I Admit It: I Wanted Nothing to Do With Brené Brown’s Work

It’s true. I was an active resister of Brené Brown‘s TED Talk, books, blog and research. All of it.

One of my classmates from coaching school repeatedly introduced me to her work. All it took were the words shame and vulnerability for me to politely say some version of “thanks, but no thanks. I’ve done my work.”

Famous last words, right?

One afternoon my husband came home, took one look at me and said “are you okay?” I burst into tears. Note: This is NOT normal behavior for me.

I was feeling so defeated and dumbfounded about how to engage in a healthy way with my business partner. All my training and experience with conflict, communication and emotional intelligence wasn’t helping. Nothing was working. It was just getting worse. I had reached a breaking point.

My deepest darkest fear was surfacing: I’m not good enough. While I had experienced this in my personal life, I had mastered the dance of perfectionism in my professional life, which until then had worked pretty well.

My oh so wise husband suggested a trip to Barnes and Noble. Armed with a venti mocha and bulldog determination I marched myself right to the self help section. It didn’t take long for my eyes to lock on one sentence on the back of a beautiful blue book:

“the quest for perfection is exhausting and unrelenting.” 

It sure is I thought. I kept reading. It was like someone has described my strategy for life perfectly. Much to my dismay, it was Brené’s book I Thought It Was Just Me.

I remember whispering “okay, I give” to the universe.

It’s not an understatement to say this book changed my life. I devoured it within a day or two. Afterwards I watched, read, and signed up for anything and everything I could get my hands on from Brené.

Her work helped me in five big ways:

  • I realized I’m not alone (I really thought it was just me!)
  • I finally had a name for what I often felt and tried to avoid: shame
  • I gained clarity about who I am and how I want to be in the world
  • I learned a process for moving through shame in a healthy way
  • I’m now a recovering perfectionist

The switch from active resister to emphatic supporter is mostly based on the change and transformation I experienced personally, but also rooted in witnessing profound change and transformation in other people while facilitating Brené’s work in retreats and coaching relationships.

My journey with wholeheartedness, showing up fully, being brave and letting myself be seen and known is a constant work in progress. But I know this for sure: my life and the lives of others are better because of the work and research of Brené Brown.

What is Vulnerability-Avoidance Costing You?

Effective leaders have many qualities and skills, but none are more valuable and sought after than courage and authenticity. According to the latest research by Dr. Brené Brown, vulnerability is the birthplace of authenticity and courage.Yet vulnerability avoidance tactics are abundant in the workplace.

We mask our feelings and expect everyone around us to suck it up and power through. We judge and criticize – sometimes silently. We try to appear as if we have it all together – like we never struggle. We write-off fear, disappointment, and grief as emotions that don’t belong in the workplace even though they profoundly affect performance and productivity. We work really hard to control what others think. We crack jokes to avoid being seen. We cling tightly to perfectionism to minimize the odds of failure. Imagine mixing one or more of these behaviors with the leadership activities listed in Vulnerability 101. Herein lies the cost. Business results Avoiding vulnerability…
  1. Kills trust
  2. Causes disengagement
  3. Destroys creativity and innovation
  4. Prevents learning
  5. Facilitates status quo
  Leaders who practice vulnerability…
  1. Build stronger relationships because they cultivate trust
  2. Attract top talent because they stimulate engagement
  3. Solve problems faster and proactively because they foster creativity and innovation
  4. Achieve better results faster because they cultivate learning
  5. Have a competitive advantage because they maximize potential
  As leaders, if we find ourselves questioning the relevance of vulnerability it’s helpful to answer the following questions:
  • How is lack of trust affecting my team? My bottom line? My customers?
  • According to Gallup, only 30% of the workforce is engaged. What would change if more people in my company were engaged?
  • How would an increase in creativity and innovation affect my customers?
  • How much time would I save if people learned what they needed to learn faster?
  • If everyone in my company reached their full potential, how would that affect my results?
  Yes, vulnerability is risky, unpredictable, and scary as hell, but the costs of avoiding vulnerability are too great to ignore. Engaging with vulnerability is the heart and soul of The Daring Way™ – it’s all about showing up, being seen, and living brave.

Vulnerability 101

We’re getting ready for our Daring Leadership™ Retreat and one of the questions that continues to surface is “What does vulnerability have to do with leadership?” Before we answer that question let’s define vulnerability:

Uncertainty, emotional exposure, and risk (Dr. Brené Brown, Daring Greatly).


Now that we have a shared definition of vulnerability, think of all of the leadership activities that require vulnerability. To name a few….

  1. Admitting mistakes
  2. Giving feedback
  3. Disagreeing with someone
  4. Saying “I don’t know”
  5. Asking for help
  6. Creating a new process
  7. Sharing an idea
  8. Asking for a raise
  9. Turning down a promotion
  10. Asking for feedback

All of these activities involve some degree of uncertainty, emotional exposure, and risk. Of course there are ways to avoid vulnerability (people pleasing, avoidance, cynicism, etc.), but at what cost?

Stay tuned. Next we’ll explore the costs of avoiding vulnerability.