Daring Greatly with Brené Brown

Amid all the discussions at SXSW Interactive about technology and innovation lie those life-changing speakers who remind us why we’re here. Dr. Brené Brown, bestselling author of Daring Greatly and Rising Strong, was one such speaker for many of the people who attended her keynote.

Brown started her talk by telling the crowded room she was going to talk about being brave. About daring greatly. About falling down and getting back up. About vulnerability and putting your work out there.

“You’re going to put your work out there and it’s going to get stomped on,” Brown said.

She asked the audience to think about feeling shame. If you closed your eyes and thought about the most hurtful thing that anyone has ever said to you, that’s shame. Brown mentioned experiencing a lot of very unkind words when she first started publishing her work, but those were times when she focused on a Theodore Roosevelt quote:

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 at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.


Inspired by this quote, Brown shared three things she’s learned from having the courage to fail:

If you’re brave with your life and you’re brave with your work, you’re going to get hurt. 

That’s what you sign up for. You choose to say, ‘This stuff that I’m doing is worth getting hurt over. It’s worth failing for.’ On a daily basis, it’s choosing courage over comfort.

Brown asked the audience if anyone really believed you can put your work out there and not get any criticism. Unsurprisingly, nobody raised their hands.

“If you’re brave enough often enough, you’re going to go down,” Brown said.

Vulnerability is not weakness. Neither is truth. 

The willingness to show up and be seen when you don’t have control over what people are going to think or what they are going to say is courageous.

“Vulnerability is our most accurate measure of courage,” Brown said.

People are going to give you feedback and you have to choose who is worth listening to. 

There are a million cheap seats in the world today in which people will sit and criticize others even though they never once try to put their own work out there. They’ll sit back, do nothing and self protect, and then hurl mean-spirited advice and words at the people who are actually trying.

Feedback can hurt. When the feedback stops hurting and you stop caring, you lose your capacity to connect with people. You’ve got to watch whose feedback you let in and whose opinions matter in your life. Don’t let what other people think define you.


So what happens when we fail? What happens when we put ourselves out there? What do the men and women who fall in the service of being brave with their lives – those who fall and are more tenacious and curious – what do they share in common? What does it take to get back up? These were the questions Brown asked during her research. She used being the first one to say ‘I Love You’ as an example.

“If you have no tolerance for failure, you will create nothing new,” Brown said. “If you are innovative and creative enough, you’ll fail. If you are willing to engage and care for someone, you’re going to know disappointment.”

During her research, Brown realized men and women who were adept at overcoming failure shared a common process: The Reckoning. The Rumble. The Revolution. The basis to this process lies in our emotions and how we perceive, deal with and overcome them.

“When something difficult happens and we are snagged by emotion, it changes who we are, how we show up and how we behave,” Brown said. “Our emotions get the first crack at understanding it.”

Although Brown says we would love to think we are rational people who can flick that emotion away and continue being rational, that is simply not the case.

“We are emotional, feeling beings who on rare occasions think,” Brown said. “When something difficult happens, emotion is at the wheel. Cognition and behavior are bound and gagged in the trunk.”

Brown said it’s all about survival. When we get emotionally snared, we go into survival mode. We think to ourselves, ‘I’ll just do what I’ve always done’ as opposed to recognizing what’s going on within. The reason is because we still perceive emotional vulnerability as a threat.

The story of our emotion is important. According to Brown, the brain loves story. It is hard-wired to recognize the pattern of narrative. The brain says to us, ‘Give me a story. Tell me what is happening.’

“When the brain develops the story, we are chemically rewarded,” Brown said. “The brain rewards us for a story regardless of its accuracy. It needs the least amount of ambiguity and uncertainty that you can give it.”

Men and women who are able to get back up after they fall, while still maintaining some authenticity and integrity, are able to do so because they know when they are snared by emotion.

“The chances of you engaging in behavior that is in line with your integrity and ethics is very low when your emotions are driving,” Brown said.


The Reckoning

The first thing we have to do is recognize emotion. Get curious about what the emotion is and why you’re feeling it.

Brown asked the audience,”How many of you were raised to suck it up and move on?”

Men and women who exhibit the strong ability to get back up and reset pay attention to the psychology of their emotions and they recognize it. They ask themselves, ‘What more do I need to know about this?’

The thing that emerged as the No. 1 strategy men and women use to rid themselves of these negative emotions was mindfulness and breathing. The phrase used synonymously with mindfulness? Paying attention. As for breathing, it helps us get back to a place where we can get centered.

Brown shared the breathing technique that works for her: Breathe for four. Hold for four. Out for four. Hold for four.

The Rumble

We need to own our stories. We need to challenge the conspiracies and confabulations. Brown explained the difference between the two. A conspiracy is a story told with limited factual data that we fill in with our own beliefs and fears, while a confabulation is a lie told honestly.

“In the absence of data, we will always come up with a story,” Brown said.

So how do we challenge these effectively? By taking advantage of the ‘shitty first draft.’ The SFD is the story that we tell ourselves about what’s happening. Of the men and women who had the most reflective resilience to failure, 70 percent wrote their story down. Why? To fact check it.

According to Dr. James Pennebaker, writing about an intense trauma or struggle for 10-15 minutes for four days in a row leads to less depression and anxiety symptoms.

“When you write something down, it’s something that’s outside of you,” Brown said. “You know your SFD is real if you would be mortified if anyone found it and read it.”

The Revolution

The minute you pretend that the story is not real, it owns you. You cannot outrun the story. So what you need to do is turn toward the story, grab it by the shoulders, look it in the eye and say, ‘This is the story. I own this, but it’s not over yet.’

We don’t want to be characters in our stories. We want to be the authors of our lives and we want to tell the world, ‘This is what happened, but these are part of a much larger narrative.’

The takeaway from the three Rs? Take the SFD and rumble with it. Recognize it when you’re making it up. The revolution is the moment you say, ‘This is my story, but it doesn’t end here.’


“Once you start leaning into the stories we make up in order to protect ourselves, you become unstoppable,” Brown said. “There is nothing more dangerous to the critics and the cynics in the world than those of us who are willing to fall and to fail because we know how to get back up.”