Book Review: Daring Greatly by Brené Brown

I have made no secret of my superfan status when it comes to Brené Brown so reading one of her books was the perfect start to the year for me. When I started my obsession with Brown I went to her website to see in what order she suggested reading her books. Her recommendation is to start with “The Gifts of Imperfection” followed by “Daring Greatly” and then “Rising Strong”.  I did start with “The Gifts of Imperfection”, and I loved it. Then I read “Braving the Wilderness”, because it was her new book at the time. It was good and definitely timely. So, I was excited to finally get to “Daring Greatly”.  I now wonder about saying that I loved “The Gifts of Imperfection” because if I loved it, I’m not quite sure what adjective to use to describe how I feel about “Daring Greatly”.  It was that good!

The title of the book comes from a Theodore Roosevelt quote from his “Citizenship in A Republic” also known as “The Man in the Arena” speech. The end of the quote is “who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly…”. If you watch or listen to any interviews with Brown from the time when this book was first released, she discusses the importance of this quote and how it was lifechanging for her. 

Brown is a research professor and has spent almost 20 years studying vulnerability, courage worthiness and shame. In this book she explores how by being vulnerable we are being brave.  One of my favorite quotes from the book is that we need to ask ourselves, “What’s worth doing even if you fail?”  Have there ever been times in your life when you have thought about doing something new but didn’t because you worried that you wouldn’t be good enough? If you have then this book will be a good read for you because it is all about how we get past that feeling of not being good enough so that we can dare greatly and take on change even if we might fail.

She also spends a lot of time in the book talking about shame. Chapter 3 is about understanding and combating shame. Shame and guilt and vulnerability are similar but at the same time very different. When talking about shame vs guilt Brown makes this distinction, “Guilt = I did something bad, Shame = I am bad” Guilt is an uncomfortable but helpful feeling while shame is destructive.  This was my favorite chapter in the book. As I started the chapter I was reminded of times in my life when I didn’t try things because I was afraid of failing but as I continued reading, I was also reminded of many times in my life when I was vulnerable and did take risks.

In Chapter 4 Brown discusses “Vulnerability Shields”.  She starts with the 3 main ones: Foreboding Joy, Perfectionism and Numbing.  Foreboding Joy is when you can’t stop and appreciate the joyful things that are happening in your life because you keep expecting something bad to happen.  One way that she suggests to combat this is to practice gratitude and really try to appreciate the joy in the small moments of life. She described perfectionism as “self-destructive and an unattainable goal”.  I like the way she continues her description of perfectionism as a continuum that we are all on somewhere. Where you are on the perfectionism scale is determined by how much you are willing to embrace your mess.  Learning to accept ourselves and embrace our flaws helps to remind yourself that it’s okay not to be perfect. Numbing is just what it sounds like. People find different ways to numb their emotions. It could be through drugs, alcohol, food, work, etc.  Ways that we can avoid numbing behaviors include setting boundaries and having a good support system that you can lean on when needed.  The book concludes with chapters on leaders and parenting with vulnerability.  

One of the reasons that I enjoy reading books by Brené Brown is her use of storytelling. She inserts stories from her research and from her own life into her books which, for me, make them more relatable. She has a sense of humor that come through in her books as well.  I like that her books are based on research but do not feel like you are reading a research paper. 

More importantly her books just make sense to me.  I can see myself in the things that she describes. We all have vulnerabilities that we need to overcome in life. We all have fears that we have to face so that we can live our best lives. This quote from the final chapter of the book ties it all together, “There will be discomfort when dealing with shame and vulnerability, but that discomfort will lead to growth.”  You may not all become Brené Brown superfans like I have, but I think everyone can find something in this book that they will be able to relate to. I think there will be some story or advice that will help everyone as you continue to dare greatly.

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