Daring Greatly | Notes & Review

Brené Brown. Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. Gotham Books, 2012. (287 pages)

daring greatly

What It Means to Dare Greatly

Vulnerability is not knowing victory or defeat, it’s understanding the necessity of both; it’s engaging. It’s being all in. (2)

Vulnerability is not a weakness, and the uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure we face every day are not optional. Our only choice is a question of engagement. Our willingness to own and engage with our vulnerability determines the depth of our courage and the clarity of our purpose; the level to which we protect ourselves from being vulnerable is a measure of our fear and disconnection. (2)

Introduction – My Adventures in the Arena

Connection is why we’re here. We are hardwired to connect with others, it’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives, and without it there is suffering. (8)

shame – the fear of not being worthy of real connection. (8)

Wholehearted living is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It means cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough. It’s going to bed at night thinking, Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging. (10)

  1. Love and belonging are irreducible needs of all men, women, and children. We’re hardwired for connection — it’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives. The absence of love, belonging, and connection always leads to suffering.
  2. If you roughly divide the men and women I’ve interviewed into two groups — those who feel a deep sense of love and belonging, and those who struggle for it — there’s only one variable that separates the groups: Those who feel lovable, who love, and who experience belonging simply believe they are worthy of love and belonging. They don’t have better or easier lives, they don’t have fewer struggles with addiction or depression, and they haven’t survived fewer traumas or bankruptcies or divorces, but in the midst of all of the struggles, they have developed practices that enable them to hold on to the belief that they are worthy of love, belonging, and even joy.
  3. A strong belief in our worthiness doesn’t just happen — it’s cultivated when we understand the guideposts as choices and daily practices.
  4. The main concern of Wholehearted men and women is living a life defined by courage, compassion, and connection.
  5. The Wholehearted identify vulnerability as the catalyst for courage, compassion, and connection. In fact, the willingness to be vulnerable emerged as the single clearest value shared by all of the women and men whom I would describe as Wholehearted. They attribute everything — from their professional success to their marriages to their proudest parenting moments — to their ability to be vulnerable.

Vulnerability is the core, the heart, the center, of meaningful human experiences. (12)

When shame becomes a management style, engagement dies. (15)

What we know matters, but who we are matters more. (16)

Chapter 1 – Scarcity: Looking Inside Our Culture of “Never Enough”

After doing this work for the past twelve years and watching scarcity ride roughshod over families, organizations, and communities, I’d say the one thing we have in common is that we’re sick of feeling afraid. We want to dare greatly. We’re tired of the national conversation centering on “What should we fear?” and “Who should we blame?” We all want to be brave.

The topic of narcissism has penetrated the social consciousness enough that most people correctly associate it with a pattern of behaviors that include grandiosity, a pervasive need for admiration, and a lack of empathy. What almost no one understands is how every level of severity in this diagnosis is underpinned by shame. Which means we don’t “fix it” by cutting people down to size and reminding folks of their inadequacies and smallness. Shame is more likely to be the cause of these behaviors, not the cure. (21)

LOOKING AT NARCISSISM THROUGH THE LENS OF VULNERABILITY. …when we’re hurting and when love and belonging are hanging in the balance, we reach for what we think will offer us the most protection. (23)


For me, and for many of us, our first waking thought of the day is “I didn’t get enough sleep.” The next one is “I don’t have enough time.” Whether true or not, that thought of not enough occurs to us automatically before we even think to question or examine it. We spend most of the hours and the days of our lives hearing, explaining, complaining, or worrying about what we don’t have enough of … Before we even sit up in bed, before our feet touch the floor, we’re already inadequate, already behind, already losing, already lacking something. And by the time we go to bed at night, our minds are racing with a litany of what we didn’t get, or didn’t get done, that day. We go to sleep burdened by those thoughts and wake up to that reverie of lack … This internal condition of scarcity, this mind-set of scarcity, lives at the very heart of our jealousies, our greed, our prejudice, and our arguments with life … – Lynne Twist, The Soul of Money (43-45)

Scarcity is the “never enough” problem. (26)

THE SOURCE OF SCARCITY. Worrying about scarcity is our culture’s version of post-traumatic stress. (27)

  1. Shame: Is fear of ridicule and belittling used to manage people and/or to keep people in line? Is self-worth tied to achievement, productivity, or compliance? Are blaming and finger-pointing norms? Are put-downs and name-calling rampant? What about favoritism? Is perfectionism an issue?
  2. Comparison: Healthy competition can be beneficial, but is there constant overt or covert comparing and ranking? Has creativity been suffocated? Are people held to one narrow standard rather than acknowledged for their unique gifts and contributions? Is there an ideal way of being or one form of talent that is used as measurement of everyone else’s worth?
  3. Disengagement: Are people afraid to take risks or try new things? Is it easier to stay quiet than to share stories, experiences, and ideas? Does it feel as if no one is really paying attention or listening? Is everyone struggling to be seen and heard?

