September 10, 2012
Perfect and bulletproof are seductive, but they don't exist in the human experience. We must walk into the arena, whatever it may be—a new relationship, an important meeting, our creative process, or a difficult family meeting—with courage and a willingness to engage.
"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 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 and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for 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 he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat."
—Theodore Roosevelt, "Citizenship in a Republic," Speech at the Sorbonne, Paris, April 23, 1910
I've always loved that quote from the two-term president, naturalist and explorer, soldier and cowboy progressive Teddy Roosevelt. So when I cracked open Brené Brown's new book, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, and found that she begins her exploration of vulnerability with an excerpt of that quote—that she had, in fact, pulled the very title of the book from Roosevelt's speech—I was immediately intrigued and interested in more.
But what does Roosevelt's description of "the strong man"—the man "whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly"—have to do with vulnerability? The author explains it beautifully in her introduction:
The first time I read this quote, I thought, This is vulnerability. Everything I've learned from over a decade of research on vulnerability has taught me this exact lesson. Vulnerability is not knowing victory or defeat, it's understanding the necessity of both; it's engaging. It's being all in.
Vulnerability is not 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 ear and disconnection.
When we spend our lives waiting until we're perfect or bulletproof before we walk into the arena, we ultimately sacrifice relationships and opportunities that may or may not be recoverable, we squander our precious time, and we turn our backs on our gifts, those unique contributions that only we can make.
Perfect and bulletproof are seductive, but they don't exist in the human experience. We must walk into the arena, whatever it may be—a new relationship, an important meeting, our creative process, or a difficult family meeting—with courage and a willingness to engage. Rather than sitting on the the sidelines and hurling judgement and advice, we must dare to show up and let ourselves be seen. This is vulnerability. This is daring greatly. In the meantime, here's a bit more from Ms. Brown herself: In a note that came to me with the book, the publicist wrote that "Brené is the new Tipping Point ... Vulnerability is the new leadership." Curious, cryptic words at first, but just three pages into the book and I understood what she meant. Daring Greatly will be in bookstores tomorrow, and you'll be hearing more from us on this book, and I hope many others, very soon.