Daring Greatly

Summary Written by Jennifer Knighton
"Vulnerability is the core, the heart, the center, of meaningful human experiences."

- Daring Greatly, page 12

The Big Idea

Disruptive Engagement

"No corporation or school can thrive in the absence of creativity, innovation, and learning, and the greatest threat to all three of these is disengagement."- Daring Greatly, page 187

In the final chapters of Daring Greatly, Dr. Brown examines how shame affects our culture and examines the power of leadership to cultivate engagement and transform our organizations. Shining a light on our educational and corporate cultures, she identifies the hallmarks of shame-based systems: blaming, gossiping, name-calling, favoritism, harassment, humiliation, bullying, and, ultimately, disengagement.

It’s a real problem, and the only way we can confront, and eventually change a culture that rewards shame is with vulnerability. Dr. Brown outlines four strategies for building shame-resilient organizations, and each strategy relies on leaders willing to dare greatly by being honest, constructive, and engaged.

Insight #1

Unmasking Vulnerability

"[A]s adults we realize that to live with courage, purpose, and connection…we must again be vulnerable. We must take off the armor, put down the weapons, show up, and let ourselves be seen."- Daring Greatly, page 112

In order to remove our armor and put down our weapons, it’s necessary to identify how we are masking our shame and protecting our vulnerabilities. Dr. Brown identifies three major shields that we use to protect ourselves:

  • Foreboding Joy (Imagining dreadful outcomes that clamp down on momentary joy)
  • Perfectionism (Believing that doing everything perfectly protects us from shame)
  • Numbing (Embracing anything that deadens the pain of discomfort and shame)

She also identifies the powerful disarming strategies for freeing ourselves of these masks:

  • Worthiness (I am enough)
  • Boundaries (I’ve had enough)
  • Engagement (I’m taking risks and letting myself be seen)

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Insight #2

Gremlin Ninja Warrior Training

"If we cultivate enough awareness about shame to name it and speak to it, we’ve basically cut it off at the knees."- Daring Greatly, page 58

Dr. Brown defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.” She counters with the wisdom that “shame resilience is the key to embracing our vulnerability” and leading a wholehearted life. If we are to dare greatly in our lives, we must confront the mental gremlins that prevent us from truly engaging with others.

She goes on to identify the most common shame categories, for both men and women, stressing the difference between guilt and shame. And she outlines a strategy to build shame resilience:

  • Recognizing shame and understanding its triggers
  • Practicing critical awareness and self-compassion
  • Reaching out to empathetic connections and sharing our stories
  • Speaking about shame and asking for what we need

From a personal standpoint, what I found most enlightening from Daring Greatly was the emphasis on our ability as leaders and members of our communities (both personal and professional) to encourage connection and empathy – and to combat shame by owning our vulnerabilities.

In particular, I am actively practicing the disarming strategies to counteract my personal shields. Owning my vulnerability and making a practice of self-compassion and empathy is already changing the way I relate with others in my family and in my work.

In the comments below, let us know…

What are you doing now to cultivate a wholehearted life? How do you combat shame? How do you find strength in vulnerability? Are you daring greatly?

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Brené Brown

Brené Brown, Ph.D., LMSW is a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. She has spent the past decade studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame.

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