The counter approach to living in scarcity is not about abundance. … The opposite of “never enough” isn’t abundance or “more than you could ever imagine.” The opposite of scarcity is enough, or what I call Wholeheartedness. (29)

Chapter 2 – Debunking the Vulnerability Myths

Yes, we are totally exposed when we are vulnerable. Yes, we are in the torture chamber that we call uncertainty. And, yes, we’re taking a huge emotional risk when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable. But there’s no equation where taking risks, braving uncertainty, and opening ourselves up to emotional exposure equals weakness.


We’ve come to the point where, rather than respecting and appreciating the courage and daring behind vulnerability, we let our fear and discomfort become judgment and criticism. | Vulnerability isn’t good or bad: It’s not what we call a dark emotion, nor is it always a light, positive experience. Vulnerability is the core of all emotions and feelings. To feel is to be vulnerable. To believe vulnerability is weakness is to believe that feeling is weakness. To foreclose on our emotional life out of a fear that the costs will be too high is to walk away from the very thing that gives purpose and meaning to living. (33)

I define vulnerability as uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. With that definition in mind, let’s think about love. … Love is uncertain. It’s incredibly risky. (34)

The profound danger is that we start to think of feeling as weakness. (34)

Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness. (37)

We love seeing raw truth and openness in other people, but we’re afraid to let them see it in us. (41)

What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail? What’s worth doing even if I fail?

“Are you all in? Can you value your own vulnerability as much as you value it in others?” Answering yes to these questions is not weakness: It’s courage beyond measure. It’s daring greatly. And often the result of daring greatly isn’t a victory march as much as it is a quiet sense of freedom mixed with a little battle fatigue. (43)


When we were children, we used to think that when we were grown up we would no longer be vulnerable. But to grow up is to accept vulnerability. To be alive is to be vulnerable. – Madeleine L’Engle


Vulnerability is based on mutuality and requires boundaries and trust. It’s not oversharing, it’s not purging, it’s not indiscriminate disclosure, and it’s not celebrity-style social media information dumps. Vulnerability is about sharing our feelings and our experiences with people who have earned the right to hear them. Being vulnerable and open is mutual and an integral part of the trust-building process. (45)

Vulnerability without boundaries leads to disconnection, distrust, and disengagement. (46)

We need to feel trust to be vulnerable and we need to be vulnerable in order to trust. (47)

If I had to choose the form of betrayal that emerged most frequently from my research and that was the most dangerous in terms of corroding the trust connection, I would say disengagement. | When the people we love or with whom we have a deep connection stop caring, stop paying attention, stop investing, and stop fighting for the relationship, trust begins to slip away and hurt starts seeping in. Disengagement triggers shame and our greatest fears — the fears of being abandoned, unworthy, and unlovable. What can make this covert betrayal so much more dangerous than something like a lie or an affair is that we can’t point to the source of our pain — there’s no event, no obvious evidence of brokenness. It can feel crazy-making. (52)

Trust is a product of vulnerability that grows over tie and requires work, attention, and full engagement. Trust isn’t a grand gesture — it’s a growing marble collection. (53)


Nothing has transformed my life more than realizing that it’s a waste of time to evaluate my worthiness by weighing the reaction of the people in the stands. (56)

Chapter 3 – Understanding and Combating Shame


Shame derives its power from being unspeakable. That’s why it loves perfectionists — it’s so easy to keep us quiet. If we cultivate enough awareness about shame to name it an speak to it, we’ve basically cut it off at the knees. Shame hates having words wrapped around it. If we speak shame, it begins to wither. Just the way exposure to light was deadly for the gremlins, language and story bring light to shame and destroy it.

Only when we’re brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.

We all have shame. We all have good and bad, dark and light, inside of us. But if we don’t come to terms with our shame, our struggles, we start believing that there’s something wrong with us — that we’re bad, flawed, not good enough — and even worse, we start acting on those beliefs. If we want to be fully engaged, to be connected, we have to be vulnerable. In order to be vulnerable, we need to develop resilience to shame. (61)

Yes, shame is tough to talk about. But the conversation isn’t nearly as dangerous as what we’re creating with our silence! We all experience shame. We’re all afraid to talk about it. And, the less we talk about it, the more we have it. (62)

Shame derives its power from being unspeakable. That’s why it loves perfectionists — it’s so easy to keep us quiet. If we cultivate enough awareness about shame to name it and speak to it, we’ve basically cut it off at the knees. Shame hates having words wrapped around it. If we speak shame, it begins to wither. Just the way exposure to light was deadly for the gremlins, language and story bring light to shame and destroy it. (67)


  1. We all have it. Shame is universal and one of the most primitive human emotions that we experience.
  2. We’re all afraid to talk about shame.
  3. The less we talk about shame, the more control it has over our lives.

