I joke that I discovered Brené Brown in much the same way Columbus discovered America: I simply stumbled into the right place at the right time. And boy, am I glad I did. In just one Ted Talk and as much of her newest book as I’ve had the time to read (I’m not quite through, but I’m cherishing every word), this researcher and storyteller has me thinking deeply about vulnerability and bravery and how to build the courage to be “enough” for myself and others in order to live the fullest life possible.
What’s fascinating to me as a financial advisor is how much all of these ideas play into what I see every day with my clients—and how vulnerability, bravery, and courage impact each person’s sense of financial “success.”
If you’ve never heard of Brené Brown, I highly recommend taking some time out of your day to check her out. A social science researcher, she is a stickler for data and a mid-life convert to the power of vulnerability (listen to her Ted Talk for more on her journey). Through her research, Brown has studied people—mostly women—who experience love and belonging in their lives and those who don’t. What’s the difference? It’s shockingly simple. People who have love and belonging believe they are worthy of it. Those who don’t, don’t. Even more, it seems that what empowers people to achieve that state of worthiness—of believing they can be and deserve to be loved—is the courage to be vulnerable.
Courage and vulnerability resonate with me. In my life, I’ve observed that many of us seem to have lost our ability to be vulnerable. Perhaps it’s because we spend too much time in our bubbles. Alone and watching other people’s lives on social media or television. Alone commuting in our cars. Alone walking in a crowd with headphones in our ears, shutting out the world around us. Being alone has become our safe place where we are not judged or confronted or questioned. And it’s where we can choose specifically not to feel.
I think Brown hits the crux of it when she speculates that the reason we’re the most in debt, obese, and medicated adult population in history is because we’ve become completely uncomfortable with our vulnerability. When we feel exposed or conflicted or anxious, we choose to numb our feelings through food, alcohol or Facebook. Further, her research shows that there’s another way we numb our vulnerability, and that is to make everything in our lives certain. We no longer leave room in our public and private lives for reflection or uncertainty about our faith, our politics, and our preferences. It’s created an unsavory divisiveness in which everything is black or white. We’re labeled, and we label others in all-too-certain terms. We blame others as a way of discharging our fears. We use certainty as just one more tool to numb our vulnerability. As a result, we feel more judged, and, indeed, more vulnerable.
Perhaps the most important idea Brown presents is that numbing our feelings of vulnerability has an unintended consequence. Because we’re not capable of being selective about which feelings we numb, when we numb our vulnerability, we also numb joy, happiness, love—all of the feelings that make us happy and content as human beings. If there’s ever been a reason to nurture our vulnerability, this is certainly it!
As these ideas are all swimming around in my head, I keep coming back to how important it is to invite vulnerability into the financial planning process. If vulnerability is the key to more fulfilling relationships, it follows that it can have a dramatic impact on our relationships with money which, just like every other relationship, can come with a whole lot of baggage. Love. Fear. Anxiety. Shame. Obsession. The list goes on.
In Brown’s new book Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone, she uses the word “BRAVING” as an acronym for the seven rules for building more connected relationships rooted in trust and vulnerability. It’s amazing to me how each of these statements can relate directly to every relationship—including our relationship with money:
- Boundaries: I trust you if you are clear about your boundaries and you hold them, and I am clear about my boundaries, and you respect them.
- Reliability: I trust you if you do what you say you are going to do. Not once, but over and over again.
- Accountability: I trust you if, when you make a mistake, you are willing to own it, apologize for it, and make amends. And when I make a mistake I am allowed to do the same.
- Vault: What I share with you, you will hold in confidence, and what you share with me, I will hold in confidence.
- Integrity: Choosing courage over comfort, choosing what is right over what is fun, fast, and easy. And practicing your morals, not just preaching them.
- Non-judgement: You can fall apart and ask for help and not be judged by me.
- Generosity: If I mess up, say something, or forget something, you will make the most generous assumption and check in with me.
I have strived to foster and live up to each of these values when I work with clients, but Brown has brought some valuable clarity to my thinking. I wonder if BRAVING may just be the key to help shift not just how we interact with each other, but also how we look at and feel about money. Brown says that when we are vulnerable, “We feel the deepest connection to our true self and to what matters most.” What a wonderful foundation on which to create a Brave New Financial Plan.