Do you dare to be your authentic self, embrace your imperfections, and be openly vulnerable? If so, you’re one of the lucky few who are living a wholehearted life where you are fully engaged in your life and relationships. If not, you’re like the majority of people who rather live a limited life than risk experiencing the pain of putting yourself out there only to have everything fall apart and leave you hurt and afraid.

This month we chose Daring Greatly by Brene Brown as our book club book to learn how to conquer shame, embrace vulnerability, and live a wholehearted life.

Why Nothing is Ever Enough

Our society is suffering from a scarcity epidemic. No matter what we attain we feel like it’s not enough and, more importantly, that we are not good enough. This doesn’t just apply to material possessions; most of the things that we feel like we never have enough of are the same things that drive us to question our self-worth.

Here are some examples:

The problem with scarcity is that it comes from our habit of constantly comparing ourselves to other people and that causes us to disengage with reality and falsely believe that we will never be as good as the people we are surrounded by.

The Truth About Vulnerability

Brown defines vulnerability as “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.” The ironic thing is that while most people see vulnerability in others, they admire it yet they are too afraid to show it themselves.

Here’s what I mean:

When someone goes on stage, writes a book, or makes some other public statement explaining their struggles and ways they’ve failed, they are applauded and seen as brave. Yet, most people also shudder at the thought of revealing their own imperfections to people for the fear of being judged.

Rather than being weak, vulnerability is strength because it takes courage to expose your unfiltered self to people and not think any differently about yourself based on their reaction.

How to Conquer Shame

We’ve all heard of shame and experienced it but is it really? According to Brown, “Shame is the fear of disconnection.” It’s the feeling that we are not worthy of being loved or accepted. Since humans are wired to form relationships, shame is one of the worst feelings we can experience which is why we avoid vulnerability.

The key to conquering shame is to replace it with guilt. When you feel shame, you tell yourself that, for any reason, you are not good enough. It feels permanent and personal. Guilt on the other hand is impersonal. Instead of believing that that is something wrong with you for making a mistake, you recognize the mistake was wrong but it is temporary and doesn’t lower your self-worth.

Dare to Break Down Your Walls

It’s easier to be skeptical of true joy and anticipate the worst than it is to openly embrace emotions – the good and the bad. Because of this fear, Brown says that many people fail to experience a full life.

To avoid feeling vulnerable, people try to numb their emotions with things like:

Regardless of how you choose to numb your emotions, doing so prevents you forming truly authentic connections and memories.

Are You a Victim or a Viking?

When it comes to dealing with vulnerability, most people tend to go towards the extremes which Brown calls victims and vikings in her book.

Victims believe that they are oppressed by their circumstances, frequently complain about their problems, and don’t acknowledge the role they play in their life outcomes. They avoid vulnerability by refusing to accept responsibility for their actions and go through the discomfort of changing their lives.

Vikings are the opposite. They view almost everything in life as a battle that must be fought and won. There is no room for vulnerability in their life because they see emotions as weakness and base their self-worth on their accomplishments.  

The problem with both of these mentalities is that they prevent people from being self-aware enough to embrace their emotions. If you believe that you are a victim or a viking, or you know someone who is, start engaging in conversations where you’re forced to acknowledge your feelings so you can become a more vulnerable, wholehearted person.

How to Embrace Failure

Fear of being ridiculed for failure is the number one inhibitor of creativity. Whether you’re a business person who needs your team to come up with innovative ideas to improve your products and boost sales, a teacher who wants to encourage your students to be imaginative, or are in any other role where you want to encourage creative discussion, you have to take away the social consequences of being wrong.

The key to creating an environment where people aren’t afraid of failure isn’t to avoid calling people out for their mistakes but to address issues with an understanding that mistakes happen and the important is how to fix them and prevent them from happening again.

Doing this is simple. Whenever a problem arises, don’t play the blame game. Engage those involved in conversation about what went wrong and focus on finding a solution. When you deal with conflicts this way, it prevents people from getting defensive and encourages growth moving forward.


About Vanessa Van Edwards

About Vanessa Van Edwards

Lead Investigator, Science of People

I'm the author of the national bestselling book Captivate, creator of People School, and behavioral investigator.

I’ve always wanted to know how people work, and that’s what Science of People is about. What drives our behavior? Why do people act the way they do? And most importantly, can you predict and change behavior to be more successful? I think the answer is yes. More about Vanessa.

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