Own our history. Change the story.


When we deny our stories, they define us.
When we own our stories, we get to write a brave new ending.

I know this is true. I may have learned it as a researcher but I live this truth as a daughter, a partner, a leader, a sister, a mother, and a friend. When we push down hurt or pretend that struggle doesn’t exist, the hurt and struggle own us.

I’ve learned that writing a brave new ending in our personal lives means:

  1. We can’t smooth over hurt feelings in our families. It’s too easy for stockpiled hurt to turn into rage, resentment, and isolation. We must talk about it. Even when we don’t want to. Even when we’re tired.
  2. We can’t pretend our family histories of addiction and mental health issues don’t exist if our hope is to write a new story and pass that legacy of emotional honesty and health down to our children.
  3. We must own our failures and mistakes so that we can learn and grow. It’s hard but I’ve seen how it becomes part of a family and organizational cultures and unleashes innovation and creativity. It doesn’t feel comfortable, but courage rarely does.

Owning our stories is standing in our truth. It’s transformative in our personal and professional lives AND it’s also critical in our community lives. But we don’t think about history as our collective story.

Until we find a way to own our collective stories around racism in this country, our history and the stories of pain will own us.

We will not get away from the violence and heartbreak. Fear and scarcity will continue to run roughshod over our country. Yes, the violence in Charleston is also about access to guns and, more than likely, mental illness. But it’s also about race.

Our collective stories of race in the US are not easy to own. They are stories of slavery, violence, and systemic dehumanization. We will have to choose courage over comfort. We will have to feel our way through the shame and sorrow. We will have to listen. We will have challenge our resistance and our defensiveness.

We have to keep listening even when we want to scream, “I’m not that way. This isn’t my fault!”

We have to examine and own stereotypes and prejudices. Every single one of us has them. It will be tough.

We will need to sit down with our children and talk about privilege. This means honest conversations about how we were raised and what we need to work on. No blaming or shaming, but truth. It’s not productive to deny how hard we all work for what we have, but it’s not honest to deny that many of us are afforded privileges based on who we are and what we look like.

Will these conversations stop violent hate crimes? No one knows for sure, but we shouldn’t underestimate the power of love and truth-telling.

This is not bigger than us. This is us.

Yes, we need to own a million heartbreaking stories of discrimination and prejudice, and make millions of changes, and hold space for a million tough conversations. But, if each one of us owns one story and makes one change and has one honest conversation where we listen more than defend or offer false comfort – we can do this. There is a way to write a brave new ending to one of the most painful stories in our history. What remains to be seen is if we have the will and courage.

I believe we do.


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  9. I just finished “The GIFTS of IMPERFECTION” and have just begun to read this blog and because so much i have read compels me to introduce myself:

    The events of that day we call 911 and experiences as a first year student in an Episcopal Methodist collaboration Spiritual Director Formation Program, my love of writing re-ignited. When I made my first of 8 trips to both sides of The Wall in Israel Palestine, at the age of 50, I was inspired to realize my childhood dream of being an author and reporter. Within 10 years I became the Senior Non-Arab Correspondent for USA’s The Arab Daily News. Within the last 6 months I authored “FAMILY MATTERS: Addictions, OCD and SUICIDE” after my baby brother died by suicide in Feb. and furthered the saga of Israel’s Nuclear Whistle Blower in “Heroes, Muses and the Saga of Mordechai Vanunu”

  10. Harold Hunt

    Very true indeed, I have just completed my autobiography and with the support of my youngest daughter I dealt with the total story. As true as I wanted it to be there were times when my daughter said, ” Dad you appear to be talking around something” and that helped me greatly to own the complete story for which I now feel satisfied, I now have nothing to fear, no nagging “what if’s”.

  11. Melissa

    This is a great read. I completely agree that we can rewrite our story through action, we’re not doomed to circumstantial failure. There are so many people who aren’t aware that their life, their story has the potential to (1) recreate the future for themselves and (2) help another person make a life changing experience. Thanks for the read,


