Rumble and Revolution with Brené Brown's Rising Strong Book

I finished reading Brené Brown's book, Rising Strong, and instead of going on about what's in it, and my review, I wanted to first explain why I enjoy Brown's work. She's a researcher who focuses on shame and vulnerability, having exploded onto the world with her 2012 TED talk about the Power of Vulnerability. I've been reading her books since then and believe that a key component of what she teaches intersects with my own work. When used with those we trust, being vulnerable is a powerful tool that helps us overcome our fears and increases our worthiness.

Back in the mid-90s, I wrote my Master's thesis on "Memory and the Quest for Self: A Jungian Reading of Alice Walker and Margaret Atwood" in which I wanted to prove that the female protagonists of Walker's and Atwood's novels are able to heal themselves from past abuse by sharing their stories. The essence of my thesis work aligns nicely with Brown's: When we are vulnerable and share our hurt, stories and pain, we can let go of it, grieve through it, and learn to become better people. We free ourselves from the past and own courage and discover that we've been worthy all along.

Those ideas of vulnerability and worthiness are key points for me and show up time and time again in my novels. In the Cinderella's Secret Witch Diaries series, Cinderella was abandoned by her mother, eventually by her father as well, and becomes lost in looking for her own self-worth through others. I believe that, in order to overcome our pasts, we need to embrace our pain, share it, acknowledge it and then let the pain go to grow and move on.

We need to find and discover our own worthiness and self-acceptance instead of looking for validation elsewhere.

So I went in with high hopes in reading Rising Strong. My greatest critique is simply this: The book works best when it's told from the heart. The personal stories that Brown shares are wrapped up in a language of vulnerability, a clear example of how she is preaching what she teaches. Brown shares her own issues and fears, walking us through her mental process and on how she works hard at overcoming her own faults and insecurities. However, the book falls flat in the artificial construct that she has overlaid on the book's framework. She talks about "the reckoning, the rumble and revolution" and has built a course out of her ideas that artificially pulls her ideas together. That framework just didn't work for me. The artificiality of it all plays out with her marketing campaign tied around Oprah's "Super Soul Sunday" and her gearing the book toward the same demographic as Oprah's.

Before I get slammed for that, I do get it. Brown is trying to sell books and being mentioned with Oprah and talking with her makes perfect sense. I don't have an issue with any of that, but where things do fall apart is Brown trying to have the book be both an instructional guide and a personal journey through her own experiences. Unfortunately, the instructional guide part of the book just doesn't come together. There's a lot of work that needs to happen in order for one to overcome shame and to learn to be vulnerable. Does it take a workshop or a course? Sure, I can see that, but Rising Strong isn't that course. Breaking the book into the alliterative "reckoning, rumble and revolution" sections is forcing the flow of the book.

Trying to take a personal story about an argument she and her husband had and then sharing other people's most intimate family problems while trying to overlap a workshop structure to help overcome those issues just didn't work for me. Am I really going to stop and rumble with my feelings and then start a revolution? No. More likely, I'll go through the varies stages of acceptance/denial, oscillating back and forth from one state to the next in a more organize way.

Interestingly, I also happened to be reading Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Pixar co-founder Ed Catmull (and Amy Wallace) at the same time as Brown's book. In Creativity, Inc., Catmull is vulnerable by telling stories of what has and hasn't worked at Pixar. Sharing the failures, without being critical, and talking through how issues were resolved, he not only shares how the group failed at times, but also his own failures (and how he overcame them). The flow of the book is an easy read because I wanted to learn more. And, to be honest, I put Rising Strong down so that I could read more of Creativity, Inc.

I wondered why and realized that Rising Strong is sometimes hard to get through. It's not so much that I'm being preached to, but I felt like Brown was asking me to go through a litany of steps that, if I followed, would allow me to rise up above my problems. But in Catmull's book, he's addressing some of the same issues, but simply shows what he went through without prescribing a fix for each of us. That was a big difference for me in how I processed the book because being told what to do and shown how to become a better person (in Creativity, Inc.) are two different things.

Although I enjoyed Rising Strong, I thought it more instructional and heavy-handed, but Creativity, Inc. helped me without various fabricated alliterative steps (reckoning, rumble and revolution). Catmull easily tells his story, shares the mistakes and then walks through the solutions by showing how they were applied.  I learned a lot from his stories and can see why so many people loved his book.

Would I recommend that you not read Rising Strong? No, I would say read it, but go in knowing what type of book it is and be prepared to glean from it the useful parts and move over to the side those parts which don't quite work.