…shame is the fear of disconnection (68)

Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging. (69)

Twelve “shame categories have emerged from my research:

  • Appearance and body image
  • Money and work
  • Motherhood/fatherhood
  • Family
  • Parenting
  • Mental and physical health
  • Addiction
  • Sex
  • Aging
  • Religion
  • Surviving trauma
  • Being stereotyped or labeled

In a 2011 study funded by the National Institute of Mental Health and by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, researchers found that, as far as the brain is concerned, physical pain and intense experiences of social rejection hurt in the same way. (71)


We often use the terms embarrassment, guilt, humiliation, and shame interchangeably. (71)

Guilt = I did something bad.
Shame = I am bad.

When we feel shame, we are most likely to protect ourselves by blaming something or someone, rationalizing our lapse, offering a disingenuous apology, or hiding out. (72)

[via: cf. Genesis 3]

When we apologize for something we’ve done, make amends, or change a behavior that doesn’t align with our values, guilt — not shame — is most often the driving force. … Guilt is just as powerful as shame, but its influence is positive, while shame’s is destructive. In fact, in my research I found that shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we can change and do better. (72)

Shame is highly correlated with addiction, violence, aggression, depression, eating disorders, and bullying. Researchers don’t find shame correlated with positive outcomes at all — there are no data to support that shame is a helpful compass for good behavior. In fact, shame is much more likely to be the cause of destructive and hurtful behaviors than it is to be the solution. (73)


The answer is shame resilience. Note that shame resistance is not possible. (74)

I mean the ability to practice authenticity when we experience shame, to move through the experience without sacrificing our values, and to come out on the other side of the shame experience with more courage, compassion, and connection than we had going into it. Shame resilience is about moving from shame to empathy — the real antidote to shame. (74)

Here are the four elements of shame resilience — the steps don’t always happen in this order, but they always ultimately lead us to empathy and healing:

  1. Recognizing Shame and Understanding Its Triggers. Shame is biology and biography. Can you physically recognize when you’re in the grips of shame, feel your way through it, and figure out what messages and expectations triggered it?
  2. Practicing Critical Awareness. Can you reality-check the messages and expectations that are driving your shame? Are they realistic? Attainable? Are they what you want to be or what you think others need/want from you?
  3. Reaching Out. Are you owning and sharing your story? We can’t experience empathy if we’re not connecting.
  4. Speaking Shame. Are you talking about how you feel and asking for what you need when you feel shame?

…trust the process:

  1. Practice courage and reach out!
  2. Talk to myself the way I would talk to someone I really love and whom I’m trying to comfort in the midst of a meltdown:
  3. Own the story! Don’t bury it and let it fester or define me.

Rather than judgment (which exacerbates shame), empathy conveys a simple acknowledgment, “You’re not alone.” (81)

Empathy is a strange and powerful thing. There is no script. There is no right way or wrong way to do it. It’s simply listening, holding space, withholding judgment, emotionally connecting, and communicating that incredible healing message of “You’re not alone.” (81)

What I’ve come to believe about men and women now that I’ve studied both is that men and women are equally affected by shame. The messages and expectations that fuel shame are most definitely organized by gender, but the experience of shame is universal and deeply human. (85)

Writer Marilyn Frye describes a double bind as “a situation in which opinions are very limited and all of them expose us to penalty, censure, or deprivation.” (88)

Here’s the painful pattern that emerged from my research with men: We ask them to be vulnerable, we beg them to let us in, and we plead with them to tell us when they’re afraid, but the truth is that most women can’t stomach it. (95)


…when it comes to me, there seem to be two primary responses: pissed off or shut down. (96)

We’re so desperate to get out and stay out of shame that we’re constantly serving up the people around us as more deserving prey. | What’s ironic (or perhaps natural) is that research tells us that we judge people in areas where we’re vulnerable to shame, especially picking folks who are doing worse than we’re doing. … We’re hard on each other because we’re using each other as a launching pad out of our own perceived shaming deficiency. (99)

How do we break this insidious pattern? Maybe by deciding (and showing our children) that the solution to being stuck in shame is not to denigrate others stuck just like us, but to join hands and pull free together. (100)

There is a quiet transformation happening that is moving us from “turning on each other” to “turning toward each other.” (101)

I guess the secret is that sex is terrifying for most men. That’s why you see everything from porn to the violent, desperate attempts to exercise power and control. Rejection is deeply painful.

