Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

The Power of Our Own Story

Written by: on April 15, 2024

Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts., by Brené Brown came just as I was hit with a wave of self-doubt while making the final decision for my doctoral project. My husband and peer group have borne the brunt of my doubts and confusion. I appreciate their patience. Dr. Brown came through for me this week as well. She seems to have that effect on people.

I had the pleasure of hearing Brené Brown speak at Singapore Management University in 2013. I wondered how this outspoken American female researcher and great story-teller would do in a such a conservative culture uncomfortable with discussing emotions in general, let alone shame and vulnerability in particular. She did not disappoint! After humorously recounting the longest flight ever to a region she had never visited, her adjustments to the heat and humidity, and beauty of the city-state, she quickly captured her audience’s attention.

While I noted some discomfort in the lecture hall from the more senior members of the audience, I knew her message was hitting home when a young university student with tears streaming down her face stood up to tell her story. This young woman bravely expressed how her emotions and experiences had been shut down by family and societal expectations, she felt seen as Dr. Brown spoke and wanted to know how to create change in her cultural context. You could have heard a pin drop. It was a powerful moment. With that simple act she dared to lead! She took a leap of faith to trust herself and tell her story.

Processing my shame-based story

I was immediately intrigued by the section titled Braving Trust. As I read, I began to see how easily I slipped back into an old shame-story that left me mistrusting myself and my abilities. Brown writes, “…the foundation of trust with others is really based on our ability to trust ourselves.”[1] In other words, trusting myself is pretty important if I want to follow through with the next steps of my NPO. She explains that after experiencing a setback, disappointment, or failure we easily create a blanket statement, what I call a shame belief, which Dr. Brown states sounds like, “I don’t trust myself anymore.” To which I quickly added, “No one is going to follow my lead, I can’t even pick a solution!” This is where I started slipping and got overwhelmed trying to pick one prototype out of three from which my stakeholders chose in the first place. So, I followed her advice and sat with a simple setback and went through her BRAVING Inventory.[2]

What came to mind was a ministry situation in a which my calling was questioned. It came down to boundaries and accountability. My unwillingness to set boundaries with the other person and not hold them accountable for their behavior triggered feelings of doubt and mistrust. Boundaries are my responsibility and I let myself down by not setting them. I also blamed the other person for my lack and the pain that ensued. What is strange about this event is that it was decades ago. Such is the power of a shame-based story. Today, my stakeholders are supportive, respectful, enthusiastic, and affirm my calling. The truth is they aren’t concerned about where I start. They’re genuinely happy to be on the journey with me and excited about the project. Setbacks and missteps are inevitable. I will hold myself accountable, learn from my mistakes, and practice vulnerability. I don’t need to hold onto that old shame story or any others that come my way.

The Power of  Sharing our Stories

Kim Dabbs, author of You Belong Here: The Power of Being Seen, Heard, and Valued on Your own Terms, discusses the influence of lingering identity. She writes, “Our lingering identity is our default position that’s rooted in old stories we tell ourselves about who we are and what we deserve. It’s hardwired into our brains and impacts how we respond under stress.”[3] Our stories are powerful, but we need to check out whether they are rooted in shame. They have the power to hold us back or set us free. If we don’t risk the vulnerability to share them, they will keep us from becoming who God longs for us to be. They might prevent us from supporting others along the way.

I was particularly inspired by Dr. Brown’s point about courage. She writes of courage as being contagious and goes onto say, “—we have to be vigilant about creating a culture in which people feel safe, seen, heard, and respected.”[4] This is at the heart of my NPO as together my stakeholders and I look to create a culture of care for ministry leaders and their spouses in which they feel seen, heard, and loved. It also points out the courage it will take to risk telling our stories, to speak of our struggles, and the empathy required to build safe, authentic relationships. Dr. Brown reminds us that, “…empathy is the most powerful connecting and trust-building tool that we have, and it’s the antidote to shame.”[5] Sharing our stories with those who listen with empathy and compassion reduces shame and frees us to lead. This is where courage begins.

Trusting Myself and My Story

As I move closer to making my final decision I shouldn’t be surprised at where I’m landing with my project. At our annual pastor’s conference in the fall of 2022 I was asked to share about my experience in ministry. I shared the shame-story above as well as others in which I felt alone, isolated, wounded, and desperately wanting to remain faithful to my calling. I wasn’t comfortable going first, but something seemed to break as the other women in attendance one-by-one began to share the hard parts of their ministry stories. I’m coming full-circle to my beginning point and to my own story.

Thank you all for a wonderful semester!


[1] Brené Brown, Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts. (New York, NY: Random House, 2018), 233.

[2] Brené Brown, Dare to Lead, 234.

[3] Kim Dabbs, You Belong Here: The Power of Being Seen, Heard, and Valued on Your own Terms (Oakland, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publications, 2024), 102.

[4] Brené Brown, Dare to Lead, 12.

[5] Ibid., 160.

About the Author

Jenny Dooley

Jenny served as a missionary in Southeast Asia for 28 years. She currently resides in Gig Harbor, Washington, where she works as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Certified Spiritual Director in private practice with her husband, Eric. Jenny loves to listen and behold the image of God in others. She enjoys traveling, reading, and spending time with her family which include 5 amazing adult children, 3 awesome sons-in-law, a beautiful daughter-in-law, and 8 delightful grandchildren.

