From ‘The Power of Vulnerability’ to ‘The Call to Courage’

Most films played on my Netflix prompt laughter. But yesterday a teardrop ran through my cheek when I heard Brené Brown rephrasing in her ‘The Call to Courage’ her daughter’s sentence: ‘but I was brave, and I won’ when losing the swimming race.

Brené Brown is a researcher who studies courage, vulnerability and shame for more than 2 decades. Her name was first known to me on a TED Talk speech she gave as ‘The Power of Vulnerability’. Of all the TED Talks I’ve ever watched or just listened to, this is one of what I have impression of. But honestly, the most active response to it, as I could retrace now, is probably just a nod of agreement.

From nodding to teardrop, it’s the transition of life stage that makes me more connected to what Brené’s trying to convey. ‘The Call to Courage’ happens to translate what I recently feel in my heart but not having had words for.

Courage Requires Vulnerability

To address this concept, Brené quotes Theodore Roosevelt’s speech in 1910. It says:

‘it’s not the critics who counts.It’s not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doers of deeds could have done it differently. The credit belongs to the person who’s actually in the arena, whose face is marred with dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs, who comes up short again and again and again, and who, in the end, while he may know the triumph of high achievement, at least when he fails, he does so daringly greatly.’  

Courage and vulnerability seem to be opposite. But the moment you choose to be brave, it comes the chance of falling, of being hurt, of feeling vulnerable and dangerous.

Two months ago when I found my grade of thesis a lot lower than I expected, I was so devastated that I needed to go on a immediate healing journey. I wandered around the beach of Weymouth, and thought through everything about thesis writing that had meant to me. I came back to London, and cried the most brokenheartedly again when I thought I was already okay. Tears had been normally deemed by me as vulnerability. But it never was after that night. When I chose to make a full commitment at the start of my writing journey, I chose at the same to be courageous. I was so full in every second of it, good days or grey days, that I didn’t even get to see the risk of falling. So it hurt so much when it happened. Brené’s account therefore sparkles a thought that I’d never had for myself before. Maybe it isn’t that I never bothered to think about failure, but there would have been a particular point back in time that I became so generous to embrace everything that would come with my writing. And that must have included failure. But I chose to go on.


Lean Into Joy

Brené points out that people seem to have an urge to encounter something more of misfortune. When you find everything is too good to be true, you can’t resist to think whether this is the calm before the storm. She’s right. For some reason we feel guilty about what we can actually feel proud to have. Brené then discloses what those who can lean into joy share in common. GRATITUDE. 

That’s an AHA moment for me when she says this word. The picture in my mind swifts right away to the phone talks I’ve had with my friends these days. Normally I feel sort of guilty when the talk remains more than one hour. 50 minutes or so longer than we promised each other. Then Brené brings me to explore the messages underneath these phone talks. I realise that I could all the time easily spot some moments of ‘deja-vu’. I could recall easily, for example, the very same type of sentiment this particular friend created for me in our last phone talk. And my mind moves to the chronology. The chronology of our encounter. The first time we met is 2011. It’s now almost 2020 and we’re still calling each other. This is a nearly-decade in which we drift from home cities to different ones. The senior high uniforms are gone from some of our closets, yet some are still there. We cheer, disappoint, compromise, sometimes for the same reasons; the other times different.

But we still manage to connect. Every of those phone calls isn’t easy. It’s an arbitrary moment in which I find you, and you find me. Yet it’s also an intuition that I know I’ll find you and so do you. When the sense of guilt evaporates and arises the courage to lean into joy, the first thing you see is gratitude.

2019 has a few more weeks to go. If it happens to be a tough year for you, go watch ‘The Call to Courage‘, what you know about yourself as weakness is probably all power.


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