When you turn on Netflix this week, you’ll see an entirely new kind of special. It’s not quite a documentary, it’s definitely not stand-up, but it’s somewhere in-between. Brené Brown’s The Call to Courage is a bit of an anomaly in the most Brené way possible. Think of it as a Ted Talk, but supersized.
The No. 1 New York Times bestselling author, who has penned six books — including her latest, Dare to Lead — has a folkloric beginning. She gave a Ted Talk in 2010 as a distinguished, if relatively unknown outside the world of academia, social scientist. “The Power of Vulnerability” is now the most-watched Ted Talk of all time, with 39 million views and counting. The Call to Courage brings together some of the greatest hits of her work over the past near-decade, combining broader themes (like how to choose courage over comfort) and more specific life advice (like the need to hold “vacation come-to-Jesus talks” before family trips).
A Netflix special seems like a natural next step for most everyone in the entertainment space these days, but for Brown, the decision, like everything she does professionally, didn’t come without a great amount of forethought.
“I thought, how is there a way that we can amplify the work globally,” Brown explains to EW, noting that in the last month alone her team turned down over 1,400 speaking engagement invitations. “People are really interested in the work, but in order for it to be meaningful I have to live the work — I have to be practicing what I’m learning from the research. I can’t be on the road all the time.”
For someone who spent much of her career as a university researcher (it’s easy to assume that all of her time is taken up writing books, but she’s currently the Huffington-Brené Brown Endowed Chair at the University of Houston), it could be assumed that Brown would be tempted to say yes to every request that comes her way. And she admits herself that some of the offers she gets are very shiny and exciting. But she uses a very specific filter.
“It’s not about me, it’s ‘does it serve the work?’” said Brown. “And you know, Netflix is in 190-plus countries. There is nothing that will ever serve the work like this.”
It’s also guaranteed to amplify her stardom even more. The author insists that she isn’t widely recognizable when she’s out in public, but she has an extremely dedicated fandom — there is no such thing as a casual Brené Brown fan. Unlike a traditional celebrity, her followers often feel comfortable tapping her on the shoulder at Trader Joe’s to say hello (that really happens). She’s famously a self-professed introvert, so putting herself out there on such a large platform certainly presents challenges.
“I’m always really humbled by it and it’s fun, but sometimes it’s weird and can be overwhelming,” she says with a good-natured laugh. “A couple times it’s been weirdly mob-y, but only in places you’d expect like Whole Foods.”
Brown isn’t a therapist or a self-help author, but her research (and, more importantly, her findings) has changed so many people’s lives that they often feel compelled to ask her for advice anyways.
“People normally ask me, if you’re not good at vulnerability or you’re scared, where do you start,” says Brown. “What I usually tell people is that they need to understand what is your armor, how did it get there, and where and why do you use it? It’s a hard question. But how do you self-protect?”
It’s impossible to have a conversation with Brown and not spend most of the time discussing shame and vulnerability — they are the pillars of her work. And as she is facing down the debut of an hour-long show on perhaps the most widely-watched platform, it begs the question of her own vulnerabilities.
“Oh my God, the Netflix special is vulnerability to me,” she exclaims. “And it’s not just the Netflix special, it’s everything that goes along with it. The billboards, the press stuff, that’s really hard for me. Like a photo shoot — oh man, that is just brutally vulnerable. It’s vulnerability inching into shame attack.”
It’s just the latest in her many pinch-me life moments. In The Call to Courage, she talks about the surprise she felt as she watched the views of her very first Ted Talk climb up into the tens of millions. Or there was the time she flew to Chicago to tape Oprah’s SuperSoul Conversations — and, moments after wrapping the interview, Oprah introduced her to Maya Angelou. But no matter how many brushes with greatness Brown has, she’s still flummoxed by all the attention and spectacle. While en route to this very interview, she had one of her most surreal moments of the week of press.
“There’s a billboard of me on Wilshire Boulevard,” she says, wide-eyed. “I almost passed out. I have my daughter with me, everyone in the car was screaming. I was on the floorboard.”