For those who haven’t heard of Brené Brown, the five-time New York Times bestselling author/speaker/storyteller/professor at the Graduate School of Social Work at the University of Houston refers to herself as a “shame and vulnerability researcher.”
“When I say that to someone sitting next to me on a plane, it stops the conversation,” she says. But here’s another way to think of her: She’s the Marie Kondo of emotions—crossed with Oprah, crossed with a standup comedian with a doctorate. In other words, wise and wildly funny.
It all started with a TED Talk, 2010’s “The Power of Vulnerability,” which to date has been viewed more than 39 million times on the TED website (and countless more times on YouTube). Since then, she’s release five New York Times best-selling books, including 2018’s Dare to Lead, the culmination of years of research into the future of leadership.
She’s about to be more than a TED Talk and self-help aisle sensation. On April 19, Netflix is releasing Brown’s first hour-long special, which one exec referred to as “a different kind of stand up.” In Brené Brown: The Call to Courage, Brown describes courage as “not bulldozing or being tough the way we think of it today—but leading with the heart, telling your story with all your heart.” The streaming service introduced us to the idea of Kondo-ing our lives by eliminating physical clutter—maybe undergoing an emotional overhaul will henceforth be known as Brown-ing.
Earlier this week at Netflix HQ, Brown appeared for a talk with ultra-fan Laverne Cox, who could recite all of Brown’s books back to her. Two two women discussed the quest for courage, self-acceptance—and the power of vulnerability, which according to Brown, “is the only way to get to creativity.”
We were able to snag some time with Brown at the panel; here’s what she had to say about becoming a TV star, how she got here, and her very regular life at home in Houston.
You don’t grow up wanting to be a shame researcher—do you?
Growing up in Texas I really wanted to be a cruise director—or a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader. That’s how I was raised! Then I watched a PBS special on Eleanor Roosevelt. Then I said, “That’s what I want to be when I grow up.” I wanted to be like Eleanor Roosevelt.
Why study shame and vulnerability?
One of the thing’s about shame and trauma—one of the greatest casualties—it makes you vulnerable. It’s coded at a cellular level. But you’ll die under that armor. You need to take it off to grow into your gift. But we do live in a world where we have to keep it on right now—a day, an hour. Take it off, hang it up. You can self protect, but you can also take it off. Or you will never reach your gift. Everyone needs love and belonging. You can’t get it without opening up.
“You can self protect, but you can also take [your armor] off.”
How did Netflix approach you?
We invited them to come to a talk about three years ago. I wasn’t sure about it; they said they didn’t have a category. So last year I told them, “I’m having a talk in L.A., why don’t you come?” And this is the result. They filmed it.
You saw what happened to author Marie Kondo when she got a Netflix show. How do you deal with that? You’ve said you’re an introvert.
I’m not sure yet. I don’t know. One day at a time right? I’m excited about my work going international. I’m going to Romania next week. This project is an opportunity to take the work broader. I only teach a class a year now. It’s shifted in the last five years. I want to be out there, talking to people. I think you have to live the work.
Are you a big star at home in Houston?
No. They just ask me if I’m bringing something to the bake sale. I just live my life, I try to live the work. On Friday night this week, I’m going to Seder with my friends. We’ll be singing these great songs, it’s a community.
You’re going to get up in the morning on Saturday and there will be reviews. Does that scare you?
It’s not the critic who count, right? I can’t care about the feedback of people who don’t put themselves out there, you know? The people opening up, doing the creative work, risking everything—I hope to hear from them.
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