Flashback to 2013, I was sitting in an adolescent health class feeling insecure and inadequate as a young graduate student at just 22 years old. My professor started to play a TedTalk titled “The Power of Vulnerability.” I listened as Brene Brown, celebrity social worker and storytelling extraordinaire, discussed how vulnerability is core to fear, shame, and worthiness, but also that it is the root of joy, creativity, and belonging. Her message both challenged me and resonated with me for the juxtaposition and clarity it provided. Through the years I have come to love Brene Brown and look to her as a member of my “brain trust” (more on that later). She tells me the things I know deep down but sometimes have trouble unearthing, things like: it is okay to be vulnerable, do not be afraid to dare greatly, and, most recently, be brave. Easier said than done, right?
I had the great honor of seeing Brene Brown give the keynote address at HubSpot’s Inbound 2017 this September. True to her signature style, she challenged me to be brave and not to fear belonging. Her message was simple: “when you show up and be your authentic self, you belong.” In today’s cultural and political climate it can be difficult to stand up for our beliefs, especially when we fear that those beliefs make us an outsider.
Our quest should not be to fit in or be liked, but to find the courage to sometimes stand alone. Moreover, we need people to turn to when we feel fearful or need a shot of courage – these are the members of our brain trust. These are people we admire, alive or dead, whether we know them personally or not, who can provide guidance and encouragement when we need it most. For Brene, her brain trust includes Ken Burns and Oprah Winfrey. Mine includes Michelle Obama, Robert Kennedy, and Brene Brown, among others. According to Brene, belonging is not something you negotiate with other people, and the people with the highest sense of belonging are the least afraid of standing alone or feeling like an outsider. True belonging is feeling comfortable being your most authentic self. These are the types of brave, unapologetically authentic people that are a part of my brain trust; they are the role models that inspire me to stand up to injustice, even when I feel alone and afraid.
Now and again I find myself whispering, “just dare greatly.” Whether this means asking difficult questions, acknowledging when I do not know something, or going out on a limb for something I am passionate about, I imagine Brene and the rest of my brain trust there with me. This was also true when during her keynote, Brene asked the entire audience to stand up and turn toward one another to belt “American Pie” by Don McLean. The walls of vulnerability melted away and we joined together in song, albeit off-key.
I guess I am not so alone in this quest to be brave after all. That vulnerability TedTalk has gone on to be one of the top five most viewed TedTalks of all time with over 31 million views. That Inbound conference? I sat in a sea of 10,000 people, mostly from the corporate sector, who stood to give Brene a standing ovation. My takeaway is this: in order to be brave and find belonging, we must first allow ourselves to be vulnerable. It is here, outside of our comfort zones, but deep within ourselves, that we will find the strength to move mountains.