12 responses to “The Power of Our Own Story”

  1. mm Kim Sanford says:

    I’m struck by your opening story about a young woman in Singapore hearing Brené Brown speak and being moved to tears. The first time I read Dr. Brown’s work I was likewise impressed, but I had serious doubts if her work would translate (in the metaphorical sense) into other cultures. I wrestled with this for a long time. Ultimately, vulnerability and shame look very different in different cultures but they are universal human emotions and Brown’s work speaks powerfully to this. Thanks for you (vulnerable) post. I always appreciate hearing from you!

    • Jenny Dooley says:

      I went into that lecture wondering the same things and was pleasantly surprised. While discussing vulnerability and shame may look different in other cultures, we are all human and have those experiences and emotions. It seems telling our stories is a powerful tool to reduce shame and increase vulnerability in safe spaces with safe people. I am grateful for an experience of that with her in an Asian context and can attest to the effectiveness of telling our stories, even the shameful ones. Have a great summer!

  2. Kally Elliott says:

    Jenny, your story of the woman in Singapore daring to lead was touching and encouraging!

    I too have trouble trusting myself and difficulty making decisions because of that lack of trust. I’ve struggled with my NPO and am not very happy with it but am moving ahead because…well…two more semesters… I’m telling myself it’s about learning the process and development that comes from that learning – not just about the project itself.

    Anyway, I appreciate your vulnerability in this post! Thank you for sharing!

    • Jenny Dooley says:

      Hi Kally,
      It is reassuring to hear I am not alone in making decisions! I appreciate your perspective and what you are telling yourself, “…it’s about learning the process and development that comes from that learning – not just about the project itself.” I needed to hear that. Thank you!
      In reality none of my prototypes are bad places to start. I am reminded it is a sliver of what I want to do overall and a launching point. I can’t wait to hear where you landed and all that will come from this amazing journey we are on together. Have a wonderful summer!

  3. mm Tim Clark says:

    Jenny your courage is contagious to me!!!

    Thanks for your post and for the very necessary work you are doing for ministry leaders. God has given you a special grace for that. I honestly can’t wait to see what your project looks like and I’m confident I’ll be able to benefit in some way from your efforts.

    See you in DC.

    • Jenny Dooley says:

      Hi Tim,
      Thank you for your kind words. They give me courage!
      I have one last meeting with a key stakeholder tonight, so my final decision is coming down to the wire. I am grateful to be on this journey with you and the entire cohort. Have you landed on your MVP yet?
      Have a great summer! Looking forward to D.C. as I have never been there.

  4. mm Russell Chun says:

    Hi Jenney,
    Something you wrote, “My unwillingness to set boundaries with the other person and not hold them accountable for their behavior triggered feelings of doubt and mistrust.”

    Leapt out to me today. I mentioned that my adopted daughter (23 years/highly functional but with fetal alcohol syndrome) left our home last week Saturday. Your phrase of boundaries and accountability are what we are working on now.

    We have set boundaries and are holding her accountable. She in response, has moved out of the house, no job, just a car (which I think she is sleeping in). Sigh….

    Life intrudes.


    • Jenny Dooley says:

      I am standing with you in prayer for your family, your daughter, and wisdom moving forward. That is a difficult and worrisome situation.

      Setting boundaries is hard and they go both ways, which is even harder. When I think back to the times when I didn’t set boundaries(which lead me to not speak up for myself and put up with some bad behavior) I realized I could have done so with love, both towards myself and the person that was wounding (spiritually) me. I’ve learned that a good boundary supports and is loving towards everyone involved. That doesn’t make setting them any easier.

  5. Jennifer Vernam says:

    Wow. Kim Dabbs‘ book sounds really interesting. I am copying it to my list reads I want to tackle in May. I, like you, really appreciate Brown’s treatment of shame. I think the power of that concept translates to so many situations we are in where are becoming our own worst enemy. I am so glad you now have a supportive group around you to spur you on!

    Enjoy the break – and, yes, lets prioritize that walk in DC!

    • Jenny Dooley says:

      Hi Jennifer, Thanks for your comments. I hope you enjoy the book by Kim Dabbs. It’s actually a very easy read and great for personal reflection. While I firmly believe our identity comes from God it can be challenging to remain in that identity as a beloved child of God. Though she doesn’t name God as the source she does give practical steps to unpack identities that get in the way of owning our loved identity. Here’s her website. https://tobelonging.com/
      I’m looking forward to our walk in DC!

  6. mm Jonita Fair-Payton says:

    Thank you for sharing the story of the young woman in Singapore being brought to tears. I was powerful…Brene(using her first name because she is my BFF in my head) has that effect of people.

    This was a beautiful post, Jenny. Thank you for being such a treasured friend.

    • Jenny Dooley says:

      Thank you, Jonita.
      I ended up using a bit of Brene Brown in my Topic Expertise based on how she impacted her listeners in Singapore. So grateful for your friendship and that you braved the longest flight ever to experience Singapore with me. Here’s to many more adventures! Great and congratulate everyone for me at graduation. So bummed I have to miss it.

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