Famed Author Brené Brown on Courage During COVID-19

In a time when we are reeling from our businesses being devastated by COVID-19 and our social support groups are essentially shut down, I encourage you all to check in with another doctor besides Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Some may be familiar with Dr. Brené Brown, a professor, author, and lecturer with a Ph.D. in social work who focuses on courage, vulnerability, and empathy.

A week or so ago, I was wondering how Dr. Brown might approach laying off her staff gracefully, how she would tap into the emotional quotient many of us wish was stronger so we could be supportive, direct and empathetic all at the same time.

Shortly after I first read Brené Brown's book Dare to Lead, an employee on my team was going against the current of what we were trying to accomplish. They were asking good questions, but short on time and patience, I firmly requested they take the directive as instructed so we could move on to the more pressing tasks at hand. A complete failure no less than hours after being immersed in her teachings.

However, this is why I appreciate Dr. Brown’s writing: she's always very upfront about failing and constantly having to relearn herself. Take these three lessons with that grain of salt: you aren’t meant to be perfect but you can be courageous enough to be open with others even with feelings that are difficult to process swirling around you.

Understand We Aren't Meant to Do This Alone

Dr. Brown sat down with CBS' 60 Minutes and outlined her thoughts on today's environment of anxiety and social distancing. 

She tells Bill Whitaker, "We are not supposed to help ourselves, we are supposed to help each other. My message is clear—you do not have to do it alone, we were never meant to. We are neurobiologically hardwired to be in connection with other people."

Dr. Brown goes on: "We don’t know how to do this. We don’t know how to social distance and stay sane. We don’t know how to stay socially connected but stay far apart. We don’t know what to tell our kids. We are anxious, we are uncertain, a lot of us are afraid." 

She points out from her 20 years of research and from 400,000 pieces of data that we have to name what we are feeling. If we don't own these feelings, they'll eat us alive. 

We Have Collectively Hit 'Weary'

Last week, Dr. Brown started the Unlocking Us podcast that has already shot to the top of charts. 

The adrenaline surge of the coronavirus crisis is starting to pass. At first, we were fueled by trying to address everything at once—we hadn’t noticed that a new normal arrived. Now that there's such a mess and the proverbial water has receded, we're at our most vulnerable as we take in our situation. A funeral may not be as hard when we are surrounded by family and friends—it's the quiet days afterward when we feel alone.

This may be happening to you now: The regulars texting, the supporters donating to your staff's GoFundMe, customers tipping heavily on your to-go programs...it's all starting to slow as the new reality is sinking in. This is where we must dig into our reserves to find strength.

Dr. Brown suggests we try to normalize this by focusing on the marathon ahead. "The fear of collapsing could become the actual collapse. We need to create a new normal while grieving the end of our old normal," she says. "This is going to require a proactive strategy with focus, breath, and solid information."

One of her suggestions is to limit news intake and screen time by relying on one or two reliable sources. Seek out calm-seekers versus fearmongers so you can respond appropriately to the changing world without getting sucked into all of the negativity. 

Avoid Comparison Suffering

Dr. Brown explains that when we're full of fear and suffering, we start to rank our feelings against the outside world to deny ourselves those emotions. We don’t allow ourselves to feel anything because we only think of others who we perceive to be enduring greater suffering.

For example, a business owner won't allow themselves to feel sad because other bar owners they know have much less capital and a less forgivable landlord. Or a bartender feels shame for feeling relief knowing they can file for unemployment, also knowing they can access these funds but some coworkers may not be able to because of their immigration status.

These emotions won't go away and all it does is add shame on top. Instead, Dr. Brown suggests that we need to address these feelings so we can feel empathy ourselves rather than only shame when dealing with others. Consider how important this is when negotiating with your landlord, supporting your staff, or helping your neighbors through these difficult times.


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Now more than ever, the people around you, physically or virtually, are your greatest asset. No longer is this corporate-speak in the company mission statement—it's a necessary point to feel connected to the world we used to know and navigating the waters into the unknown.

I highly recommend Dr. Brown's podcast and books if you feel overwhelmed by any of this. Reach out if you're in need of help and be sure to check in with your staff, and even some of your regulars. You're not the only one who has lost your home away from home.