Things I Love: The Call to Courage

“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…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

Photo by Maile Wilson

Brené Brown is an American professor, lecturer, author, and podcast host. She is recognized for her research on shame, vulnerability, and leadership, and for her widely viewed TEDx talk (2010). She has written six number-one New York Times bestselling books and hosts two podcasts. I recently watched her lecture on Netflix, The Call to Courage.

At the beginning of her talk, Dr. Brown summarizes the value of courage and vulnerability, “The key to whole-hearted living is vulnerability. You measure courage by how vulnerable you are.” She starts every day by putting her feet on the floor and saying, “Today I will choose courage over comfort. I can’t make any promises for tomorrow, but today I will choose to be brave.”

According to Dr. Brown’s research, choosing courage and vulnerability opens us up to love, joy and belonging, and brings us closer to what she calls, “whole-hearted living.” It changes the kind of partner, parent and professional we are when we live brave and authentic lives. Here are a few tips that she provides on how to answer the call to courage:

Be Vulnerable

Dr. Brown argues that, “Vulnerability is our most accurate way to measure courage…” 

“…No vulnerability, no creativity. No tolerance for failure, no innovation. It is that simple,” she advises. “If you’re not willing to fail, you can’t innovate. If you’re not willing to build a vulnerable culture, you can’t create.”

Open Up

Dr. Brown asserts vulnerability is the birthplace of love and joy. Highlighting the risks of love, Dr. Brown polls the audience: “Are you 100% sure that person will always love you back, will never leave, will never get sick? How many of you have every buried someone you love? How many of you have lost someone you love?

“To love is to be vulnerable, to give someone your heart and say, ‘I know this could hurt so bad, but I’m willing to do it; I’m willing to be vulnerable and love you,’ ” she adds. 

No Regrets

“Vulnerability is hard, and it’s scary, and it feels dangerous, but it’s not as hard, scary or dangerous as getting to the end of our lives and having to ask ourselves, ‘What if I would’ve shown up?’ ‘What if I would’ve said, I love you?’ “ Dr. Brown tells the crowd. “Show up, be seen, answer the call to courage… ’cause you’re worth it. You’re worth being brave.”

Be Intentional

Humans are hard-wired to care what others think but we need to be intentional about who we accept feedback from. Dr. Brown believes that, “If you are not in the arena, getting your a** kicked and rejected, I am not interested in your feedback.” And she contends that you should listen to: “People who love you not in spite of your imperfection and vulnerability, but because of it.”

Belong To Yourself 

Dr. Brown explains that vulnerability is the birth of true belonging, “we are hard-wired for belonging,” wanting other people to love us and “see” us. But that we cannot be vulnerable and not be ourselves— the enemy of belonging is trying to fit in...Belonging, is belonging to yourself first…Speaking your truth, telling your story and never betraying yourself for other people. True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are, it requires you to be who you are. And that’s vulnerable.” 


Dr. Brown describes joy as the most vulnerable emotion as “…in the midst of joy, we dress rehearse becomes foreboding.” Her research reveals the importance of gratitude. She interviewed numerous people who survived harrowing experiences such as mass shootings, loss of a child, natural disasters, or war, as she wanted to better understand how some people come through it and remain compassionate. A common response from those interviewed is the value of gratitude and the importance of appreciation for the little things.

Embrace Discomfort

Dr. Brown contents that we need to be courageous and initiate difficult conversations, so marginalized groups do not bear that responsibility. “To not have the conversations because they make you uncomfortable is the definition of privilege. Your comfort is not at the centre of this discussion. That is not how this works. Of course you’re going to get you’re a** handed to you in these conversations…It’s not a question whether you have a bias or not, it’s a question of how many and how bad and how deep.” Brown underscores that we have to be humble, listen and learn. “We have to be able to choose courage over comfort, we have to be able to say, ‘Look, I don’t know if I’m going to nail this but I’m going to try because I know what I’m sure as hell not going to do is stay quiet.’”

Come Off The Blocks

“Vulnerability is hard and it’s scary and it feels dangerous. But it’s not as hard, or scary or dangerous as getting to the end of our lives and having to ask ourselves: What if I would’ve shown up? What if I would’ve said ‘I love you?’ What if I would’ve come off the blocks? Show up, be seen, answer the call to courage and come off the blocks. Because you’re worth it—you’re worth being brave.”

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