Our job is not to deny the story, but to defy the ending--to rise strong, recognize our story, and rumble with the truth until we get to a place where we think, Yes. This is what happened. This is my truth. And I will choose how the story ends.
Brené Brown, Rising Strong
That's the title of an article that came out in Business Insider earlier this year. I saw the headline when the story came out, and of course I was intrigued. No one could see blue? How could that be?
The article states, "...ancient languages didn't have a word for blue--not Greek, not Chinese, not Japanese, not Hebrew. And without a word for the color, there is evidence that they may not have seen it at all."
And then, the article poses a question: "Do you really see something if you don't have a word for it?"
When I read Brené Brown's books, watch her videos, and witness how the people around me react to what Brené has to say, in some ways it feels like Brené has done the equivalent of introducing our modern society to the color blue. Her research and work have given us a new vocabulary, a way to talk with each other about the ideas and feelings and fears we've all had but haven't quite known how to articulate. It's like we've all had a sense of the concepts Brené studies--specifically shame, vulnerability, and courage--but never before have we had the words to fully express what we've been feeling, or to share with each other our experiences.
I should back up and start by saying that I love Brené and am intensely grateful for her work. I think it's telling that my autocorrect/autosuggest knows by now to offer up "Brené"--complete with that accent mark over the e--when I'm texting someone. It is not unusual for me to quote or reference her ideas. I've read all her books, watched most of her videos, listened to her The Power of Vulnerability CDs more times than I can remember (and passed them on to a large handful of people), and I took Brené's eCourse offered on Oprah.com back in 2014. (Brené also now offers courses through her new online learning community, COURAGEworks). I've heard the terms "Brené Brown junkie," or "the cult of Brené Brown," and while I understand what people mean, I think the phrases are a bit unfair. The fact that something resonates with a lot of people doesn't make it invalid. Brené's research resonates deeply with me, and the work is work I still need to do. It may not be for everyone, but it's definitely for me.
And so it was with eager anticipation that I awaited Rising Strong, Brené's fourth book, released last week. (See the book's beautiful video trailer at the end of this post.)
Rising Strong continues Brené's research into the exploration of the wholehearted journey. As Brené says, her most recent three books can be summed up as:
- The Gifts of Imperfection: Be you.
- Daring Greatly: Be all in.
- Rising Strong: Fall. Get up. Try again.
"The thread that runs through all three of these books," she says, "is our yearning to live a wholehearted life."
"In the past two years [since the publication of Daring Greatly], my team and I have ... received emails every week from people who write, 'I dared greatly. I got my butt kicked and now I'm down for the count. How do I get back up?' I knew when I was writing The Gifts and Daring Greatly that I would ultimately write a book about falling down. I've collected that data all along, and what I've learned about surviving hurt has saved me again and again. It saved me and, in the process, it changed me," she says.
Thus comes Rising Strong, a road map for how to get back up when we fall.
The Rising Strong Process includes:
- The Reckoning: walking into our story
- The Rumble: owning our story
- The Revolution: writing a new ending and changing how we engage with the world
To me, Rising Strong is largely a book about story.
Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing we'll ever do.
We are wired for story, says Brené. (That is, in fact, Rule #4 in her Rules of Engagement for Rising Strong.) I couldn't agree more. (Personally, I think storytelling, rather than prostitution, is likely the world's oldest profession.)
When you think about it, practically everything we do is in some way related to the stories we tell ourselves. Whether the story is small--say, a reaction to someone who cut us off in traffic (are they a jerk? In a hurry to get to the hospital?)--or grand--such as our narratives of who we are, who we want to be, who we think we have to be--stories rule our lives.
"We feel the most alive when we're connecting with others and being brave with our stories--it's in our biology," says Brené.
One of the most powerful practices I learned from Rising Strong is the idea of incorporating into our lives and communications the phrase, "the story I'm making up is...." That is, recognizing and acknowledging that the interpretations of events we've created in our heads--the stories from which our fears flow--are maybe, just maybe, not one hundred percent accurate.
I often think of myself as a jack of all trades, master of none. But the fact is, my brain is pretty much an admiral when it comes to making up stories. I'm a writer--of too-long emails and texts, of the occasional blog, of books of both fiction and non-fiction--so being able to make up stories comes in handy. For example, in the book I'm working on right now, I'm making up whole worlds, whole universes. Without the ability to make up stories, I'd be lost in my chosen career.
But when it comes to real life, the ability to weave a hundred different stories from one event can be exhausting. Inside my brain, things can get messy.
Life does not consist mainly, or even largely, of facts or happenings. It consists mainly of the storm of thoughts that is forever flowing through one's head.
