Unlike the 39 million Americans whose first encounter with best-selling author and researcher Dr. Brene Brown began with watching her viral TED Talk, mine began at a Chipotle with a friend. We were catching up on all things work and life, and somehow the discussion shifted to the books we were reading. “You need to check out Brene Brown,” she encouraged me. “I’ve read two of her books so far and watched her TED Talk and her stuff is really so good, so applicable.” I typed the name quickly into my phone for a later Amazon order, which arrived at my doorstep within a week. I quickly became a fangirl—not for this author’s celebrity status, but for the eye-opening points she shared.
So I was excited when I heard Netflix would stream a special Brene Brown talk called “The Call to Courage.”
A research professor at the University of Houston and a five-time New York Times bestselling author, Brene is down-to-earth, evident in her Twitter bio: "Researcher. Storyteller. Texan." I appreciated Brene’s straight-shooting personality, which allows her to be open about personal things in conjunction with her research on courage, vulnerability, empathy, and shame. As I sat on my sofa and watched the 75-minute long “Call To Courage,” I was reminded of several things restated from her books and countless other points that hit home.
In this space, I will share with you five points that really spoke to me, which I hope speak to you. In any case, I encourage you to watch the entire show.
Even as a PhD researching vulnerability, Brene shares her own story of fear as her TED Talk went viral and celebrities like Oprah began reaching out to her. She tried to swallow the emotions and pull through. But then a quote from a 1910 speech by Teddy Roosevelt hit her hard: “You can’t really be brave without vulnerability.” It was a game-changer for her.
As I was thinking about this, something hit me too: How often do I/we try to look and act strong, but wind up being self-defeating? Whether it’s in the throes of a tough conversation or taking a vocational risk, the harder thing to do is to open up. However, the healing and clarity that has resulted from those times I have opened up to someone outnumber the times of disaster.
So why don’t I do that more? Why don’t we do that more? Well….
Brene tells about the time she bothered to read people’s comments on her TED video and how their criticism—of everything from her speech to her weight to her words—hit her hard. She wanted to cry. But then she realized these were people too—people who often didn’t know why they said such mean things. She says this: "There are millions of cheap seats in the world today filled with people who will never once step foot in that arena. They will never once put themselves out there. But they will make it a full-time job to hurl criticism and judgment and really hateful things toward us. And we have got to get out of the habit of catching them and dissecting and holding them close to our hearts. We've got to let them drop on the floor…. Don't grab that hurtful stuff from the cheap seats and pull it close. Don't pull it anywhere near your heart."
We often don’t take the risk of vulnerability because of the “cheap seat” people. But we can’t let them stop us from taking chances and even failing.
We don’t like the discomfort vulnerability brings, so we often get defensive or angry, or begin telling ourselves stories. Brene tells a story of a misunderstanding between her and her husband while swimming on vacation and how she interpreted his actions as being something totally different than what they actually were. She calls this “the story I’m telling myself,” where our tendency is to make ourselves into heroes and others into ill-intending villains, without really knowing anything. Our brains do this as a means of protecting ourselves, but it can end up causing problems. When we can go to the person and tell them “the story I’m telling myself,” we can use vulnerability to begin bringing clarity to the situation.
Brene says this: "No vulnerability, no creativity. No tolerance for failure, no innovation. It is that simple.” If you're not willing to fail, you can't innovate. If you're not willing to build a vulnerable culture, you can't create." Reflecting on my own history, I think of the times I’ve held back from doing something because I was afraid of how someone would see me or judge me. The times at work when a boss punished failure were the times of the least amount of creativity. I was afraid of failing, so I held back. The only way to prevent failure is not to try, right? But this led me into a corner where creativity and dreams died. The good news is that the opposite is true—that when we can be our full selves, we are open to bringing fullness to all we do.
This was probably the point that stuck out to me the most. Brene talks about how it’s common for us to chase after comfort, particlularly in places we feel especially vulnerable, by seeking to fit in. But she shares how often we mistake fitting in for belonging. They’re different. “The opposite of belong, from the research, is fitting in. Fitting in is assessing and acclimating: ‘Here’s what I should say, or be, here’s what I shouldn’t say and avoid talking about,’” Brown says. “That’s fitting in. Belonging is belonging to yourself first. Speaking your truth. Telling your story. And never betraying yourself for other people. True belonging doesn’t require you to change you who are, it requires you to be who you are.”
On a rainy day or an unbearably hot one, I encourage you check out the Brene Brown special on Netflix this summer. Watch it with your spouse, significant other, or teen (Brene uses a couple cusswords, but way less than most PG-13 movies) and have a discussion together. I can guarantee it will be worth more than the 75 minutes.