Changing My Mind With Brené Brown

Okay, I’m just going to put this out there. You see, I love reading Brené Brown books.  I know it seems a little odd that a highly competitive, Iraq Veteran, Alpha Male who can deadlift 425 lbs, loves to read a woman researcher-storyteller write about fear, shame, and vulnerability, but I do.  Not only do I like to read Brown’s books, but I highly recommend you do as well.


I firmly believe that in life, timing is everything. My obsession with Brené Brown illustrates that perfectly. I was introduced to her writing at the precise moment when I needed most to hear her message.


I started my Brené Brown reading journey when I read The Gifts of Imperfection, Daring Greatly, and Rising Strong in a 2-week binge.  To be honest, the books complement each other so well that they run together–sort of like a continuing commentary–in my mind.  I truly believe that Brown’s work is life-changing and important and that’s why I’m compelled to share with you my top 3 takeaways from her masterpieces.  


Wholehearted Living


The concept of wholehearted living  is fundamental to all of Brown’s writing, and is defined as “engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness.” To live wholeheartedly


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.’  It’s going to bed at night thinking, ‘Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid that that doesn’t change the truth that I am brave and worthy of love and belonging.’”  

The Gifts of Imperfection


I could write for days on this subject alone. Brown offers some really helpful guideposts to further define and establish rules for wholehearted living. I might tackle those in the future, but for now, I’ll try to explain how this idea of wholehearted living affects me personally.


Have you noticed that I self-describe as a wannabe entrepreneur a lot?  This sidestep originates in feelings of shame and unworthiness. Let me explain. Because I haven’t quit my job, sold all my possessions, sunk my life savings in a new company, and then worked 100 hours a week, I have a hard time calling myself an entrepreneur. Hence the wannabe.


Lots of people have called bullshit on this thinking, and while intellectually I know they are right, I have a hard time accepting that. However, after consuming Brené Brown’s books, I’m working hard to cultivate self-worthiness.  


For example, when I leave the office before answering every email, I remind myself that I did enough today. And to clarify, I’m not suggesting that wholehearted living gives me a free pass to half-ass things in life.  It’s not that at all, but rather, it allows me to be myself and to live my best life. As long as I’m doing my best and bringing my A-Game, I have permission to love myself and be okay with whatever that looks like today.  


Daring Greatly


This is the title of Dr. Brown’s second book and is certainly a phrase she is known for.  Daring greatly is Theodore Roosevelt’s powerful quote from his 1910 “Man in the Arena” speech:  


“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 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 at the best knows at the end of the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”


WOW, what a powerful quote.  As someone who spends a lot of time in the arena, I’d like to focus on one particular piece of Roosevelt’s speech:  “The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the area, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood.”


Our face-down moments can be big ones–getting fired or finding out about an affair, or they can be small–like spraining your ankle before a big race.  It’s interesting that arenas conjure up images of grandeur, when in reality, an arena moment can be any place or time when we risk showing up and being seen. It’s a risk to be awkward and goofy while posting a LinkedIn Video. It’s a risk to lead a team at work. And we all know that love is always risky. All three qualify as “arena” to me.


I love this quote because it has so many applications. Video marketing is my most recent application of this quote. Do you know anyone who absolutely loves recording him- or herself on video? I don’t, although some of us hate it less than others. As a digital marketer, I am forever trying to convince clients to record more video. Video is a personal form of communication and a great way to connect with people, and to tell you the truth, it performs better than blog posts or white papers.  


So if I tell you that video marketing works, why aren’t you doing it? I’ll answer that–shame, fear, and an aversion to vulnerability. It’s the committee in your head saying, What if people think I look stupid?  What if people laugh at me?  


Let me ask you a question. Are the people you’re worried about in the arena or they critics resting on the sidelines, people who are too scared to enter the arena, to get dirty and bloody.  If they aren’t right there beside you, why do you care about they think? You’re showing up! You’re doing the work! How could someone fault you for that? Sure, you might be uncomfortable, but the reward could be great!


What is the one thing you would do if you knew you couldn’t fail?  What would happen in your life if you were able to remove the fear of failure and shame, and allow yourself to be vulnerable?  How much more enjoyable would your life be?


Foreboding Joy


I’m pretty good at dampening my emotions, how about you? We all do this in everyday ways, like watching TV, being really busy, or growing addicted to our smartphones.  Brené Brown reminds us, “There’s no such thing as selective emotional numbing. There is a full spectrum of human emotions and when we numb the dark, we numb the light.”


If you want to feel the joy, you have to feel the sadness.

Foreboding joy is a way to minimize vulnerability. For example, I am foreboding joy if something good happens to me and my immediate thought is “Well, this isn’t going to last.” It’s a way of shutting off the joy so as not to feel the inevitable pain. We’re so afraid of loss that we don’t allow the joy.


Brown explains that “joy has an intimate relationship with vulnerability. Our actual experiences of joy—those intense feelings of deep spiritual connection and pleasure—seize us in a very vulnerable way.”


Foreboding joy manifests in a variety of ways. At work, for instance, when things are going well and all the fires seem to be put out, instead of enjoying the peace of mind, we’re just waiting for the other shoe to drop. We tell ourselves and each other, “Yeah, I guess things are okay, but if we don’t get this, this, and this figured out soon then we could be out of business.”  


Don’t get me wrong, I’m not proposing widespread complacency, but rather suggesting we give ourselves permission to enjoy the moment.  After all, life is hard. I think we should enjoy the hell out of our wins as they can buoy us up through the hard times. If you never allow yourself to feel joy; if you are always worried that joy will be taken away, you’ll never reach your full potential! I strongly believe this.  


We do this in our personal lives as well.  Instead of enjoying the moment we’re in, we spend a vast amount of time mentally preparing for the worst.  Life is meant to be lived all in 100%. We only have one shot at it, and there’s no do-over.


What is causing you to dismiss joy right now?  


One technique for allowing the joy in is to take time to notice and celebrate the good things, no matter how small they may seem. Joy is hiding everywhere–sometimes even within a difficult moment, side-by-side with other emotions. It is such a shame when we miss the sweet moments because we focus on what’s wrong, or even worse, create an imaginary disaster to temper the vulnerability of joy.




Don’t worry my journey with Brené Brown isn’t over yet. She’s written a couple of books I haven’t read yet, and I’d love to hear one of her talks live.  


For whatever it’s worth, I’m giving you permission to read one of her books.  What’s the worst that could happen? You start living wholeheartedly?


If you made it this far, I would like to ask you a favor.  If you read and enjoy one of Brené Brown’s books, please recommend her work to someone you care about.  After all, as Ram Dass famously said, “We’re all just walking each other home.”