Brene Brown on Courage

Dr. Joel Ying, MD

Physician, Educator, Storyteller. He hosts this website for "Living the Present Moment" as a conscious journey of Body, Mind, Emotion & Spirit. Holistic and integrative, his practice includes Tai Chi and Yoga, Craniosacral Therapy, Healing From the Core, Meditation. Always exploring his edges, he shares them in the blog, newsletter, courses, and online study group.

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“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, “Man in the Arena” excerpt from speech “Citizenship In A Republic”, delivered at Sorbonne, in Paris, France, April 23, 1910

Daring Greatly

In her first TED talk “The Power of Vulnerability” (read my prior blog post), Brene Brown introduces the original definition of COURAGE. The root word “cor” comes from the Latin for “heart.” The original meaning in the English language was “to speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.” Today, the definition has evolved to be synonymous with bravery and facing danger.

Brene Brown calls us back to the “heart” of the definition of COURAGE in her book: Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. COURAGE, she says, is a “heart” word, and COURAGE is required to access the power of VULNERABILITY. When we are vulnerable, we allow ourselves to be seen by showing up fully present (even with difficult emotions).


“Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change.”

Vulnerability is not weakness. Vulnerability is the path to connection by taking emotional risk and feeling uncertain and exposed. Vulnerability requires COURAGE. Vulnerability is a choice; weakness is not. Daring Greatly to be vulnerable does not guarantee success, but it means that you are engaged in life. As Theodore Roosevelt says in the inspiring quote above, “The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena … daring greatly … his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Life does not happen on the sidelines. Daring Greatly means engaging in life and connecting to others with WHOLEHEARTED LIVING.

“Wholehearted living is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness.”

Shame vs. Guilt

In her second TED talk “Listening to Shame” (see link below), Brene Brown unravels the feeling of shame that is at the root of vulnerability.

Shame is a focus on the self: “I AM bad.” Guilt is a focus on behavior: “I DID something bad.” Brene Brown tells us that shame is correlated to addiction, depression, and violence, while guilt is not. When we focus on behavior and feel guilty, we can change our behavior. Guilt keeps us accountable to our own moral compass and is correlated with positive change in our lives. However, when we internalize shame, our sense of worthiness is lost, hope is lost, no change is possible. We spiral into toxic shame: “I am BAD.” “I am stupid.” “I am not worthy.” (and the list goes on.)

How do we escape shame?

We all have it, but nobody wants to talk about it. We are even ashamed of being ashamed. We cannot escape shame, but we can face it. We can face the voice in our heads that says, “I’m not good enough … rich enough … pretty enough …” (Pick your favorite flavor of shame.)

We can face shame by first recognizing it and DARING GREATLY. We can recognize when we are running away from it with addiction and numbing behaviors. We can find the courage to be vulnerable and sit with the feeling of uncertainty and perhaps even panic. Each of us has a different path to DARING GREATLY. Brene Brown talks very candidly about working with her therapist. She presents other tools in her book. The main tool is re-framing the definition of vulnerability in our lives.

VULNERABILITY is not weakness, it is the  COURAGE of DARING GREATLY, and it opens the heart for WHOLEHEARTED LIVING.

How will you escape shame? How will you dare greatly?

Watch Brene Brown’s TED talk “Listening to Shame”


Read more blog posts about Brene Brown