Daring Greatly

Finding Freedom from shame and embracing vulnerability

At first glance these seem pretty heavy subjects – vulnerability and shame. Actually they don’t just seem heavy they really are! But please don’t stop reading!  According to Brene Brown in the TED talk below vulnerability and shame also hold the key to living a whole-hearted life – that is a life of courage and authenticity. If you are a regular reader of this blog my hunch is that you too hunger for this.

If courage and authenticity is something you aspire to then please don’t allow your initial negative reaction to vulnerability and shame hold you back from watching the talk if you haven’t seen it yet. Quoting Brown from her book, ‘Daring Greatly How The Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms The Way we Live, Love, Parent and Lead’:

“Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”

So what do we actually mean by vulnerability?

Brown defines vulnerability as ‘uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure.’ From the original dictionary definition the root word includes ‘capable of being wounded’ and ‘open to attack or damage’. So it is far from comfortable and not a place any of us naturally want to be.

Here are some examples of vulnerability Brown received from her research. As you read them do reflect on the feelings and emotions they provoke inside of you:

  • Sharing an unpopular opinion
  • Standing up for myself
  • Asking for help
  • Saying no
  • Starting my own business
  • Helping my 37 year old wife with stage 4 breast cancer make decisions about her will
  • Initiating sex with my wife
  • Initiating sex with my husband
  • Calling a friend whose child has just died
  • Signing up my mum for hospice care
  • The first date after my divorce
  • Saying ‘I love you’ first and not knowing if I am going to be loved back.
  • Getting promoted and not knowing if I’m going to succeed
  • Getting fired
  • Falling in love
  • Trying something new
  • Bringing my new boyfriend home
  • Getting pregnant after 3 miscarriages
  • Waiting for the biopsy to come back
  • Reaching out to my son who is going through a difficult divorce
  • Admitting I am afraid
  • Setting up to the plate after a series of strikeouts
  • Telling my CEO that we won’t make payroll next month
  • Laying off employees
  • Presenting my product to the world and getting no response
  • Standing up for myself and for friends when someone else is critical or gossiping
  • Being accountable
  • Asking for forgiveness
  • Having faith

We tend to instinctively think vulnerability is weakness and so we shy away from it.
But the closer you examine it the more you being to realise vulnerability is not weakness. As you read the examples above it becomes clear that vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. So while truth and courage are often not comfortable, they are certainly not weakness.

In order to be truly vulnerable, Brown argues, we need to develop resilience to shame

But then what does shame look like? Here are the conclusions Brown says she always starts with when discussing shame:

  1. We all have it. Shame is universal and one of the most primitive  human emotions that we experience. The only people who don’t experience shame lack the capacity for empathy and human connection. Here’s your choice: (con)fess up to experiencing shame or admit that you’re a sociopath. Quick note: This is the only time that shame seems like a good option.
  2. We’re all afraid to talk about shame.
  3. The less we talk about shame, the more control it has over our lives.

Through her research Brown has identified 12 shame categories that include appearance and body image; money and work; motherhood/fatherhood; family; parenting; mental and physical health; addiction; sex; ageing; religion; surviving trauma and being stereotyped and labelled.

Here are examples of shame given to Brown during her research:

  • Shame is getting laid off and having to tell my pregnant wife.
  • Shame is having someone ask me, “When are you due?” when I am not pregnant
  • Shame is hiding the fact I am in recovery
  • Shame is raging at my kids
  • Shame is my boss calling me an idiot in front of the client
  • Shame is not making partner
  • Shame is my husband leaving me for my next door neighbour
  • Shame is my wife asking for a divorce and telling me she wants children, but not with me
  • Shame is my DUI (driving under the influence of alcohol
  • Shame is infertility
  • Shame is telling my fiancé that my dad lives in France when in fact he is in prison
  • Shame is internet porn
  • Shame is flunking out of school. Twice.
  • Shame is hearing my parents fight through the walls and wondering if I am the only one who feels this afraid.

Raw and uncomfortable as these examples are, there is a pathway through these paralysing and all consuming emotions. This Brown calls stress resilience, the result of which is empathy and healing.

I appreciate this is only a relatively superficial overview, but what reflections, comments and insights does this evoke for you?