It’s not the lack of professing that gets us in trouble in our relationships; it’s failing to practice love that leads to hurt. (107)


Remembering that shame is the fear of disconnection — the fear that we’re unlovable and don’t belong — makes it easy to see why so many people in midlife overfocus on their children’s lives, work sixty hours a week, or turn to affairs, addiction, and disengagement. We start to unravel. The expectations and messages that fuel shame keep us from fully realizing who we are as people. (109)

If we’re going to find our way out of shame and back to each other, vulnerability is the path and courage is the light. To set down those lists of what we’re suppose to be is brave. To love ourselves and support each other in the process of becoming real is perhaps the greatest single act of daring greatly. (110)

Chapter 4 – The Vulnerability Armory

As children we found ays to protect ourselves from vulnerability, from being hurt, diminished, and disappointed. We put on armor; we used our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors as weapons; and we learned how to make ourselves scarce, even to disappear. Now as adults we realize that to live with courage, purpose, and connection — to be the person whom we long to be — we must again be vulnerable. We must take off the armor, put down the weapons, show up, and let ourselves be seen.

The word persona is the Greek term for “stage mask.” In my work masks and armor are perfect metaphors for how we protect ourselves from the discomfort of vulnerability. … Vulnerability is the last thing I want you to see in me, but the first thing I look for in you. (113)


THE SHIELD: FOREBODING JOY. I’d argue that joy is probably the most difficult emotion to really feel. Why? Because when we lose the ability or willingness to be vulnerable, joy becomes something we approach with deep foreboding. (117-118)

DARING GREATLY: PRACTICING GRATITUDE. Gratitude, therefore, emerged from the data as the antidote to foreboding joy. (123) …joyfulness and gratitude as spiritual practices that were bound to a belief in human connectedness and a power greater than us. … Participants described happiness as an emotion that’s connected to circumstances, and they described joy as a spiritual way of engaging with the world that’s connected to practicing gratitude. (123)

Scarcity and fear drive foreboding joy. We’re afraid that the feeling of joy won’t last, or that there won’t be enough, or that the transition to disappointment (or whatever is in store for us next) will be too difficult. (124)

If the opposite of scarcity is enough, then practicing gratitude is how we acknowledge that there’s enough and that we’re enough. (124)

Three lessons I learned about joy and light from people who have spent time in sorrow and darkness:

  1. Joy comes to us in moments — ordinary moments. We risk missing out on joy when we get too busy chasing down the extraordinary.
  2. Be grateful for what you have.
  3. Don’t squander joy.

I’m feeling vulnerable and I’m so grateful for ___.” (127)


  • Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving for excellence.
  • Perfectionism is not self-improvement.
  • Perfectionism is not the key to success.
  • Perfectionism is not a way to avoid shame.
  • Perfectionism is a self-destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: If I look perfect and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgment, and blame.
  • Perfectionism is self-destructive simply because perfection doesn’t exist. It’s an unattainable goal. Perfectionism is more about perception than internal motivation, and there is no way to control perception, no matter how much time and energy we spend trying.
  • Perfectionism is addictive, because when we invariably do experience shame, judgment, and blame, we often believe it’s because we weren’t perfect enough. Rather than questioning the faulty logic of perfectionism, we become even more entrenched in our quest to look and do everything just right.
  • Perfectionism actually sets us up to feel shame, judgment, and blame, which then leads to even more shame and self-blame: “It’s my fault. I’m feeling this way because I’m not good enough.”


Regardless of where we are on this continuum, if we want freedom from perfectionism, we have to make the long journey from “What will people think?” to “I am enough.” That journey begins with shame resilience, self-compassion, and owning our stories. To claim the truths about who we are, where we come from, what we believe, and the very imperfect nature of our lives, we have to be willing to give ourselves a break and appreciate the beauty of our cracks or imperfections. To be kinder and gentler with ourselves and each other. To talk to ourselves the same way we’d talk to someone we care about. (131)

According to Dr. Kristin Neff, self-compassion has three elements:

  • Self-kindness: Being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than ignoring our pain or flagellating ourselves with self-criticism.
  • Common humanity: Common humanity recognizes that suffering and feelings of personal inadequacy are part of the shared human experience — something we all go through rather than something that happens to “me” alone.
  • Mindfulness: Taking a balanced approach to negative emotions so that feelings are neither suppressed nor exaggerated. We cannot ignore our pain and feel compassion for it at the same time. Mindfulness requires that we not “over-identify” with thoughts and feelings, so that we are caught up and swept away by negativity.

Perfectionism is exhausting because hustling is exhausting. It’s a never-ending performance. (133)

…perfectionism crushes creativity — which is why one of the most effective ways to start recovering from perfectionism is to start creating. (135)

There’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.


