Book Review
Title: "Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead"
Author: Brené Brown
Publisher: Gotham Books, 2012; 256 pages; $26

Have you ever had a moment where you felt like a superhero, only in reverse? That imposter syndrome-type feeling, where you feel like by day you wield a polished-to-perfection exterior at work, exuding the message that you have everything under control, but then, on your way home, you morph back to regular old you, struggling to pay your bills on time and to lose that last 15 pounds?

Have you ever had a moment where you realized you are the cobbler by day, only to get home and find your children completely shoeless?

Well, social work researcher Brené Brown had such a moment, to the 10th power, and it was actually occasioned by the substance of her work.

Brown went through life committed to fixing what’s broken and avoiding anything messy or emotional, which actually led her to choose a career path in research. She’d devoted her career to taking social and emotional subjects and measuring, even mastering, them.

But when she did what she (ostensibly) hoped others would do with her research and applied it to herself, she realized that she, personally, had only two of the 10 characteristics she’d identified of wholehearted people in her professional work. That led to the reverse superhero moment, which spiraled into a breakdown-turned-spiritual awakening.

This yearlong breakdown was undoubtedly uncomfortable for her, but it was an auspicious event for the rest of us, as it led Brown to relate the powerful, potentially life-changing insights she gleaned from it in her new book, "Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead."

For me, the concept of a book on vulnerability sounded a little woo-woo, but the inclination to dismiss Brown’s work and takeaways dissolved instantly once I previewed her viral TED Talks. She’s decidedly un-woo-woo. In fact, she’s kind of like me!

She loves order and control, the ability to predict and manage things. She seemed like the type of woman I could relate to: someone who reads the health studies and then applies them in an effort to minimize risks; someone who takes all those "10 tips" lists to heart in an effort to fix what’s broken and avoid life’s nasty surprises.

So, I gave the book a chance — and for your sake, I hope you do, too — especially if you’re a savvy type, the type of individual who tries to plan, predict, control and avoid things, from your finances to your relationships, in an effort to live a great life.

"Daring Greatly" is a manifesto about one of the most essential, most neglected, most human of qualities: vulnerability. It masterfully makes the case that truly living a great life is not possible without the courage and resilience that is possessed only by those who embrace the risks of being vulnerable.

Defining vulnerability as "uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure," Brown begins "Daring Greatly" with a smart and soulful deconstruction of the vulnerability myths she’s encountered in her research — here are a few:

1. Vulnerability is weakness. Brown singles this myth out as the most dangerous of them all. While it is true that vulnerability involves risk, because it is actually "the core of all emotions and feelings," to avoid feeling vulnerable because you perceive it as a liability deprives us of "the emotions and experiences we crave, [including] love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity," among others.

In fact, Brown points out, "One could argue that weakness often stems from a lack of vulnerability — when we don’t acknowledge how and where we’re tender, we’re more at risk of being hurt."

2. "I don’t do vulnerability." Brown says that life doesn’t offer a "get out of vulnerability free card," and points out that because vulnerability is a fact of life, those who buy into the myth that they don’t "do" vulnerability often end up acting scared, angry, judgmental and otherwise inconsistently with who they want to be when life inevitably makes them feel emotionally exposed.

3. Vulnerability is letting it all hang out. Brown explains that vulnerability involves sharing and exposure "based on mutuality … boundaries and trust." By definition, then, vulnerability is "not oversharing, it’s not purging, it’s not indiscriminate disclosure and it’s not celebrity-style social media information dumps." Well, amen.

After undoing these myths, "Daring Greatly" goes on to:

  • explore the ascendancy of shame in our society, and how to combat it;
  • offer readers systematic guidance on how (and why) to deactivate the defense mechanisms and emotional armor most of us have constructed over our lifetimes precisely to avoid being vulnerable;
  • and provide rich, new frameworks for creating engaged cultures and fostering wholeheartedness and connection in our families, workplaces and communities.

"Daring Greatly" is a book of a few intellectual sparks and a-ha moments, and a few dozen of those deep seismic paradigm shifts, i.e., those moments when you feel like the sentences you just read are causing the tectonic plates of who you always have been and how you always have lived to grind into a slightly different formation, one that frees you from fear and worry and anxiety and control freak-ishness and begins to position you to experience the risks of vulnerability and open you up to the highest heights of human connection, dream fulfillment and joy.

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