(Also see A Different Kind Of Freedom Fighter)

“Integrity is choosing courage over comfort;
choosing what is right over what is fun, fast or easy:
and choosing to practice our values rather than simply professing them.”
Brene Brown

A different kind of freedom fighter

Overcoming deep rooted feelings of shame

To my mind Brené Brown is a revolutionary and freedom fighter. Maybe not in the conventional sense of the word, but still very much a freedom fighter. She is a fighter in the cause of understanding and harnessing the power or weakness and vulnerability to live a full life. Our world desperately needs more of this kind of revolutionary and freedom fighter.

Who is Brené Brown? She is an American scholar, author, and public speaker. She is currently a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. In this 20 minute TED talk she talks about her journey, both personally and professionally, in understanding the paradoxical power of weakness and vulnerability.

It is paradoxical, because so much within ourselves, in the media and the world around us emphasises being strong and confident, while at the same time hiding our weaknesses. Yet her talk has clearly struck a chord having had more than 27 million views.

Centuries before Brown it was Rousseau (1712 -1788) who said, “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains. One man thinks himself the master of others, but remains more of a slave than they are.”

Brown has spent more than ten years studying the human emotions of vulnerability, courage, authenticity, and shame. For six years she focussed on issues to do with shame and empathy. She is now using that work to explore a concept that she calls wholeheartedness. In this talk she poses two very important questions:

Could well meaning friends be holding you back?

Its a fascinating experiment described by business professors Gary Hamel and C.K.Prahalad. In a research project four monkeys were placed in a room that had a tall pole in the centre with a large bunch of bananas at the top.



As you would expect one of the monkeys spotted the bananas and started to climb the pole to get them. No sooner did he (let’s assume they were all male) start to climb the pole did he find himself soaked by a torrent of cold water. Every time he tried, the experience repeated itself and so after many loud squeals he decided he had to give up as it was useless. The other three monkeys went through the same experience when they tried to do the same thing.

Now this is where it got particularly interesting. One of these four monkeys was replaced by a new monkey who had never gone through the water drenching experience. As the newcomer started to climb the pole, the other three monkeys grabbed him and forcefully pulled him down to the ground. When he tried to persist in climbing the pole. not only did the other monkeys drag him down they also physically attacked the newcomer!

From this point the researchers then replaced the original monkeys one by one. As a new monkey was brought into the room, once again he would try to get to the bananas before being dragged down again by the others. In time there were only monkeys who had never been drenched by the torrent of cold water in the room. However, none of these monkeys dared to climb the pole to get to the tasty looking bananas above them. They instinctively prevented one another from climbing, but none of them had the faintest idea why.

Now the question. I don’t think any of us are monkeys (!) but could it be possible that in your life and my life there are well meaning people who have been hurt by bad experiences in their own lives? Is it the pain of those experiences that lead them to pull you down with their criticism and critique? Are some of those negative voices inside your own head?…….

Are you in the right season?

Another take on work-life balance

I’ve come to the conclusion that work-life balance is fundamentally flawed. As a concept to govern your life it should be discarded.


For my thinking behind this do see 3 Reasons Why We Get Work-Life Balance Wrong and Is It Work-Life Balance Or Integration?

I think another more helpful analogy is that of seasons. A season is  a relatively brief period of time, around 12-13 weeks. Take the example of a farmer. His priorities depend on which season he is in. Spring is for planting. Summer is for ensuring his crops remain healthy, weed and disease free. Autumn is the time of harvesting. Winter is the time for the ground and the farmer to rest and recuperate in preparation for the repeating cycle.

By way of contrast think how ridiculous it would be if the farmer ignored this and did not respect the seasons. So rather than planting in the spring, he did nothing at all. He relaxed through the summer and then tried to work incredibly hard during the autumn, planting seeds and trying to force his plants to grow for a harvest in just a few short weeks. It sounds so ridiculous. I know you are not a farmer (at least I don’t think you are!).

But isn’t this something like how we try to rush and have everything instantly in our technologically driven world where so much can be made available immediately?  We pay the price for this in terms of stress, burnout and even depressive thinking.

Here are two fundamental characteristics of seasons:

Podcast #023: What makes for a good education?

According to the futurist and philosopher Alvin Toffler, “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read or write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.”


