Talking About Success and Stress With Brené Brown

The author of “Daring Greatly” shares insights on leading with courage.

Author and researcher Brené Brown with Thrive contributor Heather Bowen Ray

Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston, has become well-known for her work on vulnerability and courage. Her TED talk “The Power of Vulnerability” has had at least 27 million views.

In her latest book, “Rising Strong: The Reckoning. The Rumble. The Revolution,” Brené Brown explores ways to navigate the inevitable stumbles that occur when we do act bravely. Brown has written that she sees the progression of her books — The Gifts of Imperfection, Daring Greatly, and Rising Strong — as, “Be you”, “Be all in”, and “Fall. Get up. Try again.”

Since the theme of her latest book is failure — or coping when we inevitably fall — Thrive Global contributor Heather Bowen Ray caught up with her at a recent Rising Strong speaking event in Denver and asked her to comment on success and failure.

Brown said, “Defining success is one of the most powerful things you can do as a family, as a couple, individually. There is a default definition that is, ‘money, materialism, accomplishment, and achievement.’ So if you don’t come up with your own subversive definition, there is a default.”

A narrow-minded focus on the traditional success measures — money and power — often leads to burnout and damages our mental and physical health and wellbeing.

Overcoming Stress and Burnout

Technology is often blamed for stress. Brown says one of the biggest problems stems from confusion about the difference between communication and connection. She said, “I think we’re lonelier and more disconnected than we’ve ever been, and we’re more communicative. The danger is confusing the two.” She added, “Unilateral sharing of information is by definition not connecting. Posting on social media is the same thing as calling someone and praying you get the answering machine. You don’t actually have to connect with that person.”

Facilitators at Brené Brown’s The Daring Way have trained classrooms, the military, the United Nations, and corporations in “Rising Strong” methodologies to manage stress. The book Rising Strong mentions tools such as box breathing and techniques including encouraging a work environment where employees can acknowledge their feelings and speak up about their concerns. Yet Brown says that the number one technique for overcoming stress and burnout is boundary setting.

Attendees in the lobby bookstore at Brown’s recent “Rising Strong” event in Denver, Colorado

Brown said, “Boundary setting is number one. At some point, stress is a healthy adaptive response to our body’s reaction — if we are trying to intervene at the wrong place. Is stress coming from an out of control life? Versus asking how to make my life more manageable.”

Brown is currently working to manage stress in her life by making sure that everything she does is in alignment. She said, sighing, “I’m not great at it. I’m just trying. What I’m doing right now with Nick Craig at the Authentic Leadership Institute, is trying to get clear about purpose.” She said she is trying to make sure that everything she is doing aligns with her purpose — and to say “no” to those things that do not align with it, although she has been conditioned to say “yes” most often.

She said, “Part of it is my training. I have a bachelor’s, master’s, and PhD in social work. The job is done when human rights are spread across the world, and the world is poverty and disease free. There is a need to say ‘yes’ to everything, including intractable problems.” Instead of trying to solve all these problems at once, Brown noted, “I need to get clear on purpose. Where we leverage our best gifts we can make a contribution beyond imagination. I’m examining what work leaves me inspired versus exhausted and pissed off.”

Brown is currently working on a new book, due out in fall 2017. She is digging into her research to do a deep dive on topics already covered as well as exploring some new themes. She said, “I’m going into a writing hole in January. That’s always a hard process but a happy place. Being alone with my data is second to being alone with my family. I love it so much.”

To learn additional strategies to overcome adversity and find wholehearted success at work and in life, check out Brown’s courses and programs designed for individuals teams and organizations at and

Originally published at

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