Daring Greatly

by Brene Brown

Every so often a self-help book comes along that's really worth reading. Because there are so few, I typically don't review them.

I know that's a generally damning statement, but having read many of them in my life I finally concluded that there are only three or four of them, really, and that I've read them all. They are mostly just variations on a theme, and there are simply a limited number of themes.

The plus side of that is that the way the author approached a particular problem (health, human interactions, growth and personal development, pathological behavior being the main topics) may or may not resonate with a particular reader, even though the overall advice is pretty much the same from book to book, so with so many choices on the topic of weight control and overall health, you can typically find something that appealed to your way of tackling a problem.

This book, however, isn't that same old thing rehashed, and for that I am grateful. This book, simply put, is about knowing when to say: Good enough, you can stop now and enjoy.

That's a very profound and, yes, daring thing to say in the self-help community. The overall approach of the "life coach" is to poke, prod, urge, demand, tease, trick or in some way get you to do more and better than what you're already doing. After all, the reason you picked the book up, or went to the guru, was because you felt there was something lacking in your life, and you wanted to find a way that, with relatively little pain, helped you FIX IT.

Brown wants you to find the courage to simply stand there and say: "Here I am, and that's not bad and I guess I'll get on with life and enjoy it." She says, "When we spend our lives waiting until we're perfect or bulletproof before we walk into the arena (life), we ultimately sacrifice relationships and opportunities that may not be recoverable, we squander our precious time, and we turn our backs on our gifts, those unique contributions that only we can make."

I recall my dad telling me, following a stroke he had at 63, not to wait to do the things I wanted to do, but to jump in and do them now, as there was no guarantee there would be a then. He had learned this the hard way. I never forgot him saying that to me, and when an opportunity presents itself to simply go with it and enjoy, I try to call that conversation to mind (though that is much harder than it sounds). More recently a divorced woman friend told me she was working on herself through a series of self-improvement courses because she wanted to "learn to be the perfect wife" before she could start dating. I couldn't help silently wondering if she'd already been out with - and passed by - her "perfect" husband, or at least someone she could have had a really happy marriage with, if she'd put less demand on herself to offer herself only when she felt "perfect."

So when I began to read this book, I thought I should send my friend a copy and say, "Hey, maybe you're already perfect enough!"

Brown goes on to suggest that "Perfect and bulletproof are seductive, but they don't exist in human experience. (We must be willing to) engage. Rather than sit on the sidelines and hurling judgement and advice, we must dare to show up and let ourselves be seen."

The phenomenon of Brown's book is thanks to an TED talk that she gave. If you've not seen any of the TED talks, Google this topic, and take the time to find a YouTube talk on a subject of interest to you, generally, Technology, Enlightenment and Design, but I've seen them on a wide, wide range of topics. What they really try to do is put breakthrough thinkers' ideas out there for us to sample, think about, dismiss, or dig into.

Giving a TED talk is about as vulnerable as you're going to get, because your thoughts will be held up against some of the greatest thinkers of our time. And Brown acknowledges that vulnerability was not her strong suit. "It's excruciating." That says it loud and clear.

Of course, any good self-help book is going to help you get the point, and get from here to there, and Brown delivers.

First, she dangles the reward: by daring, by being vulnerable, you are open to experiences and connections, and without them, life is a pretty sad affair. And then she delivers a formula: the 10 Guideposts of Imperfection.

I was liking this. Not the formula for having a perfect figure, or just the right thing to say when you're trying to talk to a recalcitrant kid or unhappy mate. But a list of "to-dos" for being Just Me. So, in a nutshell, she suggests:
1. Stop caring what other people think
2. Give yourself a break
3. Get back up and try again (be resilient)
4. Trust that there's enough of what matters to go around (and help yourself to what you want!)
5. Trust your intuition
6. Enjoy your creativity (you don't need a degree in "creative!")
7. Give yourself time to play and rest
8. Develop the ability to be calm and still
9. Learn the difference between "supposed to" and "want to"
10. Let go and don't worry about being "cool!"

While it's a 10-point plan (and yeah, we all like lists!), each of these is really just another way to come at the problem of never feeling adequate.

The problem with "enough," of course, in our culture, is that we are all in hyperdrive when it comes to comparisons. We have television, FaceBook, magazines, the person next door, highly visible exotic lifestyles (once upon a time, down on the farm, you didn't even know there was a restaurant where they held your chair out for you, so when mom put dinner on the table it was easy to feel that was enough!), the "entitlement" generation who have grown up having everything they do applauded and who expect to run the company at 24. We look around us and we always come up short, because no matter what, there will always be someone who at least appears to be healthier, happier, and more together than we are. So we tend to head down the path of either disengaging (not trying at all), or over-achieving (trying too hard).

As Brown puts it, the "core issues (for most of us) are the same: fear, disengagement, and yearning for more courage."

Brown is the first one to admit that many of the problems we face are stitched into the fabric of our society. For example, "when it comes to the staggering numbers of those now unemployed and underemployed, I think every single one of us has been directly affected or is close to someone who has been directly affected (by the zeitgeist of our country)." Some of the things we're faced with we really cannot do anything about, or can do very little to alter. Some forms of scarcity are, these days, a simple fact of life, whether one is living in a third world nation and lacks food, clothing, and shelter, or living in a developed nation such as ours and lacks tons of opportunity and the top spot.

Either way, she suggests attacking the problem with "wholeheartedness." Go ahead and dig in, knowing that it's the digging that is the reward, not necessarily the outcome.

We like, these days, to talk about "outcomes-based" everything: education, medicine, parenting - whatever. And there is some merit in that. A doctor who never improves the health of a single patient needs to think about the "why" of that. Of course, the opposite side of that coin is also true: eventually, all of that doctor's patients will die. Brown is counseling us to find a place between the two extremes, and giving it your reasonable best with a reasonable expectation of success, learn to feel satisfaction in a job well done.

This is, quite simply, a self-help book that hits the mark extremely well for its time. Perhaps this, as well as the positive approach the writer takes, is what impressed me most, and made the book worth the time I invested in reading it. Each era - whether it is a 10 year span, or a hundred, has a set of demands it places on the people who live though it. Perhaps its a war, or a technological revolution, a social sea-change, a plague or other natural disaster. What is asked of us in one era will not necessarily be identical to what is asked of us fifteen years later. Brown has, I think, identified the challenges of living happily at this time, in this culture, and has provided us with a positive way to approach those challenges, the endgame being a life as fully, and happily lived as possible. And the reassurance that that is "enough."


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