…one of the most universal numbing strategies is what I call crazy-busy. (137)

We can’t selectively numb emotion. Numb the dark and you numb the light. (137)

We believe that the most terrifying and destructive feeling that a person can experience is psychological isolation. This is not the same as being alone. It is a feeling that one is locked out of the possibility of human connection and of being powerless to change the situation. In the extreme, psychological isolation can lead to a sense of hopelessness and desperation. People will do almost anything to escape this combination of condemned isolation and powerlessness. – Jean Baker Miller and Irene Stiver


When I interviewed the research participants, whom I’d describe as living a Wholehearted life, about numbing, they consistently talked about three things:

  1. Learning how to actually feel their feelings.
  2. Staying mindful about numbing behaviors (they struggled too).
  3. Learning how to lean into the discomfort of hard emotions.

We know that daring greatly means engaging with our vulnerability, which can’t happen when shame has the upper hand, and the same is true for dealing with anxiety-fueled disconnection. The two most powerful forms of connection are love and belonging — they are both irreducible needs of men, women, and children. … If we want to fully experience love and belonging, we must believe that we are worthy of love and belonging. (145)

Connection: Connection is the energy that is created between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment. (145)

Belonging: Belonging is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us. (145)

Living a connected life ultimately is about setting boundaries, spending less time and energy hustling and winning over people who don’t matter, and seeing the value of working on cultivating connection with family and close friends. (146)

When two people relate to each other authentically and humanly, God is the electricity that surges between them. – Martin Buber

After spending a decade studying belonging, authenticity, and shame, I can say for certain that we are hardwired for connection — emotionally, physically, and spiritually. I’m not suggesting that we engage in a deep, meaningful relationship with the man who works at the cleaners or the women who works at the drive-through, but I am suggesting that we stop dehumanizing people and start looking them in the eye when we speak to them. If we don’t have the energy or time to do that, we should stay at home. (150)

Spirituality emerged as a fundamental guidepost in Wholeheartedness. Not religiosity but the deeply held belief that we are inextricably connected to one another by a force greater than ourselves — a force grounded in love and compassion. For some of us that’s God, for others it’s nature, art, or even human soulfulness. I believe that owning our worthiness is the act of acknowledging that we are sacred. Perhaps embracing vulnerability and overcoming numbing is ultimately about the care and feeding of our spirits. (151)

Viking or Victim? Either you’re a Victim in life — a sucker or a loser who’s always being taken advantage of and can’t hold your own — or you’re a Viking — someone who sees the threat of being victimized as a constant, so you stay in control, you dominate, you exert power over things, and you never show vulnerability. (152)

Craig Bryan, a University of Texas psychologist and suicide expert who recently left the air force, told Time magazine that the military finds itself in a catch-22:

We train our warriors to use controlled violence and aggression, to suppress strong emotional reactions in the face of adversity, to tolerate physical and emotional pain, and to overcome the fear of injury and death. These qualities are also associated with increased risk for suicide. (154)

The Viking or Victim armor doesn’t just perpetuate behaviors such as dominance, control, and power over folks who see themselves as Vikings, it can also perpetuate a sense of ongoing victimhood for people who constantly struggle with the idea that they’re being targeted or unfairly treated. (155)

Reducing our life options to such limited and extreme roles leaves very little hope for transformation and meaningful change. (155)


Ultimately, the question that best challenges the logic behind Viking or Victim for both groups is this: How are you defining success? (155)


I see two forms of oversharing in our culture. The first is what I call floodlighting, and the other is the smash and grab. (159)

When it comes to vulnerability, connectivity means sharing our stories with people who have earned the right to hear them — people with whom we’ve cultivated relationships that can bear the weight of our story. (160)


Much of the beauty of light owes its existence to the dark. The most powerful moments of our lives happen when we string together the small flickers of light created by courage, compassion, and connection and see them shine in the darkness of our struggles. That darkness is lost when we use vulnerability to floodlight our listener, and the response is disconnection. We then use this disconnection as verification that we’ll never find comfort, that we’re not worthy, that the relationship is no good, or in the case of oversharing to hot-wire a connection, that we’ll never have the intimacy that we crave. We think, “Vulnerability is a crock. It’s not worth it and I’m not worth it.” What we don’t see is that using vulnerability is not the same thing as being vulnerable; it’s the opposite — it’s armor. (161)

First, I only share stories or experiences that I’ve worked through and feel that I can share from solid ground. I don’t share what I define as “intimate” stories, nor do I share stories that are fresh wounds. (161-162)

Second, I follow the rule that I learned in my graduate social work training. Sharing yourself to teach or move a process forward can be healthy and effective, but disclosing information as a way to work through your personal stuff is inappropriate and unethical. Last, I only share when I have no unmet needs that I’m trying to fill. (162)


