Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Live, Parent, and Lead 
Brené Brown, Ph.D., LMSW

By Margot McNeil

The fifth YWE Book Club of 2015 met to discuss Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown.

Using examples of her own experiences with shame and vulnerability, Brown advocates that being vulnerable should not be seen as a weakness but instead as a courageous way to lead a more wholehearted life.

The icebreaker question for the meeting was “when did you allow vulnerability vs. shame to dictate your behavior and what was the consequence?” This prompted a mix of personal and professional examples from the group, ranging from dating and relationships to bringing up difficult personal issues with work colleagues. The group agreed on one major point: vulnerability is hard. We all believe that putting oneself in a vulnerable position, regardless of the situation, is not an easy thing to do. Thankfully Brown’s book is an excellent resource for understanding and overcoming these hesitations with vulnerability.

Daring Greatly is divided into seven chapters which introduce and discuss vulnerability:

  • Chapter 1: Scarcity: Looking Inside our Culture of “Never Enough”
  • Chapter 2: Debunking the Vulnerability Myths
  • Chapter 3: Understanding and Combating Shame
  • Chapter 4: The Vulnerability Armory
  • Chapter 5: Mind the Gap: Cultivating Change and Closing the Disengagement Divide
  • Chapter 6: Disruptive Engagement: Daring to Rehumanize Education and Work
  • Chapter 7: Wholehearted Parenting: Daring to Be the Adults We Want Our Children to Be

The group began the book discussion with Brown’s definition of vulnerability and how we find vulnerability very admirable in others, but not in ourselves. When looking internally we often find that “vulnerability” becomes synonymous with “weakness.” We found ourselves questioning why we are so quick to degrade something in ourselves that we admire in others.

Brown’s chapter on shame and shame resilience was a highlight of her book. We discussed how we all experience shame, a universal emotion that often leads us to believe there is something wrong with us and that we are not good enough. This can result from attaching your self-worth to your work or what you produce. Brown’s method for combating these feelings of doubt is shame resilience; the ability to acknowledge shameful emotions and recognize that our values should not be driven by recognition and approval. Vulnerability is essential for moving away from shame and towards empathy and realizing that you are good enough.

The topic of fear-based vulnerability also resonated strongly with the group. It’s very common for people to be scared of saying “I don’t know.” Certain professions are worse for perpetuating this fear; law and engineering being among them. Representatives from both of these professions were present in our group and confirmed they believed this to be true. We discussed how mistakes are often made because someone refused to admit they didn’t know something instead of opening up and asking for help.
This discussion led the group to talk about the implications of fear-based vulnerability on female professionals, particularly in male-dominated sectors, suggesting that women often have to put on a non-vulnerable-I-am-always-strong persona in order to match those of their male colleagues. The group discussed the implications of women adopting a non-vulnerable workplace personality and its association with the term “bitch”. We agreed that a better approach for women, particularly those in leadership roles, is to accept that vulnerability shouldn’t be avoided; instead acknowledge that it holds an important role in the workplace, especially for building strong relationships with colleagues. We agreed that if female leaders accept vulnerability and encourage it from their peers and employees, it has the potential to become more widely accepted professionally.

Brown writes about the importance of accepting and encouraging vulnerability within leaders; without it a sense of belonging, connection and trust among teams is difficult to achieve. She also highlights the incredible power of feedback, both giving and receiving, that is unfortunately often avoided by leaders and colleagues for fear of hurting someone. Many agreed receiving feedback is difficult as we often focus on a singular negative point instead of looking at the bigger picture. Brown discusses the importance of sitting on the same side of the table as the person you are giving feedback to. Letting someone know you’re on their side (literally and metaphorically) is an essential first step to creating a safe and open environment to encourage trust, accountability and vulnerability in both parties.

Brené Brown’s ability to be open with her own experiences is a great strength of Daring Greatly. By becoming vulnerable with her audience, Brown holds herself accountable to the message she portrays. The idea that being vulnerable is not a weakness, but a strength, is a powerful message that allows us to become more courageous, honest and trustworthy. This book changed the way members of the group perceived vulnerability, which will help us achieve more wholehearted lives both personally and professionally.