Brené Brown has changed lives with her TED talks and bestselling books, and now she’s going to be in everyone’s living room (and computer screen and phone), with her new Netflix special, The Call to Courage. Brown is a research professor in social work at the University of Houston; in her work, she figures out what makes humans happy, and she’s boiled down the basic keys to your best life.
She’s a cheerleader for the power of vulnerability and a deep-diver into the shame that’s wrecking us. We caught up with her at the launch party for The Call to Courage, where she explained how we’re ruining ourselves by using apps to take the pain out of dating, why we need to get uncomfortable, and how to break out of our “courage crisis.”
Love is the antidote to shame, but why are we having so much trouble finding it?
I always say the brokenhearted are the bravest among us because they have the courage to love. Now what we’ve done is we’ve tried to change it into an algorithm, to minimize pain. Dating apps and social media are tools of communication. They’re not tools of connection, and there’s no way you can use those to minimize heartbreak and vulnerability. You can use them to meet people, but you’ve got to be with people, you’ve got to be across from people and put yourself out there. There’s no mitigating that; there’s no algorithm. You can’t cheat love.
What’s your biggest tip for creating an authentic, loving relationship?
We’re wired to be in connection with other people, and in the absence of connection there’s always suffering. I think at the genesis of love, romantic love, is the need to be seen and the need to truly see each other, and we have so much armor on that we can’t see each other and we can’t be seen. We enter into these contracts where it’s, I’ll let your armor go if you let my armor go. So, then we get in bed at night and we’re both armored up, and that makes intimacy and trust and real stuff really hard. We need to love people not despite their vulnerability and imperfection, but because of it.
Where does this feeling of not being enough come from? How do we get over it?
We have wounds because somewhere, in most of our lives—it could have been a parent or former boyfriend or girlfriend or partner—someone didn’t have the capacity or ability to love us. So we made up a story that we were unlovable, and that’s the most dangerous narrative. We are absolutely lovable as we are now.
The world is so divided. What’s the best way to build bridges with people who have different beliefs?
Stay curious. Try to find common ground. There’s a chapter in Braving the Wilderness that says, ‘People are hard to hate close up, so move in.’ Move in. And the only exception is if your beliefs strip me of my humanity, then you can’t ask me to show up, really.
Why do we need the call to courage so badly right now?
There’s a courage crisis right now. I think because of social media, because of online vitriol, I think people are so scared to do anything, say anything, be anything, and we’ve got to get really clear that every meaningful thing in our life is born of courage, whether it’s love, belonging, joy, or trust—it’s born of vulnerability. If we have created a world for ourselves where our comfort is primary, we’re not going to get to the meaningful experiences that define our lives. I’ve never met someone in my life, myself included, who doesn’t want more joy, more intimacy, more trust, more creativity. But all of those are born of vulnerability.
How do you personally get through challenging, uncomfortable times?
Everyone has forks in the road every day, where you choose the comfort thing or you choose the brave thing, and I think for me it’s not easier to be vulnerable, but there’s a little bit of grace that comes when you get the whisper that you’re going to make it through the other side when it’s over. Sometimes I think, 24 hours from now, I’ll be with [my husband] Steve and my kids and we’ll just be unloading the dishwasher, or looking over homework, and it’s going to be okay. I ask, ‘Will I be okay choosing my own comfort over this opportunity?’ I think my thoughts are, ‘I want to be brave with my life, this feels really scary and uncomfortable and I should probably do it.’
So you lean in to difficulty and turn towards it rather than away?
I turn towards it. The underbelly of that is that sometimes I get to a place where I’m doing nothing but really hard, scary, uncomfortable things and that’s not a joyful way to live. There are people who take the hard road every time, just to say they can, and that’s kind of an addiction in itself. Ten years ago, when the [Power of Vulnerability] TED Talk took off and I had all these new opportunities and a lot of them were shiny and really interesting, I came up with this question of, Does it serve the work? Does it serve my mission? Does it serve what I’m trying to do?
And what is that life mission for you?
I don’t ever talk about it—this maybe the first time I’ve ever talked about it—but I got really clear about 20 years ago that I want to have a global conversation about these issues that define our lives that no one’s talking about: shame, vulnerability, courage, empathy. So now, when an opportunity comes up, rather than just doing it because it’s hard and I want to prove I can do it, rather than shying away because I’m afraid of criticism, or uncomfortable if I’m going to be able to do it well, now I just say, ‘Will it serve the work? Will it serve what I’m trying to do in my life?’ And if the answer is yes, then I put that in front of my comfort.
The Call to Courage is streaming on Netflix now.