Brené Brown’s work has been incredibly meaningful in my life, as I’ve written about before. The title for Daring Greatly comes from Teddy Roosevelt’s quote, above. In that book, Brené addresses: What does it take to be truly courageous—to take risks, to get in the arena, to be vulnerable? How do we overcome shame so that it doesn’t stop us from living wholeheartedly?
In her new book, Rising Strong, Brené addresses the often overlooked part of Teddy’s quote: “the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood.” What happens after we dared greatly, when we risked being emotionally vulnerable—and we still got hurt? When we’re down on the ground, what does it take to get back up again and keep being vulnerable? How do you process that failure? How do you trust again?
Often when we’re sharing stories of failure, we glide right through the hard parts and focus on the happy ending. This book is about digging deep into the hard parts and learning to sit with the pain that occurs when we fall. Brené says:
Embracing failure without acknowledging the real hurt and fear that it can cause, or the complex journey that underlies rising strong, is gold-plating grit. To strip failure of its real emotional consequences is to scrub the concepts of grit and resilience of the very qualities that make them both so important—toughness, doggedness, and perseverance.
Wholehearted people—people who get in the arena, fall, and get back up—aren’t afraid to sift through the feelings of failure. It’s a three-step process:
The Reckoning is when you realize that you’re down. It comes as a blow, and knocks the wind out of you. It’s the moment when “you’re ‘in the dark’—the door has closed behind you. You’re too far in to turn around and not close enough to the end to see the light.” If we’re going to rise strong, then while we’re down we have to get curious about our emotions to start understanding how we’re feeling.
When we’re rumbling with emotions, we “get honest about the stories we’re making up about our struggle, then challenge these confabulations and assumptions to determine what’s truth, what’s self-protection, and what needs to change if we want to lead more wholehearted lives.”
Take what you know and learn from it; re-write the story. This will change how you get up and dare to be vulnerable again.
While Brené’s books are always full of eye-opening truths, two big takeaways stand out for me. They both have to do with how to rumble with your emotions—undoubtedly the hardest part of the process for me.
The stories we tell ourselves
We don’t always understand why we fall, or why we got hurt. We immediately attempt to fill in the gaps in our knowledge, so that we can make sense of what just happened. We start making up stories: Maybe he’s not texting me because he’s mad at me. Maybe she just doesn’t care as much as I do. We do this in every area of our life—in relationships, at work, in communities. These assumptions can cause even more pain if we just let them sit unchecked.
What I found really powerful were Brené’s examples of how she and her team and her family actually use the phrase “the story I’m telling myself is…” to talk others. She shares the example of her daughter Ellen saying, “I’m making up that I study hard and help around the house and try to be a responsible person, but you still don’t trust me enough to let me go to this festival.” When I worry about my boyfriend not texting me back, I could say, “When you didn’t text me back quickly, I started making up that you must be mad at me.” It’s not so different from the common tactic of saying, “What I’m hearing is…” or “When you did that, it made me feel…” But for some reason, calling it a story actually makes it easier for me to recognize when I’m making stories up. And now that I’m in tune with that, I’m realizing that I make stories up all the time! It also makes it easier to talk about with other people—an act of vulnerability in itself.
Do you believe people are doing the best they can?
Often we’re down because our expectations were disappointed—and we’re angry because we feel that another person should have done something. In my example, I expected my boyfriend to text me back within a timeframe that I arbitrarily decided was reasonable. But if I believe he’s doing the best he can, then I can wait without stress to hear from him. If you believe people are doing the best they can, it changes the story dramatically.
Brené shared how business leaders who are disappointed by an employee’s performance have to ask themselves, “Do I believe this person is doing the best he/she can?” If the answer is yes, then it forces them to act: either provide this person with extra support to meet their goals, or accept the fact that this position isn’t a good fit and either reassign them or, unfortunately, let them go.
I thought that this question was most applicable at work. There are times when I don’t understand or agree with decisions made, or when I feel slighted because a colleague didn’t give me their full time/attention/effort. On the flip side, there are times when authors are upset at me, and I wish desperately that they trusted that I’m doing the best I can for them. Believing that others are doing the best they can is a tough exercise in empathy.
Recognizing the stories we’re making up and believing the best in others are radical shifts in thinking. But they empower us to work through our pain to rise strong and dare greatly again.