While the reckoning, the rumble, and the revolution are all critical to the rising strong process, Brené says it's the rumble that is the messiest. It's the space where "you're too far in to turn around and not close enough to the end to see the light." It's the place of the greatest struggle, and, says Brené, it's a nonnegotiable part of the process.
"The rumble begins with turning up our curiosity level and becoming aware of the story we're telling ourselves about our hurt, anger, frustration, or pain."
Brené calls the initial story we tell ourselves the "sh*tty first draft" or "SFD" (a phrase she borrows from writer Anne Lamott). Writing down the unedited, unfiltered, unpolished stories we are hearing in our heads about the situations that are causing us to feel fear, hurt, pain, anger, shame, etc., allows us to investigate the tough questions about what's really happening, to evaluate what we're thinking, and to ask whether our stories are true, or a way to disengage and self-protect.
Rising Strong is rich with anecdotes from Brené's own life. This, to me, is part of the strength of the book. Over and over as I read Brené's books, I recognize the truth in the title of her first book: I Thought It Was Just Me. Any shame we may feel in seeing ourselves in these stories is moderated by the knowledge that Brené is right there with us. Our fears and shames can feel suffocating when we believe we are alone in them. Brené's work reminds us: we are not alone.
In Rising Strong, Brené also addresses the complex nature of failure. We "gold-plate" failure and grit, she says, skipping over or sugar-coating the process and the pain involved in falling and in deciding to rise again.
"Rather than gold-plating grit and trying to make failure look fashionable, we'd be better off learning how to recognize the beauty in truth and tenacity," she says.
Brené notes, "In her book The Rise, Sarah Lewis writes, 'The word failure is imperfect. Once we begin to transform it, it ceases to be that any longer. The term is always slipping off the edges of our vision, not simply because it's hard to see without wincing, but because once we are ready to talk about it, we often call the event something else--a learning experience, a trial, a reinvention--no longer the static concept of failure.' Failure can become nourishment if we are willing to get curious, show up vulnerable and human, and put rising strong into practice."
Brené also talks about the challenging idea that everyone is simply doing they best they can in any given moment. It's a difficult concept to embrace when we're dealing with people whose actions so very thoroughly conflict with our own needs and values. But personally, I think if more of us could embrace that belief in our day-to-day dealings (especially on the internet), it could have a profound impact on our interactions and our world.
And, following what she has said is one of the most profound findings of her research, Brené discusses boundaries and the idea that the most boundaried people she's ever met are also the most compassionate. That one takes a while to digest, but it makes tremendous sense. "Compassionate people ask for what they need," she says. "They say no when they need to, and when they say yes, they mean it."
There's far too much good stuff in Rising Strong for me to cover it all. Of course by now it's obvious that I recommend it, and all Brené's other work. We are story-full beings, and miscommunications can contribute to our greatest woes. Learning how better to communicate with each other, and how better to understand and manage the (not completely accurate) stories we tell ourselves can, in my opinion, only lead to greater connection. And, as I learned in another book released this summer, Michelle Gielan's Broadcasting Happiness, social connection is the greatest predictor of happiness. The work is hard, but the journey is worthwhile.
Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.
Of the ten Rules of Engagement for Rising Strong, I think one of the most powerful is Rule #9: Courage is contagious. Brené's books are a tangible manifestation of this rule. Putting books out into the world, to be critiqued and criticized by potentially billions of people, is a vulnerable and courageous act. By sharing her own stories, sharing her own vulnerability with us, Brené empowers us each to be a little more courageous in our own lives. When reading Brené's books, I always feel a little stronger, a little braver, a little more courageous. Not invincible; reading her books doesn't make me suddenly feel like I will never fall. But definitely more resilient, like if I fall, I can pull myself back up again.
Says Brené, "In my work, I've found that moving out of powerlessness, and even despair, requires hope. Hope is not an emotion: It's a cognitive process.... hope is learned."
Rising Strong, like all Brené's books, gives me hope.
We are the authors of our lives.
We write our own daring endings.
Somewhere between funny and philosophical lies the truth in Pam Stucky's writing. Pam is the author of several books including the Wishing Rock series (Northern Exposure-esque contemporary fiction, with wit, wisdom, and recipes); the Pam on the Map travelogues (wit and wanderlust); and the YA Sci-Fi The Universes Inside the Lighthouse (wonder and wisdom). Pam's driving forces are curiosity, the pursuit of happiness, the desire to thrive, and the joy in seeing others do the same. Pam is currently working on writing a screenplay, because life is short, so why not try?