The subject of education evokes strong views from all sorts of people. It is multi-billion dollar industry.

In this podcast with my co-host Andrew Horton we give our personal reflections on education and learning.

Do join us as we discuss:

What do we actually mean by education?

How doing well at school so often has little correlation with being successful later in life.

The importance of developing much more than technical skills – there are two other attributes that can either enormously enhance your life or completely derail you.

The dangers of measuring everybody by the same standard.

How so often education systems over time can drain the creative abilities of so many people.

Developing a universal and holistic view of education.

How learning is much more than what we learn at school.

Or in a quote attributed to Mark Twain, “I never let schooling interfere with my education.”

You may also find of interest:

Do You Still Believe Your Old School Report?

What Do We Mean By Education?

How Schools Kill Creativity Part 1

How Schools Kill Creativity Part 2

Over to you: What are your thoughts and reflections on the podcast and on what makes for a good education?


Is it really that person’s fault they are irritating you so much?

Do you find some people really annoying? The things they say or the way they behave can be so bothersome and irritating.

I know I do and I am sure I am not alone in that! We say things like ‘she makes me so mad’ or ‘he frustrates and irritates me so much’. And maybe there are legitimate things that the other person says or does which are understandably frustrating and annoying.

However, the diagram below (from Stephen Covey’s book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People) challenges those assumptions in some radical ways.

Screen Shot 2016-08-13 at 19.54.00

In Biology at school we learnt that for simple organisms like an amoeba or relatively straight forward structures like the knee joint, there is a predictable response to a stimulus. You prod an amoeba and it goes in a certain direction. Or you strike the front of the knee and you get an involuntary knee jerk reaction.

But we as human beings are much more complex than that.

Granted most people do react to circumstances, but just because they do does not mean you and I have to do the same.

The fact is that for human beings between stimulus and response is a space. In that space we have the power to choose how we respond.

If you think about the word ‘responsibility’ you will notice it is from 2 words – response and ability. In other words responsibility is the ability to choose your response. An extreme example illustrates this…..

Is it work-life balance or integration?

5 steps to your life symphony

I’ve come to the conclusion that work-life balance is fundamentally a flawed concept.  The problem with balance is that it implies giving an equal amount of time and attention to every area of my life – and that is simply just not possible. It’s not possible to give in equal measure each week the same same amount of time to, say work; the same amount to family; the same amount to exercise or to friends or to other meaningful activities.(I’ve explained more on this in a previous post).



Perhaps a better way to think about work-life balance then is in terms of work-life integration. What do I mean?……

We’re all materialists now!

A Guest post by Andy Parnham

We live in a culture which is dominated by one particular worldview….

Stop, Andy! What do you mean by ‘worldview’?

Everyone has a worldview. It’s all about the assumptions we make about people, the world, the universe and all that is. Because they are assumptions, they usually operate at a subconscious level. They are like specs that we wear all the time, colouring our view of everything. They are so pervasive that we don’t even notice we’re wearing them! No one can live without a worldview.


Worldview questions sound a bit like this: What is ultimate reality? What is the nature of the world? What is humanity? What is the purpose of life? What happens at death?

So, what is our culture’s dominant worldview? It goes by the name of secular materialism. Some people abbreviate that to “modernism”. Its assumptions go something like this…

Podcast #022: The stories we tell ourselves

Everyone loves a good story. Stories are part of what make us human. But I am not talking about the novels and classics many of us love to read.

Screen Shot 2016-03-25 at 15.52.57There is already a story going on in each of our minds. It is those stories that we tell ourselves about what happens to us that can have huge implications for our lives. How do those stories come from the way we see the world?

Do come and join my co-host Andrew Horton and I as we discuss:

  • The see-do-get model of human behaviour.
  • How the way you see the world profoundly affects what you will do.
  • How stories create our paradigm (or mental map) of the world.
  • The power of changing your story by changing your paradigm.
  • Why we resist listening to other people’s stories.
  • The part of the podcast Andrew was tempted to delete about our own personal stories (don’t worry its not that scandalous!)
  • Stories and paradigms of how to approach God and the implications in our own lives.

You may also find of interest the following related posts and podcasts:

What Is The Story You Are Telling Yourself?

Podcast #010 Stephen R. Covey

Podcast #007 Religion