What I Learnt from Brené Brown

I read this Guardian article recently about people who have aversions to recommendations. I think I often fall into this category (and to confirm, I have never seen any Game of Thrones).

I have managed to resist Brené Brown’s work for years, until about a month ago when I succumbed and watched her TED talk - one of the most popular of all time.

What then followed was a (accepted!) recommendation of her book The Power of Vulnerability. I downloaded the audio book and the 6 hours and 31 minutes were devoured in just four days.

Brené is so personable and her qualitative research on fear, shame and vulnerability is peppered with both heartbreaking and hilarious stories from her subjects, as well as her husband, kids, friends and wider family.

So what did I learn? Apart from the 10 guideposts for wholehearted living which she goes through in the book, these lessons struck me the most:

We all care what others think of us

Brené points out two thoughts we all often come up against when pursuing something new, or even just getting around in our regular everyday life:

  1. ‘I’m not good enough’
  2. ‘Who do I think I am?’

Being crippled by what others think is so common for many people, and I do find some comfort in that commonality.

This blog was a huge undertaking for me and believe me, the above questions have crossed my mind more than once when I press publish on a post…

Be who you are

One of Brené’s mantras is: ‘"Do not shrink. Do not puff up. Stand my sacred ground."  

Once I heard this, I could hear it ringing in my ears during the smallest day-to-day situations. So often in conversations I was playing myself down or changing my style to try and match or dominate another’s - particularly at work.

Thankfully I found this doesn’t happen often with those closest to me, but it’s a huge challenge to just be who you are without pretense or adjustments to suit those around you.

Choose empathy over sympathy

Confession - this section of the book had me welling up a little. So often we jump to sympathise with people when they’re vulnerable with us, but as Brené points out, this doesn’t put us side by side with them - it usually places us above them.

Empathy should be the real focus in these intimate conversations - even if we haven’t gone through the exact same situation as others, we can just say ‘that sounds like it’s really hard/horrible/sad/embarrassing’, rather than ‘oh, you poor thing’.

As Brené beautifully puts it - ‘sit in the dark with them, don’t flick on the lights’.

I could go on with more lessons, but we'll leave it there for today.

I'll finish with a quote about the wholehearted, vulnerable people Brené interviewed - she notes they were also usually the happiest...

“They fully embraced vulnerability. They believed that what made them vulnerable made them beautiful. They didn’t talk about vulnerability being comfortable, nor did they really talk about it being excruciating. They just talked about it being necessary. They talked about the willingness to say ‘I love you’ first. The willingness to do something when there are no guarantees. The willingness to invest into a relationship that may or may not work out. They thought this was fundamental.”

...And now to read the rest of her books!