  12. Vincent Anyakora

    Well thought out and written. It describes exactly what is happening in United States on a continuous basis . But the irony is that the cries of the oppressed fell on deaf ears of the oppressors that continue to subject the oppressed to react in ways to break the laws thereby putting them away where they wanted them for good. A typical example of this is the war Caucasians declare on Black race which is as old as the earth. Their major move was what’s called scramble to Africa. They left their non-resouceful dry continents out of greed with a gun in hand and Biblei in the other to exploit the God-given mineral resources and rich deposits of Africa and wherever they can conquer other races for gains. They slaughtered anyone on their way with weapons (guns) which can’t be compared with bows and arrows, over-powered the Chiefs by killings, imprisonments or exil; conquered their men and women, raped their women, bound the men, boys, some women and girls they wanted for their pleasure, packed them in chains like animals and shipped them in extremely horrible conditions beyond comprehension to European countries and the new-foundland (America. Being subdued and their homes , cultures, tribes, hopes instantly taken away were forced to work in the White man’s plantations like cotton in America which was the major commodity in America that built the framework and the foundation that made America a big nation today. Regardless of what had and still transpiring Caucasians inhumanity to the Black race all the cries of oppression fall on deaf ears because is itheir blood. So why should they be branding Hitler, Stalin, even morden day tyrants like Sadam Hussein, Putin, Un of N. Korea, Iran etc as personification of evil. Are they different from them? Don’t think so. They have instituted slavery and exploitation of the Black in African and African Americans in morden years and gave another names

  13. How different the world would be if people were willing to embrace their stories – from glory to doom to all that lies between.

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  15. Bob Joynt

    You rocked the house yesterday at the Willow Creek Global Leadership Conference. The “lake story” really helps in defining how we make up our stories and how we can rewrite the ending.

  16. Jen

    I jusst heard you speak at the 2015 GLS! I hope the ending to my story includes meeting you in person. God be with you on your journey of beautiful imperfection.

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  18. AG

    This powerful video does an excellent job of demonstrating privilege.

    Thank you for this post; it was exactly what I needed today!

  19. Kas

    I want to share with you my gratitude for your book “Gifts of imperfections”.
    Few days ago I asked my brother for a favour… so I sent him an e-mail. Few hours later (he still did not reply) I was feeling really shitty, I was stressed, filled with fear of rejection… to take the edge of the situation I started reading it and what I realized is that I am experiencing shit storm of shame, my comfortable place was being independent, now I am working on transferring it into sharing my feelings, vulnerability, accepting myself etc.
    Thank you a lot, for being brave enough to make this effort of writing books that are sooo challenging. It is very helpful.

  20. Kerry Sadowitz

    I have to take issue with your supposition that the shooter in Charleston was mentally ill. Sometimes people with brain disorders do violent things, but much more often people with brain disorders are the victims of violence. The press seldom reports those stories. Terrorists kill. Many members of the Ku Klux Klan engage in violence. Policemen shoot innocent people. Are they all mentally ill? I think you should be more careful when you throw the words “mentally ill” around.

    • Kmarie

      Thank you Brene for the life changing work you have done and challenging and inspiring people. Kerry; Thank you for saying this because I feel ableism is such a huge part of our culture that we have used the term ‘mentally ill” as a scapegoat to explain what we feel is unexplainable. I have Asperger’s Syndrome and as I wrote about here- it is unfortunate people make the prejudice that it causes violent crimes:
      Brene – you helped me own my story with your gifts of imperfection. I understand that “mental illness” is the new frontier of civil rights and most of us don’t even understand terms like “ableism” “Neurodiversity” and embracing the different ways the brain works…but there is a lot of shame put on to what a different brain IS. It’s time to change that story and I hope that perhaps by my comment, your large platform of those who respect your words will also hear that maybe it’s time to change that story we tell ourselves too? I would not call Aspergers a mental illness nor many differences or Nuerodiverse ways of being that are labelled mental illness such. I would say that sometimes something breaks inside, in “normally” brained individuals (nuerotypicals) and in those with a different chemical make up. Your books aid in the struggle we all face to choose between violence/shame ect and self owned stories which encourage the opposite. I hope that perhaps the wording could possibly start changing in the way we tell the stories of “mental illness”? I hope that one by one we can learn how to also step out of that unintentional shaming of words and find the descriptive like “Neurodiverse” and not link mental differences to crimes all the time- just like now most of us would never link differences in skin colour to crimes. We all have the capability to be violent but we also all have the capability to BE in a beautiful accepting of ourselves and others.
      Thank you for your time and for the inspiring concepts you bring to the table of life.

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  22. Darren L Moore

    Today I was looking at Wimbledon on ESPN and saw several commercials for Cadillac and was taken aback by their use of “Dare Greatly”. They also used the Roosevelt quote of “… It’s not the critic who counts…” This is why I absolutely loath looking at most commercials. I bet the person who came up with this ad read all your books and said cool I will use this to hopefully convince people that if they buy a car then they have dared greatly and possibly doing something that Dr Brown supports. Soooo disappointed :>(