Rising Strong by Brene Brown

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Rising Strong by Brene Brown

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Category: Lifestyle
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Rebecca Foster
Reviewed by Rebecca Foster
Summary: Brené Brown, a qualitative researcher in the field of social work, encourages readers to embrace vulnerability and transform failure and shame through a simple process of re-evaluating the stories we tell ourselves. This genuinely helpful self-help book is recommended to fans of Anne Lamott and Elizabeth Gilbert.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 336 Date: August 2015
Publisher: Vermilion
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9780091955038

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This is Brené Brown's fourth book. Like Elizabeth Gilbert, she is well known for her TED talk. As a professor at the University of Houston, she has spent the last 13 years working with people's stories. Such a qualitative approach, based on anecdote and experience, is relatively rare in the social sciences but certainly makes her work more accessible to laymen. Her books fall into the 'self-help' arena, but without any of the negative connotations of that term. Here she makes her research relevant to everyday life by weaving in pop culture references and telling stories from her family and professional life.

'Rising strong', or recovering from failure and shame, is a three-step process in Brown's view. First comes the reckoning, when you recognise your emotions and get curious as to their source, rather than repressing or denying them. Next is the rumble, when you work out what you need to learn from a situation, whether about yourself or others. This is the most difficult step, where many people's courage fails; it equates to the middle part of the creative process or the classic hero's journey (as in Joseph Campbell's books). Lastly comes the revolution, when you start living out what you have learned with wholeheartedness and vulnerability.

The point of all this is to own our stories of failure so that they don't wield such power over us. A major part of the problem, Brown argues, is that we are constantly making up stories about ourselves, and all too often these are conspiracy theories that we turn into truths. We don't believe in bad luck; we believe there must be a reason why bad things happen: we are unlovable screw-ups. What Brown encourages readers to do in any situation is to interrogate that first draft of a personal story. Write it down if you must, feel the emotions, but then start looking more objectively at what has happened and what lessons are there for you.

Brown uses a few personal stories to illustrate her points, such as a major misunderstanding with her husband and a time when a nasty little woman corrected her pronunciation and sent her into a spiral of self-loathing and insecurity. In every case the solution is not to retreat into bitterness but to reach out with stories. Through conversations with the person involved or third parties (like friends or a therapist), problems come to seem less insurmountable and more like stepping stones to deeper self-knowledge. Brown's folksy Texan delivery is an added bonus throughout.

Overall, the book can feel a little drawn out, like there weren't quite enough ideas to fill a whole manuscript. The gimmicky terminology and frequent self-referencing grated on me a bit, but I appreciated how the book made me reconsider events from my own life. I was also intrigued by her conclusion that, despite appearances, most people are usually doing the best they can in life. She therefore advocates making the most generous assumptions possible about other people's behaviour and capacities.

In general, Brown's writing is fairly pedestrian; the quotes from other people often represent the most interesting prose. It's the ideas that carry this book, so as long as you come to it expecting a useful tool rather than a literary experience you shouldn't be disappointed. If you've found books by Anne Lamott or Gretchen Rubin helpful in the past, this will be right up your street. Although there is a spiritual undercurrent to some of what she says, you don't have to have a particularly religious worldview to appreciate the wisdom.

Here are a couple of the best passages:

'Our histories are never all good or all bad, and running from the past is the surest way to be defined by it. That's when it owns us. The key is bringing light to the darkness—developing awareness and understanding.'

'You can do everything right. You can cheer yourself on, have all the support you can find in place, and be 100 percent ready to go, and still fail. It happens to writers, artists, entrepreneurs, health professionals, teachers—you name it. But if you can look back during your rumble and see that you didn't hold back—that you were all in—you will feel very different than someone who didn't fully show up.'

Further reading suggestion: For additional helpful advice, try How to Be Happy (or at least less sad): A Creative Workbook by Lee Crutchley and Decisive: How to Make Better Decisions in Life and Work by Chip Heath and Dan Heath.

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Buy Rising Strong by Brene Brown at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Rising Strong by Brene Brown at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Rising Strong by Brene Brown at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Rising Strong by Brene Brown at Amazon.com.


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