If you decide to walk into the arena and dare greatly, you’re going to get kicked around. … Why? Because cynicism, criticism, cruelty, and cool are even better than armor — they can be fashioned into weapons that not only keep vulnerability at a distance but also can inflict injury on the people who are being vulnerable and making us uncomfortable.

| If we are the kind of people who “don’t do vulnerability,” there’s nothing that makes us feel more threatened and more incited to attack and shame people than to see someone daring greatly. Someone else’s daring provides an uncomfortable mirror that reflects back our own fears about showing up, creating, and letting ourselves be seen. That’s why we come out swinging. When we see cruelty, vulnerability is likely to be the driver. (167)


When we stop caring about what people think, we lose our capacity for connection. When we become defined by what people think, we lose our willingness to be vulnerable. If we dismiss all the criticism, we lose out on important feedback, but if we subject ourselves to the hatefulness, our spirits get crushed. It’s a tightrope, shame resilience is the balance bar, and the safety net below is the one or two people in our lives who can help us reality-check the criticism and cynicism. (169)

Worthiness is my birthright.

Don’t try to win over the haters; you’re not the jackass whisperer. – Scott Stratten

Chapter 5 – Mind the Gap: Cultivating Change and Closing the Disengagement Divide

Minding the gap is a daring strategy. We have to pay attention to the space between where we’re actually standing and where we want to be. More importantly, we have to practice the values that we’re holding out as important in our culture. Minding the gap requires both an embrace of our own vulnerability and cultivation of shame resilience — we’re going to be called upon to show up as leaders and parents and educators in new and uncomfortable ways. We don’t have to be perfect, just engaged and committed to aligning values with action.

Culture is the way we do things around here. – Terrence Deal and Allan Kennedy

Culture eats strategy for breakfast. – Peter Drucker

  1. What behaviors are rewarded? Punished?
  2. Where and how are people actually spending their resources (time, money, attention)?
  3. What rules and expectations are followed, enforced, and ignored?
  4. Do people feel safe and supported talking about how they feel and asking for what they need?
  5. What are the sacred cows? Who is most likely to tip them? Who stands the cows back up?
  6. What stories are legend and what values do they convey?
  7. What happens when someone fails, disappoints, or makes a mistakes?
  8. How is vulnerability (uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure) perceived?
  9. How prevalent are shame and blame and how are they showing up?
  10. What’s the collective tolerance for discomfort? Is the discomfort of learning, trying new things, and giving and receiving feedback normalized, or is there a high premium put on comfort (and how does that look)?

THE DISENGAGEMENT DIVIDE. Here’s my theory. Disengagement is the issue underlying the majority of problems I see in families, schools, communities, and organizations and it takes many forms, including the ones we discussed in the “Armory” chapter. We disengage to protect ourselves from vulnerability, shame, and feeling lost and without purpose. We also disengage when we feel like the people who are leading us — our boss, our teachers, our principal, our clergy, our parents, our politicians — aren’t living up to their end of the social contract. (167)

When religious leaders leverage our fear and need for more certainty by extracting vulnerability from spirituality and turning faith into “compliance and consequences,” rather than teaching and modeling how to wrestle with the unknown and how to embrace mystery, the entire concept of faith is bankrupt on its own terms. Faith minus vulnerability equals politics, or worse, extremism. Spiritual connection and engagement is not built on compliance, it’s the product of love, belonging, and vulnerability. (177)

Chapter 6 – Disruptive Engagement: Daring to Rehumanize Education and Work

To reignite creativity, innovation, and learning, leaders must re-humanize education and work. This means understanding how scarcity is affecting the way we lead and work, learning how to engage with vulnerability, and recognizing and combating shame. Make no mistake: honest conversations about vulnerability and shame are disruptive. The reason that we’re not having these conversations in our organizations is that they shine light in dark corners. Once there is language, awareness, and understanding, turning back is almost impossible and carries with it severe consequences. We all want to dare greatly. If you give us a glimpse into that possibility, we’ll hold on to it as our vision.

It can’t be taken away.

I’ve come to believe that a leader is anyone who holds her- or himself accountable for finding potential in people and processes. The term leader has nothing to do with position, status, or number of direct reports. (185)

What’s the most significant barrier to creativity and innovation? … “I know don’t know if it has a name, but honestly, it’s the fear of introducing an idea and being ridiculed, laughed at, and belittled. If you’re willing to subject yourself to that experience, and if you survive it, then it becomes the fear of failure and the fear of being wrong. People believe they’re only as good as their ideas and that their ideas can’t seem too ‘out there’ and they can’t ‘not know’ everything. The problem is that innovative ideas often sound crazy and failure and learning are part of revolution. Evolution and incremental change is important and we need it, but we’re desperate for real revolution and that requires a different type of courage and creativity.” (185-186)

There are times when you can ask questions or challenge ideas, but if you’ve got a teacher that doesn’t like that or the kids in the class make fun of people who do that, it’s bad. I think most of us learn that it’s best to just keep your head down, your mouth shut, and your grades high.

