The Red Couch: Daring Greatly Discussion


A_BOOK-CLUBFull Disclosure: I feel like one of the last women in America to read Daring Greatly.

Unfortunately, this is probably because my pride got the best of me.  To be honest, I thought I didn’t need to read this book.

“Daring Greatly?  Didn’t I do that for years as a professional actor?,” I thought to myself. “Isn’t the epitome of vulnerability giving of our talents out into the world for producers, directors and the like who then decide if we’re ‘worthy’?  Doesn’t ‘literally’ singing for your supper ‘count’ as daring greatly?”

Clearly, I had have issues–with pride and approval seeking, for starters. Thanks to Brené’s words–and a series of events in my life as of late–I’ve realized I struggle mightily with shame, and could use a lesson or two {or twelve} on vulnerability and courage.

Revered Researcher and Professor of Social Work at the University of Houston, Brené Brown is known worldwide for her bestselling books, The Gifts of Imperfection and Daring Greatly, which sprang from her years of research and a self-proclaimed spiritual breakdown awakening she experienced after the viral success of her TED talks on vulnerability and shame.

“Vulnerability is the core, the heart, the center, of meaningful human experiences.” (p.12)

Truth be told, the amount of  wisdom in this book is mind boggling–it’s packed into the pages like a dense and fertile soil. Many readers consider this book a life changing read.

So many parts of this book struck a chord deep in my bones, and for someone who considers themselves to have done a good bit of ‘soul work’,  it was amazing how many revelations came as a surprise.

Chapter One immediately began chiseling away at my armor and defenses, as I read about scarcity.  As Brown says, “scarcity is the ‘never enough’ problem.” (p.26)  For years, I struggled as an insecure artist, believing if I didn’t look over my shoulder constantly, hold myself to unrealistic standards, and strive for perfection in every creative endeavor, I would fall into obscurity.  No matter your vocation or station in life, women in our culture are constantly battered with feelings of “not enough.”

“When I look at narcissism through the vulnerability lens, I see the shame-based fear of being ordinary. I see the fear of never feeling extraordinary enough to be noticed, to be lovable, to belong, or to cultivate a sense of purpose.” (p. 22)

Cara shared about a heartfelt moment between her and a friend, as they openly shared and confronted their feelings of shame. I’ve realized through reading this book that shame is a state I’ve lived in for quite some time, without realizing it was my home address. 

Another game-changing lesson that connected deep with me was Brown’s concept of “foreboding joy.”

“In a culture of deep scarcity –of never feeling safe, certain, and sure enough–joy can feel like a setup …We’re always ‘waiting for the other shoe to drop.'” {p.118}

As anyone who has experienced a good bit of loss, I’ve realized first hand the unexpected terror joy can bring.  My story has included losing multiple immediate family members to early death, failed relationships and fertility struggles. I’m living in a season of my life with a soul-mate husband I never expected to marry, and stability and security  that was missing for most of my “starving artist” days.  Those closest to me have gently reminded me that I am blessed to no longer live in a state of “constant crisis.” I am beyond grateful for my circumstances, but I have to fight the tendency to live in a “foreboding joy” mindset. As Brown says, “we’re trying to beat vulnerability to the punch. We don’t want to be blindsided by hurt. We don’t want to be caught off-guard.” (p.121)

Thankfully, Brown’s research showed the answer to foreboding joy is not just an “attitude of gratitude,” but the practice of gratitude. Fully embracing the beauty of the ordinary moments, being grateful for what we have in the present, and wholly experiencing each tangible joy-filled event are all things we can do to to push back foreboding fears. (pgs. 125-126)

One chapter that I know resonated with many readers was one I have to confess that I didn’t read.  As someone who struggles with infertility {and the vulnerability it takes to talk about that in an online space}, I found myself turning past the “Wholehearted Parenting” chapter without missing a beat. I know there are many takeaways and gems to be mined there, which I’ll read one day if I am able to receive the gift of a child.

I found it especially poignant, and maybe just a little bit ironic, that the whole time I was writing this post, I was plagued with fear, perfectionism, and unworthiness.  Not in just my normal I’m-writing-words-for-the-whole-internet-to-see kind of way, but in a deeply personal, who-do-you-think-you-are kind of way.

Perfectionism is a demon I seem to have battled my whole life.  I’ve learned you can make headway and healing in an area of your life, but those inner “gremlin thoughts”–as Brené so aptly calls them–will rear their ugly messages internally any chance they get.

I am in the midst of taking an online e-course with Brené Brown on The Gifts of Imperfection. I’m filling an art journal with words, paint strokes, collages and “all the feelings.” I’m learning and re-learning things about my creativity and heart that I can implement into my present life. This action is just one of many I can take to step into a place of vulnerability that leads to courage and daring greatly.

To learn more about Daring Greatly and peruse The Nightstand, read the introductory post.

Questions to Consider:

  • What does the world truly gain when you allow yourself to be vulnerable, and “dare greatly”?
  • How has your understanding of vulnerability changed or grown through this book’s message?
  • What would happen if you allowed yourself to be fully open to healthy vulnerability and courage?  How would that change your circumstances?
  • What helps you overcome fear?
  • What are your “gremlins,” and what do they say to you to prevent you from true connection and growth?
  • Do you use perfectionism as a shield? If so, what’s the threat? What scares you the most about putting down the shield?


