I love books. I’m always reading several ones at the same time – in several languages if possible. They are my companions, my friends, so that I will simply have to mention a few of the ones I’ve read from time to time. In all my gratitude to their authors and everyone else who made them possible.
I’d like to start with Brené Brown’s books, which one after another all came to me at the right time. My first one, The Gifts of Imperfection, I read lying in a hammock at Lake Toba in Indonesia trying to handle all my shame and coming to terms with all these parts of me that I had tried to cover up for too long. The next one, Daring Greatly, I read back home after having been away for a year, confronted again with all the demons I had been taking a time off from. And the third one, Rising Strong, came out just now that I’m trying to dare again – or not to stop daring. Almost three years ago, something happened that shook me to my very core, something that I still don’t understand and most probably never will. Something that at the same time has also woken me up, forced me to leave my comfort zone that I had been tired of for too long anyway, since it was never as comfortable as I’d like to believe. I fell…to my very bottom of everything – in some way. And it still hurts tremendously. Maybe it always will, since we are no machines, and some things just do hurt and we can’t avoid them. But as much as it pains me, it’s also exactly this pain what cracked me wide open and made me go a lot deeper than I might ever have if everything had just gone smoothly.
In The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown talks about such an unraveling as a time „when you are challenged by the universe to let go of who you think you are supposed to be and to embrace who you are“. And isn’t that what in the end life is all about…? She talks a lot about shame, vulnerability and the concept of wholehearted living that she defines as: „cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough. It’s going to bed at night thinking, Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging.“ It’s facing uncertainty, exposure and emotional risks and knowing that I’m enough.
Her ten guideposts for wholehearted living are:
1. Cultivating authenticity and letting go of what people think
2. Self-compassion vs. perfectionism
3. A resilient spirit vs. numbing and powerlessness
4. Gratitude and joy vs. scarcity and fear of the dark
5. Intuition and trusting faith vs. the need for certainty
6. Creativity vs. comparison
7. Play and rest vs. exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self-worth
8. Calm and stillness vs. anxiety as a lifestyle
9. Meaningful work vs. self-doubt and „supposed to“
10. Laughter, song and dance vs. being cool and „always in control“
As she points out, a belief in our worthiness doesn’t just happen, but that we have to make it happen by understanding these guideposts as choices and daily practices and that we can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.
In Daring Greatly, she takes it all further, and it’s the one book by her I like most. She talks more about shame and vulnerability and also explores the role they play for example at work, in parenting or in social work, as she studied social work herself. She points out that social work isn’t about fixing, but about leaning into the discomfort and uncertainty and thereby holding open an empathic space in which people can find their own way. How beautifully said…
She explains the power shame has over us that makes us do all these things we don’t want to do that shame us even more and how it highly correlates with addiction, depression, eating disorder or bullying. The less we talk about shame, the more control it has over us, with perfectionism being a form of it, a defensive move, a twenty-ton shield we carry around in order to protect us, but that in fact prevents us from being seen. She discusses how perfectionism teaches our children to value what other people think over what they think or how they feel and thereby to perform, please and prove instead of being who they truly are.
When we spend our lives waiting until we’re perfect, which we never will be, we sacrifice relationships and opportunities and turn our backs on our gifts, contributions to society only we can make and out of fear never will. While healthy striving is self-focused, perfectionism is other-focused and more about perception that internal motivation, just that there’s no way to control other people’s perceptions. When we invariably do experience shame and blame, we believe it’s because we weren’t good enough and try even harder. But suffering and feelings of personal inadequacy are part of the human experience, something we simply can’t avoid as much as we’d like to do so.
Experiencing vulnerability therefore is not a choice. And the only choice we have is how we’re going to respond when we are confronted with it. When we don’t acknowledge how and were we’re tender, we’re more at risk of being hurt, and by foreclosing on our emotional life out of fear, we walk away from the very thing that gives purpose and meaning to living.
The third book by her that I read – or at least started to read -, Rising Strong, just came out a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, she lost me there. Maybe I just wasn’t in the mood or had read enough for the moment, but I stopped reading somewhere in the fourth chapter. It was too repetitious for my taste… But a few pieces I will take from that bit I read are as follows:
„[W]hen faced with either-or dilemmas, the first question we should ask is, Who benefits by forcing people to choose?“
„[W]hen we stop caring what people think and stop feeling hurt by cruelty, we lose our ability to connect. But when we’re defined by what people think, we lose the courage to be vulnerable. Therefore, we need to be selective about the feedback we let into our lives. For me, if you’re not in the arena getting your ass kicked, I’m not interested in your feedback.“
„[W]hen we make the choice to dare greatly, we sign up to get our asses kicked. We can choose courage or we can choose comfort, but we can’t have both. Not at the same time.“
„If we are brave enough often enough, we will fall; this is the physics of vulnerability. When we commit to showing up and risking falling, we are actually committing to falling. […] Daring is saying, ,I know I will eventually fail and I’m still all in’“.
Brené Brown summarizes these three books as follows:
The Gifts of Imperfection – Be you.
Daring Greatly – Be all in.
Rising Strong – Fall. Get up. Try again.
If you still don’t know if her books interest you or not, best listen to her inspiring TED talk, in which she conveys her message a lot better and clearer than I ever could: http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability (it’s available with subtitles in many different languages).