Book Review: Daring Greatly

When we spend our lives waiting until we’re perfect or bulletproof before we walk into the arena, we ultimately sacrifice relationships and opportunities that may not be recoverable, we squander our precious time, and we turn our backs on our gifts, those unique contributions that only we can make.

The “arena” here refers to life, and in Daring Greatly, researcher and author Brené Brown makes the case that if we show up as we are and are willing to engage, vulnerability is not a weakness but a strength. Brown views vulnerability as a kind of courage required for fully embracing opportunities that come our way, whether in our personal life or career.

She defines vulnerability as “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure,” and allowing ourselves to be vulnerable — essentially accepting that there will be unknowns and choosing to engage despite the discomfort caused by uncertainty — is what allows us to have healthy relationships, growth in our careers, and success in guiding a business or company. In Daring Greatly, Brown examines what drives our fears of being vulnerable, the defenses we employ to avoid vulnerability, and how to overcome these fears.

The fear of vulnerability stems from the fear of never being enough, or what Brown refers to as the culture of scarcity. This feeling of not being enough is a result of shame, comparison, and disengagement, which correlate with the most common “armor” that we use to shield ourselves from vulnerability: foreboding joy, perfectionism, and numbing.

Shame → Foreboding Joy

Shame: Believing that we are not inherently worthy and that our self-worth is tied to factors such as achievements, productivity, or compliance.

Foreboding joy: Fear that the goodness in our lives will not last, that we are not worthy and thus undeserving of the joy.

Antidote: Practice gratitude

Honor what you have instead of obsessing over potential loss. By appreciating the moments of joy fully, we are less likely to have regrets if and when the source of joy is no longer there. If you have a job you love, embrace your good fortune and use it as an opportunity to learn and grow. Even if you do lose your job, you’ll know that you have made the most of every moment and most likely gained new skills and knowledge that will be an asset in your next position. However, if you land your dream job and spend all your time worrying about losing it, you may be overlooking opportunities for connection and growth.

Comparison → Perfectionism

Comparison: An exaggerated emphasis on what is lacking or missing instead of recognizing the unique talents and contributions of each person.

Perfectionism: Trying to avoid shame, judgement, and blame by being perfect or doing things perfectly, which is an unattainable goal.

Antidote: Appreciate the beauty of cracks

Kintsugi is a Japanese tradition of repairing broken ceramics with a lacquer that is mixed with a precious metal such as gold, silver, or platinum. The mending is visible, a reminder of the history of the piece, and also demonstrates that flaws can be beautiful. Often, we hold themselves to impossible standards but would not expect the same of others. Treat yourself with compassion just as you would treat others with compassion.

Disengagement → Numbing

Disengagement: Being afraid to take risks and thus choosing to not even try.

Numbing: Avoiding feelings, shutting down to protect yourself from uncomfortable emotions.

Antidote: Set boundaries and Cultivate Your Spirit

Know what is important and know when to let go. Set boundaries so that you don’t become overwhelmed or overtaxed, both in terms of time, emotions, and commitments. Be aware of indulging in “shadow” comforts, which provide a temporary reprieve but have no lasting effect, versus true comforts which nourish and invigorate the spirit.

Vulnerability & Daring Greatly

This is just a brief overview of some of the key points in Daring Greatly. Brown goes deep and wide in her examination of vulnerability, including strategies for cultivating shame resilience and the role of vulnerability in education, work, and parenting. She illustrates each point with specific instances from her own life and conversations with family, friends, colleagues, and strangers, as well as her research and the research of others.

The title of Brown’s book comes from Theodore Roosevelt’s 1910 speech “Citizen in a Republic,” delivered at the Sorbonne in Paris, France. This passage from the speech could be considered a touchstone for Brown, who often uses this scenario to illustrate the power of engaging with vulnerability; it is what gives us the courage to dare greatly and, even when we fail, to stay in the arena and try again.

Although Brown focuses largely on personal growth and relationships, she does give examples of how vulnerability can benefit professional growth and careers, and there are other advocates who also make the case that vulnerability can positively impact business and entrepreneurship. One such advocate is Anthony Tjan, CEO of the venture capital firm Cue Ball, who has contributed an article for the Harvard Business Review titled “Vulnerability: The Defining Trait of Great Entrepreneurs.”


Check out this interview with Brené Brown in which she discusses the major themes in Daring Greatly and in her follow up book Rising Strong. And if you want to delve more deeply, both books are available from the East Baton Rouge Parish Library.

Written by Thien-Kieu Lam.