Book Review: Daring Greatly

daring-greatlyBrown, Brené. Daring greatly : how the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent, and lead. Gotham Books, 2012. Also available as a Kindle eBook.

Last week the NYT best seller Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn landed on my desk.  At the time, I was reviewing a complicated and challenging book, Daring Greatly by Brené Brown, for this week’s post.  The novel was a distraction and after a quick reading, I realized that both main characters in the book would have benefited from Brown’s serious work.  For example, the female protagonist Amy turns herself into Cool Girl to attract the man she loves.  But over time Cool Girl is unsustainable, and two years later Amy dissolves into her true self, a disappointment to her husband.   If only these characters had the courage to put their true selves out there, daring greatly, from the beginning.

In Daring Greatly, sociologist Brené Brown reports on data collected over 12 years, interviews with men and women about their meaningful life experiences.   Her research uncovers a shift in social climate, which Brown names a culture of scarcity, a pervasive sense that there is never enough – money, time, opportunities, rewards, sleep…  People never feel  good enough, thin enough, smart enough, successful enough.  Our culture obsesses on celebrities, and normal people feel unexceptional, too inferior to be noticed, to be loved, or to belong.  People feel unworthy, and judge their personal value in comparison with others.  They hide behind a mask of perfection and perform to please other people, instead of themselves.

Opposing our culture of scarcity is Brown’s concept of Wholehearted Living, cultivating an authentic life, defined by compassion, connection and courage.  Wholehearted people nurture a personal sense of worthiness, accepting themselves just as they are – flawed, but worthy of love and belonging.  They resist perfectionism and comparisons with others.  They let go of anxiety and self-doubt.  They resist the pressures of our culture and “dare greatly” to risk creating something new or to struggle with something difficult, like overcoming adversity or standing up for themselves.  To live a wholehearted life is to be vulnerable to hurt, fear and failure.  Much of Brown’s book is about vulnerability, which she calls the core of human experience.

Daring Greatly presents many compelling ideas but understanding this book requires concentration. Concepts like scarcity, vulnerability, shame and wholeheartedness are defined clearly but the connections between them are not intuitive.  The last chapter of the book, Wholehearted Parenting, is the most engaging, showing how to apply Brown’s concepts in daily life with children.   Brené Brown also explains her concepts in her TED talk, which is consistently among the most popular with viewers.  Both the book and the TED talk are recommended.

© Reviewer: Meg Trauner & Ford Library – Fuqua School of Business.
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