Our May book is Getting Involved with God: Rediscovering the Old Testament by Ellen Davis. Come back Wednesday, May 7 for the introduction to the book. We’ll be mixing things up a bit with 3 discussion posts, each centering on a particular chapter. Cara Meredith will be our creative guide on Wednesday, April 16. Kelley Nikondeha will close out the discussion on Wednesday, May 28.

For on-going discussion each month, join The Red Couch Facebook group.

Disclosure : Amazon Affiliate links included in this post.  If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site.


Sarah Caldwell
Sarah Caldwell is the Chief Creative Curator at All Manner of Inspiration, where she gathers everyday inspiration and encourages artists of all makes and models. A musical theatre performer and book lover, Sarah aspires to shed a bright light on the Creative Process that draws others to see their dreams more clearly. When she’s not auditioning, performing, or blogging, Sarah is seeking out ‘the perfect pen’, reading an ever-growing stack of books, and spending time with her friends and family. She’s currently chasing the next inspirational spark and her sweet pup Daphne in the heart of Fort Worth, Texas with her husband Frank.
Sarah Caldwell
Sarah Caldwell

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  1. Deborah Hudson says:

    I’m quite late to this party, and haven’t read the book but thought I’d add that I’m also taking the Gifts of Imperfection on-line course now too. From this post, the two books sound very similar. I’m struggling to keep up with this course due to an up and down schedule these days but part one was so revealing to me. Sorry I missed this group read and discussion.

  2. Carryl Robinson says:

    I have a love-not love relationship with Brene Brown. On the one hand, I love how accessible she is in discussing a complex subject and oh how I can relate to her showing up to a therapist’s office with a spreadsheet (sounds like something I would do). And then on the other, I hate that she so frequently says something that has me rubbing my backside like I got swatted.

    It’s difficult to explain the relationship between perfectionism and raging shame/fear issues for me. I run to perfectionism like a bull at a red flag. It has always, always been my favourite shield against criticism and judgement. In a weird way, it has been my own self-imposed penance for the “sin” of having once been innocent and having been hurt as a result.

    I can’t help but think if I could open up to healthy vulnerability, it would allow me to love more freely, maybe even radically transform my relationship with Christ. On a more self-centered note, I’d really like to see what a difference it would make to my art if I could learn to courageously embrace daring and vulnerability.

    Having read Daring Greatly, I can see how far I have to go but I can also see how very far I’ve come.

    • You made some great points, Carryl. I agree–this work in vulnerability is NOT for the faint of heart! 🙂 I know that I struggle with similar vices as you described here, and I think we are NOT ALONE – so many of us do! I think reading Brene’s words, processing them, and being open to healthy changes is the first step that you seem to have already taken. Be gentle with yourself, and the process. I think you’re exactly right – the wisdom of vulnerability and shame resilience not only helps in your day to day life, but in your ultimate spiritual relationship with Christ. The overflow into the artistic process is also hard work, but has such beautiful fruit to be reaped too! I applaud you for stepping forward and being brave. And I don’t think its a selfish or self-centered pursuit to allow vulnerability to grow your art–that sounds like a God-given pursuit that will add fullness and joy to your life. Thanks so much for sharing and discussing! 🙂

  3. Sandy Hay says:

    I’m joining you, Sarah, as one of the last women to read Daring Greatly. I heard Brene at a conference last summer and was gripped by what she said. Yet it took until this book club to buy the book. Since then I’ve read and listened to everything Brene I could get my hands on. I came to Christ years ago from a life of debilitating fear. I learned that ONLY through prayer and surrender could I move another step forward. This book has helped to understand where that fear came from…SHAME. I’m able to put names on what I lived through and how that affected everything. How does all this rock my world? Well, as the Grandma of 3 girls (13, 11 and 9), I’ve already noticed the impact a divorce plus school plus emotions are having on them. And hopefully as I allow myself to be more vulnerable and dare greatly in my life, I’ll help them walk through their lives as “healthier” girls.

    • How wonderful that your grandchildren will reap the benefits and fruit from your process Sandy! 🙂 Fear is a huge struggle for me, and I think, so many of us. As your probably read above, I never realized shame was at the root of so much fear, and that realization was HUGE for me too! What a beautiful blessing for those young girls to have your example in their lives! I think its also so important for us to be gentle with ourselves, and remember this is a process that takes time. I’m glad to know I’m not the only gal that came late to the ‘Brene’ party! 🙂 Thanks for your thoughts, Sandy!

  4. Thanks so much for sharing your ways to overcome fear, Idelette! I have struggled with fear for most of my life. This book spoke to so many deep rooted issues for me, and some I didn’t even realize I had! I’m with you — Prayer is also one of my first defenses in combating fear. You’re so, so right. So often, I am probably most often fueling my own fears. I am really loving Brene’s e-course. She speaks about things we all have most likely heard, but having a creative outlet to work through and process thoughts and feelings feels good to my soul. I most definitely am going to blog about this course – it runs through the middle of May. Thanks for your encouragement Idelette – I’m excited to see hear more about the ways this book has impacted other women, and learn from them as well!

  5. I loved reading your insights into the book, Sarah. I also would love to hear your thoughts after the course …

    What helps me overcome fear? A stream of prayer–figuring out what the fear is attached to and if there’s something I need to address. I also try and imagine the thing I’m afraid of in its right size. Fear always shows itself as large–like a shadow–but is usually small and powerless. I find I usually give it its power.


  1. […] particularly her book Daring Greatly. If you haven’t read it, Lovelys, here is a link to the Red Couch Book Club discussion on it from last […]

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