Book Review: Daring Greatly, or, “5 Pages That Could’ve Drastically Changed My Life If I’d Read Them Earlier On”

My book club read Daring Greatly by Brene Brown (of lots of kinds of fame but probably mostly to the common person YouTube fame) so I finally borrowed the copy my mom had been nagging me to read for a while now. I’d never actually read anything of hers (just little clips here and there on the internet) and I don’t usually read self-helpy type of things but a little peer pressure goes a long ways, and I’m glad I got to read this book because it helped me identify something really pivotal about my personality that I kind of had a sense about but couldn’t really zone in on. That’s why books are great — they give you a sort of focus point or image to better understand something, and also that feeling that somebody else has thought of it / is dealing with it too (the kind of validation/affirmation we all need sometimes to feel confident and move forward a bit more).

In a nutshell, this book talks about what it means to live vulnerably. That’s kind of Brene Brown’s whole shtick, but what Daring Greatly does specifically is highlight different tendencies people have to live in a state of shame, and different tactics for breaking free of that. There’s sections on how shame manifests itself in both genders, in parents, and in workplace environments, and suggestions for how to adjust behavior to empower “Wholeheartedness” (Brown’s catchphrase for “living your fullest self” or whatever etc) for all parties involved in interactions, conflicts, and general day-to-day-living.

As an outgoing, outspoken, extroverted person, I’ve never really had issues opening up and sharing information with people. This isn’t exactly a good thing all the time, and because especially in our loud culture people value and react to and respond to whatever’s making noise, it’s easy to hide under a cloak of acceptance and validation that isn’t really real or certain as I’d like. I, like the rest of us, find myself wracked with self-esteem and insecurity issues on the reg, and I also get confused because — aren’t I a confident person? Aren’t I comfortable sharing things and meeting people and talking to them and trying new things? I have a million friends! I’m always busy! I’m always doing stuff and connecting with people! So if I’m so good at all this, why do I still feel so crazy and defeated and lonely so often?

Cue FLOODLIGHTING. One of the tendencies Brene Brown talks about people using to keep from being too vulnerable is a sort of overbearingness or oversharing that is, in actuality, a shield for getting truly close to people. For a supernerdy example, there’s a kind of Pokemon that almost exactly models floodlighting: Wobbuffet. Wobbuffet is this tiny little dark shy creature that essentially has an inflatable decoy attached to itself. The decoy is big and fun and cute and flashy: “HERE, LOOK AT THIS, DEAL WITH THIS.” That’s what I do: “HERE’S ALL THIS PERSONAL INFORMATION ABOUT ME, PLAY WITH THIS WHILE I GO HIDE AND SEE WHAT HAPPENS.” That’s what Floodlighting is. Brene Brown doesn’t talk about Pokemon, though. She uses the “light” language as an appropriate metaphor — she tells readers to “twinkle like stars” and let people see your inner beauty a little bit at a time instead of blinding them with a big flash of light that leaves them unable to see the real you.

As a person, this section was super convicting. I could think of countless situations where I’d experienced the negative effects of my floodlighting tendencies, and all of them resulted one of two things: either the person involved had thought we were closer than I actually thought we were (because I’d shared certain information that seemed important or deep); or, the person involved got overwhelmed with me and needed to back away. Both of these always resulted in disconnect and conflict and disappointment and dissatisfaction — for both sides of the party, of course, but differently experienced on each side, resulting in further disconnect and, usually, failure (or at least lack of true growth) in the relationship.

This section also gave me a lot to think about as a writer. Writers/artists/actors/musicians inherently go around sharing deep parts of themselves and throwing them out into the world for people to experience as they will. Easy example: I’m in love with Josh Ritter because I spend every day singing all the words to all his songs, but the dude will never know who I am, as close and connected as I feel and as loud as I scream at his concerts. Another easy example: you reading this right now, you could be my mom, or you could be a total stranger who has no idea who I am actually. It’s confusing because you read this and you know more about me than a lot of people do, but you also still don’t know me at all, in some sense. That’s why the internet and art is wonderful and beautiful and transcendent and great: we can get to know each other in real ways that we wouldn’t have otherwise, especially if we don’t idealize or idolize the things and people we’re encountering.

Kinda got off on a tangent there, sorry. More on how this section affected me as a writer: a while ago I did this big nonfiction project on body waxing, er rather, Brazilian waxing. The shock value there was extreme — “Did you say vagina?!”Everybody wanted to talk about it (see person type #1 above), except for people in my religious spheres, who definitely did not want to talk about it at all (see person type #2 above). In hindsight, the whole thing might have been just something I was doing out of nervousness and not really knowing how to be comfortable with my true self in front of people. “LOOK HERE’S THIS CRAZY THING I DID!” I have a lot more material for the project, but I haven’t felt comfortable enough that I’m not acting out of a floodlighting motivation to finish writing the rest of the essays. Brene Brown’s section here convicted me about writing things not just to emotionally vomit on people, but to create a small, easy-sloping ramp to allow people (and yourself!) to move cleanly into new connections or new ideas. The same goes for the blog, which, if you’ve been following over the years, has often dared but not always dared greatly. It is a fine line between being open in a way that’s helpful or informative to your readers and a way that’s self-indulgent and deflective. I used to think the telling factor about where you stood in relation to that line was sincerity, but the tricky thing is that you can often find sincerity on both sides of the line. Now I know it’s really something that has nothing to do with anyone at all — understanding the motivation in my own heart at the time of desiring to write, writing, and publishing. God that sounds so cheesy! But it’s true. Check yo self before you wreck yo self!

So that’s a little thing that I got out of the book that affected my understanding in a big way! Remember, floodlighting was just one of many tendencies Brown describes. There are so many different personalities out there and all of us have different experiences that shape the way we react to things. I recommend at least skimming through a copy of the book to see if any of the tendencies stand out for you, and to see if you can pick up and tactics for being more vulnerable, less living out of shame, and more your whole good self.

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