cause of these behaviors, not the cure.’’ 

More and more people nowadays struggle with the feeling that their lives are meaningless compared to those that their friends on their social networks have. Unfortunately, likes on Facebook and Instagram have become a criterion for success. Television and celebrity culture is not in any way different: they nurture the same idea of life being worth only if it is far from ordinary.

     To understand why people have become more self-centered is to find the root of the problem. Brown says that despite the overall tendency people have to present themselves as special, we cannot consider them as narcissistic. The real issue is not with the people, but rather in the environment that encourages narcissism by perceiving the ordinary in a negative way. She calls this environment ‘’the culture of scarcity.’’

The culture of scarcity

    ‘’Scarcity is the ‘never enough’ problem,’’ Brown says. In one of her research projects, she asked examinees to fill in the blanks between the words “never” and “enough.” 

The majority of participants saw this task as an opportunity to express their dissatisfaction with themselves. Some of the answers included “never good enough,” “never thin enough,” “never powerful enough,” “never successful enough,” “never smart enough,” “never safe enough,” “never extraordinary enough,” and so on. ‘’We get scarcity because we live it,’’ concludes Brown. Most of us spend a vast amount of time calculating what we lack: sleep, money, energy, strength, time, luck. If you look around you, you will notice that the fear of scarcity is the driving force in many families, workplaces, and communities. 

What created this mindset of scarcity? One reason is that we always compare our lives with media-imposed visions of perfection or to the lives of others. Or, we often compare our current life with one we had in the past, which in the present, seems better than it actually was. 

    Furthermore, events from previous decades, such as wars, recessions, natural disasters and increased violence, have affected our sense of safety and therefore increased our worries about scarcity. Even if we have not been directly affected by any of these, we probably know someone who has been struggling with finances, poor health, or unemployment. ‘’Worrying about scarcity is our culture’s version of post-traumatic stress,’’ Brown says. 

    How can we challenge ourselves and discard the belief that who we are and what we have is never enough? If you think that the opposite of scarcity is abundance, you are wrong. In fact, “Abundance and scarcity are two sides of the same coin,’’ says Brown. The counter approach lies in living wholeheartedly. Unlike living in constant fear of scarcity, wholeheartedness is about facing uncertainty, exposure; a willingness to risk and accept our vulnerability.

Vulnerability is not a weakness 

When Brown asked research participants to complete the following sentence, “Vulnerability is…,” she received many interesting responses including: 

  • ‘’Sharing an unpopular opinion.’’
  • ‘’Standing up for myself.’’
  • ‘’Asking for help.’’
  • ‘’Calling a friend whose child just died.’’
  • ‘’The first date after my divorce.’’
  • ‘’Saying ‘I love you’ first and not knowing if I’m going to be loved back.”
  • ‘’Asking for forgiveness.’’

Do you associate any of these sentences with weakness? From their answers, Brown says vulnerability is actually closer to truth and courage, and far from weakness. Is it weak to tell someone you love them, or to call a friend who is hurting deeply? No. 

Unfortunately, the most widely accepted myth about vulnerability is the one that connects it to weakness. ‘’Vulnerability is the core of all emotions and feelings. To feel is to be vulnerable,’’ Brown writes. Therefore, equating vulnerability with weakness means perceiving our emotional life in a negative way. Yes, exposing yourself brings uncertainty and risks, but it also brings the possibility to love; to have courage, hope, empathy, and creativity. Think of it in this way: love is uncertain, and it exposes you emotionally. However, can you imagine your life without loving or being loved? 

Interestingly, people usually appreciate openness and honesty in others, yet are too judgemental when it comes to their own emotional exposure. ‘’We’re afraid that our truth isn’t enough,’’ notes Brown, ‘’that what we have to offer isn’t enough without the bells and whistles, without editing, and impressing.’’

Studies in health psychology have confirmed that acknowledging vulnerability increases our chances of sticking to any kind of positive health regimen. Fascinatingly, they proved that positive outcomes depend on our readiness to be emotionally open, rather than our levels of vulnerability.

Brown shares how her decision to expose herself to possible failure led to her success at a TED Conference. She describes giving a speech at TED as ‘’one of the most anxiety-provoking experiences'' in her career. Talking for 18 minutes in front of an audience with high expectations, and being a closing speaker of the event is far from simple and easy. Even though she later found some flaws in her speech while watching it back, Brown says she does not regret her decision to participate in the event. Today, her talk ‘’The Power of Vulnerability'’ is on the list of the most popular TED talks of all time, and has more than 14 million views on YouTube.

Fighting the gremlins 

    Take a look at the following example. You have created something - an article for the magazine or a piece of art - and you decide to show it to your friends. Your decision to share the thing you created is a courageous step since your friends might praise or criticize you. It also means that you are daring greatly, and that you have embraced the wholehearted way of living. However, you may choose to keep your creation secret, out of fear that others might discourage you with their comments. This happens when you are prone to shame and subconsciously attach your self-worth to how your actions are seen by others - if your friends like it, you think you are worthy. If not, you feel unworthy and “not enough.”

    In the words of Peter Sheahan, an author, speaker, and the CEO of ChangeLabs, shame is ‘’the secret killer of innovation.’’ It prevents us from taking risks that move societies forward. To become shame-resilient, derive your sense of worthiness from your character traits and deeds, and do not be afraid of what might people around you think of you. If you act on shame, it will keep you ‘’small, resentful, and afraid.’’ Be vulnerable, and share openly.

    Browns claims that shame ‘’derives its power from being unspeakable’’, and hates ‘’having words wrapped about it.’’ To combat this uncomfortable feeling, start talking about it. If you give your problem a form, you are on the way to solving it. It might also help if you visualize shame. Browns says she pictures it as a gremlin - an evil creature who gains pleasure from distraction. For example, one of the people she talked with told her he sees her as a Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher (Harry Potter fans will understand), since she studies shame and develops strategies to fight against it. Whenever your inner voice makes you doubt your worthiness, fight it - same as you would fight gremlins, and same as the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher would fight the forces of darkness.

Final Notes

As long as we build armors to protect ourselves from vulnerability, they will keep us isolated from love, empathy, meaningful relationships, hope, and creativity. ‘’Daring Greatly’’ is a compelling guide to taking off that armor and embracing what truly matters in life - the courage to be ourselves. 

12min Tip

    Visualize shame, and talk openly about it. Imagine it is a villain you need to fight whenever you feel afraid or discouraged.

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Who wrote the book?

Brené Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston, a New York Times bestselling author and a TED Talks superstar. She has dedicated her life to studying topics such as courage, vulnerability, shame, an... (Read more)

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