Book Review – Daring Greatly

A “friend” of mine reluctantly recommended Daring Greatly to me a few months ago. Let me unpack that sentence because there is a lot of contexts in there that you need to know. First, I say “friend” because this person just disclosed to me that she is a Grant Hill fan. I hate Duke University and want nothing to do with them, so this is why our friendship status is on tenuous ground right now (kidding not kidding).

More importantly, why a friend would be reluctant to recommend a book goes right to the heart of the book itself. Some of you may be familiar with Brene Brown, she is a best seller, has a few viral TED talks, and just came out with a special on Netflix. But until my friend introduced her book to me, I had no idea who she was or what she does. Brown’s specialty is shame and vulnerability. I know right, who dedicates their life’s work to shame and vulnerability? Luckily for us, she was able to shed a lot of light on those two topics, so that we can live a more fulfilling life.

Shame and Gender Norms

I enjoyed this book. It was very tangible. The book’s goal is to define what is keeping us from living what Brown calls a “wholehearted life”. The book could stand on its own for the sections that define shame and shame triggers based on gender norms. There’s no question that I’ve been triggered into shame by ridiculous gender norms, that also cause pain because they are silly and impossible to achieve. Here are two from the book: Women need to “be perfect but not make a fuss about it…” and men “must not be weak”.

Disaster vs Joy

Before reading the book, I would never have considered that to be happy; you need to make yourself vulnerable. I have done my fair share of reading, and if I were to subscribe to any dogma, it would be Buddhism, because it speaks to me in its attempt to accept both joy and pain as equal in the human experience.

That said, I still never made the connection to the fact that if you want to experience joy, you need to be vulnerable, you need to accept that the happiness is fleeting, and that to have “pleasure” you need to live with pain. I have a hard time with that. Those little disaster readiness plans I make in my head, “what if the car drives off this bridge, with the kids inside” that take me out of the moment of joy on a family road trip, is how I’ve dealt with the feeling of vulnerability.

Brown describes that as Foreboding Joy, and it hit me hard. Not long after that section, I experienced it in a very visceral way. We recently vacationed in Florida. My son and I took a walk to the beach on our first night there, and there is no other way to describe what he was feeling except pure joy. He was smiling, laughing, jumping and running on the beach and in the waves.

As I was watching my son, I had this feeling take hold, “What happens, if he gets pulled out the sea?”. He was in the shallows, the waves were small, and I was not that far from him. But still, fear took over.   I told him, ruined everything, “don’t go too far”. His joy vanished, and he started to worry. I traded in our happiness for fear.


There is a trove of great advice in this book, like what to do when you are “foreboding joy”. With all the different angles that Brown takes, I believe it would speak to almost everyone who hasn’t looked at how they approach vulnerability. There is even a section dedicated to parenting.

My big take away from the parenting section is, there is a big difference saying “You lied” vs “You are a lier”. The former was a choice; the latter is a condemnation on the person. When I call a child a lier, and they believe me, where is the redemption? They have been labelled something less than. But if I say they lied, they can choose to do something different in the future; they can redeem themselves. A lie causes guilt. Being seen as a lier causes shame. Shame causes pain and sets up the child to feel less worthy of love and belonging.

There is so much to gleam from this book; her conclusions on belonging alone could fill up another post. I strongly recommended you read this one if you are trying to become a better you and live a more fulfilling life. When you read it, let me know in the comments what resonated with you.

Oh and, Duke Sucks!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.