…the struggles of our education system and the challenges we face in our workplaces mirror each other. (187)

I call it disruptive engagement for this reason.

However seductive the machine metaphor may be for industrial production, human organizations are not actually mechanisms and people are not components in them. People have values and feelings, perceptions, opinions, motivations, and biographies, whereas cogs and sprockets do not. An organization is not the physical facilities within which it operates; it is the networks of people in it. – Sir Ken Robinson, Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative

Blaming, gossiping, favoritism, name-calling, and harassment are all behavior cues that shame has permeated a culture. A more obvious sign is when shame becomes an outright management tool. (189)

One reason that I’m confident that shame exists in schools is simply because 85 percent of the men and women we interviewed for the shame research could recall as school incident from their childhood that was so shaming, it changed how they thought of themselves as learners. (189-190)

The Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) defines bullying as “Repeated mistreatment: sabotage by others that prevented work from getting done, verbal abuse, threatening conduct, intimidation, and humiliation.” (190)

Like shit, shame rolls downhill. If employees are constantly having to navigate shame, you can bet that they’re passing it on to their customers, students, and families. (190)

Shame can only rise so far in any system before people disengage to protect themselves. When we’re disengaged, we don’t show up, we don’t contribute, and we stop caring. (192)

Developing a systematic way to help teachers get better is the most powerful idea in education today. The surest way to weaken it is to twist it into a capricious exercise in public shaming. Let’s focus on creating a personnel system that truly helps teachers improve. – Bill Gates

For me, teaching is about love. It is not about transferring information, but rather creating an atmosphere of mystery and imagination and discovery. When I began to lose myself because of some unresolved pain or fears of the overpowering feelings of shame, then I no longer teach…I deliver information and I think I become irrelevant then.

THE BLAME GAME. If blame is driving, shame is riding shotgun. (195)

Blame is simply the discharging of pain and discomfort. We blame when we’re uncomfortable and experience pain — when we’re vulnerable, angry, hurt, in shame, grieving. (195)

There is no leading by fear. (196)

The four best strategies for building shame-resilient organizations are:

  1. Supporting leaders who are willing to dare greatly and facilitate honest conversations about shame and cultivate shame-resilient cultures.
  2. Facilitating a conscientious effort to see where shame might be functioning in the organization and how it might even be creeping into the way we engage with our co-workers and students.
  3. Normalizing is a critical shame-resilience strategy. Leaders and mangers can cultivate engagement by helping people know what to expect. What are common struggles? How have other people dealt with them? What have your experiences been?
  4. Training all employees on the differences between shame and guilt, and teaching them how to give and receive feedback in a way that fosters growth and engagement.

Without feedback there can be no transformative change. (197)

I believe that feedback thrives in cultures where the goal is not “getting comfortable with hard conversations” but normalizing discomfort. (198)

One effective method for understanding our strengths is to examine the relationship between strengths and limitations. (199)

Giving and soliciting feedback is about learning and growth, and understanding who we are and how we respond to the people around us is the foundation in this process. … We should remember, though, that victory is not getting good feedback, avoiding giving difficult feedback, or avoiding the need for feedback. Instead it’s taking off the armor, showing up, and engaging. (206)

By definition, entrepreneurship is vulnerable. It’s all about the ability to handle and manage uncertainty. People are constantly changing, budgets change, boards change, and competition means you have to stay nimble and innovative. You have to create a vision and live up to that vision. There is no vision without vulnerability. – Gay Gaddis

Leadership is scarce because few people are willing to go through the discomfort required to lead. This scarcity makes leadership valuable. … It’s uncomfortable to stand up in front of strangers. It’s uncomfortable to propose an idea that might fail. It’s uncomfortable to challenge the status quo. It’s uncomfortable to resist the urge to settle. When you identify the discomfort, you’ve found the place where a leader is needed. If you’re not uncomfortable in your work as a leader, it’s almost certain you’re not reaching your potential as a leader. – Seth Godin, Tribes


Chapter 7 – Wholehearted Parenting: Daring to Be the Adults We Want Our Children to Be

Who we are and how we engage with the world are much stronger predictors of how our children will do than what we know about parenting. In terms of teaching our children to dare greatly in the “never enough” culture, the question isn’t so much “Are you parenting the right way?” is it is: “Are you the adult that you want your child to grow up to be?”

