I heard Brene Brown speak at BookPeople recently, and both Greg and I read “Daring Greatly” in the span of a week. I first heard about the author’s research in a TED talk and found her message to be powerful and honest. Brown researches vulnerability and shame, and she wants all of us to learn how to live vulnerably. She’s quick to point out that vulnerability is not weakness. Rather, it is fully feeling your emotions, sharing those emotions with people you trust, and learning to accept uncertainty and risk. Vulnerability takes courage, and it allows us to connect with other people.
Vulnerability fascinates me because I’ve been living my new, more vulnerable life for 14 months now. I remember in the early weeks after Genevieve’s death how I would let my phone ring until voicemail picked up because I didn’t know what to say to the friends who called. Greg reassured me that I didn’t have to call them back unless I felt up to it. Well, I never felt up to it, but I returned every call because I knew how much courage it took for those people to dial my number. I doubt that I would have called if I had been in their place.
It was immensely difficult to have my heart shattered with everyone watching. But living through that has given me a much better understanding of what friendship is. I learned quickly who was willing to sit in sadness with me — who was comfortable with vulnerability. And for those who were uncomfortable with vulnerability, I knew we could never have a deep friendship.
One of my favorite parts of the book is the chapter about vulnerability armor. Brown talks about the things we do to try to avoid feeling exposed or threatened. She calls one of the tactics “foreboding joy,” and I am so guilty of this. Foreboding joy is that moment when you’re watching your sleeping child and fear flashes through your mind. What would I do if something happened to her? It’s also when you get a bunch of good news and then start worrying about what’s going to go wrong. Foreboding joy is our way of trying to guard against pain, but rather than preventing pain, it steals our joy. Brown talks about ways to combat this joy thief.
The book concludes with a chapter on parenting, which I also found useful. Brown talks about the importance of leading by example. One of the most important things we can teach our children, according to Brown, is that they are enough just as they are. And we cannot teach children lessons that we haven’t learned ourselves, so in order to teach Eleanor not to worry about what other people think, I must quit worrying about what other people think.
This brought to mind a day when I picked up Eleanor at school in the spring. One of the boys in her class was wearing a princess dress. I assume that he had come to school in it, but he might have pulled it from the chest of dress-up clothes. Either way, no one said anything about it. And I felt gratitude — to that boy’s parents and the teachers. Because I can’t think of a greater gift than teaching children that they’re awesome just as they are.
If you feel like you could use more joy in your life — and more bravery, too — give this a read.