Brené Brown, vulnerability and courage: why we should step out of our comfort zone and be seen

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Brené Brown on being vulnerable at TEDx Houston

The first time I heard about Brené Brown was probably around 2 years ago back in Brazil. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a big TED Talks fan and have literally watched over 100 of them. They do deliver a powerful message in just a few minutes. Brené’s talk wasn’t any different. In fact, it was so inspiring that millions of people watched and loved it. Nevertheless, the bad and the ugly also came to the surface. Before I share why and what, let’s take a look at the message of her presentation and what it provoked in me.

Brené Brown is a researcher at the University of Houston Texas but, above all, she’s a storyteller. Her stories were about courage and connection. As a social work researcher, she wanted to investigate how wholehearted people were made. To make things clearer, her intention was to find what made people connect, love, be happy with their lives and be courageous, live to the fullest. After years working with and interviewing people, collecting data, she came to a rather controversial conclusion. People who had a better sense of belonging and who felt more fulfilled about their lives were also the ones willing to be seen for who they are. They embraced their vulnerability. They embraced their imperfection.

Vulnerability is at the heart of courage

Paraphrasing Brené Brown

She certainly didn’t like her findings. As many of us would agree, feeling vulnerable is not comfortable at all. In fact, we do almost anything to avoid feeling like that. Most of us believe that vulnerability makes us weak. But for Brené, after years struggling with her findings, vulnerability is what makes us strong, what makes us truly connect and understand. Without vulnerability, there would be no empathy. But vulnerability brings shame and, be honest, how many of us want to feel shame?

Someone once said that the magic happens outside our comfort zones and I’d like to share something I’ve never shared with anyone. Many people would look at me and think I’m a very confident guy. They could not be further from the truth. I am incredibly insecure. It may not show that much when I’m delivering a lecture, teaching, or writing. Or even when I’m having a conversation about the topics that I love. But I am. Oh gosh, am I… I don’t feel comfortable in my skin. I don’t like the way I look, my body, many of my attitudes, how I deal with money, routine, family and, particularly, my relationship with wife sometimes. Also, I’m pretty convinced I have a mild type of ADHD, the inattentive sort. I have so much to improve about myself. But here’s the thing:

I have.

And I’m proud of where I got. Don’t get me wrong. My concern is that I rarely open up about these things because, like Brené before, I don’t want to feel vulnerable.

In vulnerability lies opportunity

Not sure who said that, maybe it was me 🙂

Indeed it does. Being prepared to do something challenging and new, knowing that you might feel ashamed, afraid, and possibly fail, kind of frees you, doesn’t it? It’s scary but also liberating.

Here’s another story for y’all. I felt incredibly sad yesterday after talking to my mom on the phone. She had been crying because this is the first time she celebrates (not really) her birthday without my dad who passed away in January (read his story here). I felt lonely for a moment but didn’t let myself think too much about it. I started scrolling down on Facebook to find something else to distract me. I came across an interview with Sir Ian McKellen about his role as Sir Anthony Hopkins’ character’s dresser in the acclaimed The Dresser. It was funny. I was instantly drawn to Anthony Hopkins’ recommended interviews because I truly admire him and he reminds me so much of my dad (physically, especially as Odin in Thor.  I just wanted to rewatch him talk about his story.

You bet your ass I am. Well, that’s being human

Sir Anthony Hopkins, Interview with Larry King

That was his answer to people being surprised to know that this incredible actor is still insecure. Not only is he an award-winning actor with brilliant performances but he is also a very talented painter and, even more impressively, a composer. As a matter of fact, Anthony Hopkins composed a beautiful waltz called And the Waltz Goes On some 50 years ago and only heard it played live by an Orchestra when the Dutch maestro and violinist, André Rieu, played it for him in Vienna (watch it here, it’s superb!). Watching it made me cry and think about all of this for an instant. How vulnerable we are and how stupidly hard we try not to look like we are.

I suppose what I’m trying to say is that I’m glad my mom didn’t try to hide what she was feeling when I called her. I’m glad that I’ve been more able to connect with people and try to be true to myself in the last months. I’m glad that I have a wonderful wife who loves me (and I love her very much!) and has supported and invested in me, in our relationship showing that despite all my insecurities, I’m worthy of love and connection too. I’m glad that I’m stepping out of my comfort zone and working on a project that I’m in love with (my online courses which you can check out here). And I’m really glad that people I admire and the participants of my courses are giving me feedback and allowing me to think about the things I can change.

Being vulnerable means that you can be yourself and that will be enough. You don’t need to always be awesome, amazing, phenomenal. You can simply be yourself.

My final message here is: Step out of this feeling of security and strength and allow yourself to be vulnerable. Find your courage within your vulnerability. Cry, be honest with your feelings as much as possible, be truly seen and don’t be afraid to fail because at oftentimes, life goes on and you learn from whatever happens.

Remember the bad and the ugly I brought up at the beginning? In Brené Brown’s lovely Netflix special, she shares with us what the reactions to her TED Talk were. Some were just awful. Many people made fun of her weight and couldn’t see why she was talking about worthiness if she wasn’t worthy. Others said she was the right person to talk about imperfection and that we should only look at her to see why. Some people called her bad names, said something about her being a bad mom and wife, someone even said she was what’s wrong with the world today and that she should be killed. She said that this was exactly the situation she had feared her whole life, this criticism. But it was also what made her stumble across Theodore Roosevelt’s incredible speech, while she was avoiding reading the comments like I avoided thinking about my dad’s death

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Theodore Roosevelt

Sir Anthony Hopkins’ interviews and lovely video in Vienna were my Ted Roosevelt’s speech. If you relate to this and want to make real change, to make life worthy, dare greatly.

I think this was an excuse to put everything out of my chest. But it was also a way for me to thank all the amazing teachers who took part in my online courses and gave me feedback to improve what I believe to be my most current way to dare greatly. You are stars! For being live with me on the weekends or watching the recordings, for doing the readings and sending me the mini-projects, for asking me questions I hadn’t thought of before. But, above all, you’re starts because even though you have good jobs and you have too much on your hands, very little time left, you took the time to leave your comfort zone, become students again and do professional development with me to learn more.

Cris, Patricia, Rebecca, Stephan, Antonina, Rodolfo, Giovanna, Rafaela, Ana Carolina, Dhesirée, Bárbara, Caio, Fernanda, Paula, Priscila, Élida

I admire you and I saw you. I hope I was seen too and I hope I succeeded in what I proposed or at least failed gracefully.

Some useful resources:

My online courses

My new Bilingualism course with Rodolfo Mattiello

My blog post about my dad

My blog post about CPD

My blog post about Tabata Amaral and Self-Efficacy

My blog post about how I got a Chevening Scholarship

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