The uncertainty of parenting can bring up feelings in us that range from frustration to terror. (215)

When we obsess over our parenting choices to the extent that most of us do, and then see someone else making different choices, we often perceive that difference as direct criticism of how we are parenting. (215)

Ironically, parenting is a shame and judgment minefield precisely because most of us are wading through uncertainty and self-doubt when it comes to raising our children. (215-216)

Somewhere buried deep inside our hopes and fears for our children is the terrifying truth that there is no such thing as perfect parenting and there are no guarantees. From debates about attachment parenting and how much better they parent in Europe to disparagement of “tiger moms” and helicopter parents, the heated discussions that occupy much of the national parenting conversation conveniently distract us from the is important and difficult truth: Who we are and how we engage with the world are much stronger predictors of how our children will do than what we know about parenting. (216)

Our stories of worthiness — of being enough — begin in our first families. 9216)

I have no doubt, that when it comes to our sense of love, belonging, and worthiness, we are most radically shaped by our families of origin — what we hear, what we are told, and perhaps most importantly, how we observe our parents engaging with the world. | As parents, we may have less control than we think over temperament and personality, and less control than we want over the scarcity culture. But we do have powerful parenting opportunities in other areas: how we help our children understand, leverage, and appreciate their hardwiring, and how we teach them resilience in the face of relentless “never enough” cultural messages. In terms of teaching our children to dare greatly in the “never enough” culture, the question isn’t so much “Are you parenting the right way?” as it is: “Are you the adult that you want your child to grow up to be?”

What we are teaches the child more than what we say, so we must be what we want our children to become. – Joseph Chilton Pearce

It’s a terrible myth to believe that once we have children, our journey ends and theirs begins. (220)

I often say that Wholeheartedness is like the North Star: We never really arrive, but we certainly know if we’re headed in the right direction. (220)

We need to separate our children from their behaviors. As it turns out, there’s a significant difference between you are bad and you did something bad. And, no, it’s not just semantics. (224)

Shame is so painful for children because it is inextricably linked to the fear of being unloveable. (225)

If you have grown children and are wondering if it’s too late to teach shame resilience or to change the album, the answer is no. It’s not too late. The power of owning our stories, even the difficult ones, is that we get to write the ending. (228)

…normalizing is one of the most powerful shame-resilience tools that we can offer our children. (229)

You can’t claim to care about the welfare of children if you’re shaming other parents for the choices they’re making. (229-230)

…fitting in and not belonging are not the same thing. In fact, fitting in is one of the greatest barriers to belonging. Fitting in is about assessing a situation and becoming who you need to be in order to be accepted. Belonging, on the other hand, doesn’t require us to change who we are; it requires us to be who we are. (231-232)

Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity. – Pema Chödrön

What do parents experience as the most vulnerable and bravest thing that they do in their efforts to raise Wholehearted children? …the answer was obvious: letting their children struggle and experience adversity. (238)

Hope is a function of struggle. If we want our children to develop high levels of hopefulness, we have to let them struggle. (239)

According to C.R. Snyder, who dedicated his career to studying this topic, hope isn’t an emotion; it’s a way of thinking or a cognitive process. Emotions play a supporting role, but hope is really a thought process made up of what Snyder calls a trilogy of goals, pathways, and agency. In very simple terms, hope happens when:

  • We have the ability to set realistic goals (I know where I want to go).
  • We are able to figure out how to achieve those goals, including the ability to stay flexible and develop alternative routes (I know how to get there, I’m persistent, and I can tolerate disappointment and try again).
  • We believe in ourselves (I can do this!).


Final Thoughts

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…

-Theodore Roosevelt

Daring greatly is not about winning or losing. It’s about courage. (248)

Practicing Gratitude

It is not joy that makes us grateful; it is gratitude that makes us joyful. – Brother David Steindl-Rast


Education is the most fundamental activities of the human experience. Therapy may be one of the most necessary. When someone melds education and therapy into one, the end result is nothing short of beautiful. It causes me to think that education and therapy are actually one and the same after all.

About VIA



  1. I found your notes really useful. I had listened to the audiobook and finding the summary helped me consolidate my understanding. Am currently reading through the whole brain child as I listened just before the summer. Thanks for the effort in this.

  2. Hi! Thank you for the hard work put into this. We may be able to link to this summary in our app, StoryShots but there are a bunch of typos and errors that we wonder if you can fix. We used the Grammarly app (no affiliation). For example: mind-set should be mindset. Or counterapproach should be counter-approach, weakness should be “a weakness”, “its influence” instead of “it’s influence” and some more.

    Feel free to reach out to us at any time.

  3. Thanks you for sharing your notes! I am listening to the audiobook (while chasing around a 10 month old & toddler) and appreciate being able to review what I heard (even if I wasn’t actively listening in the moment).

  4. João Víctor

    Thank you so much for sharing your notes. It was really helpful while I was consolidating mine after reading every chapter.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: