Don’t let the “shame gremlin” keep you small… and other amazing thoughts from Brené Brown


February 9, 2013 by iamsaw

Brené Brownphoto credit: Danny Clark

Brené Brown
photo credit: Danny Clark

A few weeks ago I said that I was going to contact a few A-list bloggers and authors to request that they write a blog post on my site.

And guess what, I actually did that.

One of the people I reached out to was author and researcher, Brené Brown. She is a personal hero of mine and everything she says rings true for me. For the last twelve years, she has been researching vulnerability, authenticity, courage and shame.

I came to know her through her TEDx Houston talk, The Power of Vulnerability.

If you haven’t watched this talk, please do yourself a big favor and go watch it now. Then come on back here. It’s okay. I’ll still be here.

Did you watch?

Have your molecules been rearranged?

Okay, good. That’s the reaction I was hoping for.

I thought given her research, Ms. Brown would be a perfect person to ruminate on failure. Unfortunately she is far too busy to write a post for my little blog project here. However, I did receive an e-mail from someone that works with her with the suggestion that I watch her TED talk from last year to see what she has to say about failure.

Somehow I missed this TED talk. I’m so glad to have rectified that because it is everything.

Here’s what Brené has to say about failure:

“This (the TED Conference) is like the failure conference. You know why this place is amazing? Because very few people here are afraid to fail. And no one who gets on this stage so far that I have seen has not failed. I have failed miserably. Many times. I don’t think the world understands that… because of shame.”

Do you get what she is saying here? All those amazingly smart, powerful, intuitive, successful and charismatic people who speak at the TED conference with “Ideas Worth Spreading” have failed.

Of course they have.

Failure is actually a common denominator of all those awesome people.

The “Shame Gremlin”

If you happen to watch a TED talk and think, “I suck. I’m not nearly as awesome as that person. I don’t have a TED talk. I don’t have an idea worth spreading.” Well, that is, as Brené would say, the “shame gremlin” trying to keep you small.

We’re all familiar with the shame gremlin, aren’t we? Of course we are. Shame, says Brené, is a national epidemic.

“Shame for women is this web of unattainable conflicting, competing expectations of who we are supposed to be. And it’s a straight jacket.”

Boy, did that hit home for me. That’s exactly what paralyzes me. And that is exactly what prompted me to start a blog project where I embrace and celebrate failure. Every time I sit down and write a blog post here, I feel my chest relax a little. My shoulders soften. I can breathe. This blog is my way of cutting myself free from that straight jacket.

For you men, Brené defines your straight jacket of shame as never being allowed to appear weak. Never. Never ever. Does that hit home for anyone?

Fear not. There is an answer.

Brené says the antidote to shame is empathy.

We’re so focused on only sharing our successes, right? Or at least avoiding standing out. But, if we were more willing to tell the truth about how life really is for us, then maybe we wouldn’t all be walking around, crippled by the expectations we place on ourselves to be perfect.

I believe that. And so does Brené. Here’s what she says about that:

“The two most powerful words when we’re in struggle: Me too.”

I want to be clear. I’m not suggesting we all go on Facebook and start complaining about how much our lives suck. I’m not suggesting that we become complainers and victims. No, no, no, no, no, no, no!

Please don’t even think that for a second. But, when a friend comes to you in a moment of true vulnerability and shares that he/she is struggling… truly struggling. Rather than pretending that you’re life is perfect in that moment. Rather than using their pain to feel better about your life. Maybe you could drop your armor, step into their world and find a truthful way to say, “I hear you. I love you. And me too.”

We are wired to share successes. As kids we dreamt of standing on the Olympic podium. We began writing our Oscar speeches when we were only ten. Or younger? We live our lives hoping for that moment when we can say and truly feel that we “made it.”

The myth of perfection

Brené talks about living most of her life just outside of the arena, waiting to go in. What was she waiting for? She was waiting until she was perfect and bulletproof. And when she finally was bulletproof and perfect, she would step into the arena and kick ass.

Can you relate to that? I certainly can.

The thing is… we never actually “arrive.” We are never perfect and bulletproof. And how boring if we were. Look at Brené… I’m glad she didn’t wait until she was perfect to step into the arena. She is authentic and flawed and a glorious truth-teller who makes it possible for others to feel empowered. Her work is important. And it’s not at all what she expected her life to be about. Her work scares her. She is not comfortable with vulnerability. But, she invites it into her life and embraces it. No… she creates opportunities to practice vulnerability. And by doing that… by sharing her failures and flaws she gives us access to living, as she says, a wholehearted life.


That’s her term. (You’ll be familiar with it if you watched her TEDx Houston talk on Vulnerability.)

And isn’t that what we really want?

I know that’s what I want.

Okay… the last thing I want to share is a quote from Theodore Roosevelt that inspired the title of Brené’s new book, Daring Greatly

“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 from his speech Citizenship in a Republic

And here is what Brené says about this…

“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.”

Now, take the next available 20 minutes of your life to watch Brené’s TED talk on shame:

Listening to Shame – Brene Brown at TED

And lastly, this thought on failure and success…

What if the only difference between you and that person up there on that stage is that she was willing to fail more than you?


2 thoughts on “Don’t let the “shame gremlin” keep you small… and other amazing thoughts from Brené Brown

  1. Absolutely LOVE Brene Brown also! I loved her TED talks as well! Found your blog through The Unlost and I’m happy I did. Looking forward to connecting!

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