I was curious when I saw the book come across my desk. Rising Strong, by Brene Brown. I opened the book and read through the jacket flap blurb.
“Vulnerability–the willingness to show up and be seen with no guarantee of outcome–is the only path to more love, belonging, creativity, and joy. But living a brave life is not always easy: We are, inevitably, going to stumble and fall. It is the rise from falling that Brown takes as her subject in Rising Strong.”
Certainly I had put myself out there, stumbled and fallen big time. I could use some advice on how to get up again. So I took it out and started to read.
Her previous best-sellers, Daring Greatly, The Gift of Imperfection, and I Thought It Was Just Me, had gotten great praise. And the rhetoric sounded good: Risking vulnerability, acknowledging the pain of shame, having the courage to be present and take charge of your own story. She studied the experiences of Fortune 500 CEOs, military leaders, couples in loving, long-term relationships, teachers and parents, people who have known struggle and success in their lives. Her research details what these people all have in common. How they used their failure to learn about themselves, trying again and again, daring to put themselves out there in spite of the difficulty and uncertainty. Her work applies to all sorts of life struggles, like relationships, families, workplace issues.
Willingness to lean into vulnerability and discomfort. Courage and tenacity. Challenging assumptions about what’s truth, what’s self-protection, and what needs to change to lead a more wholehearted life.
After struggling through several chapters, I dropped the book, feeling twice as discouraged as I’d been before I started. Brene Brown was telling me what it takes to get back up after you’ve fallen, and she pretty much convinced me that I don’t have it.
I am not daring. I am not brave. I am not tough. I haven’t got grit, and the more I’m told I need to have it the less I seem to have. I feel like the kid laying scratched, bruised and exhausted on the playing field who’s told by the coach, “Get up! Sure it hurts, but suck it up, push through it and get going! That’s the only way to win!”
My response isn’t to suck it up, push through it and get going. My response is Screw You. Take your winning attitude and shove it. I’m going home.
I’ve done the brave thing, taken risks, pushed my limits and tested myself. I’ve risked loving and committing myself to someone. I’ve put myself in situations of vulnerability and uncertainty. I’ve fallen on my face so many times I’ve lost count. I’ve screwed up. Badly. I don’t want to be hurt anymore. I can’t summon up any motivation to put myself out there, exposed and vulnerable, to be shamed and rejected again.
Brown uses the analogy of the courageous gladiator in the arena. I don’t want to be a gladiator. I want to be a monk tending a garden.
The gladiators are admirable. We need heroes and leaders, those inspired to dare greatly. If you’ve got what it takes, go for it. Dream big. Accomplish great things and be proud of yourself. You deserve it. I wish I had that kind of strength, that kind of courage, that kind of dogged persistence. For me, the greatest struggle of all is accepting that I don’t, and being at peace with who I am, small and obscure, weak and fallible. Letting go of my dreams.
I’m not going to be a famous, best-selling author. I’m not going to be a CEO, a success, admired and revered, making a big difference in the world, being a shining example to others. I guess I’m going to miss out on all that love, belonging, creativity, and joy. And yes, admitting that hurts. It’s one more blow to my self-esteem having to accept that I don’t have what it takes to “show up” as Brene Brown says I have to do. And society has a name, with a strong social stigma attached, for people like me: Quitter.
But how many times do I need to strike out before I accept that I am just not very good at baseball?
And why do I have to be good at baseball?
So it’s back to the gentle teachings of mindfulness. Back to modest aspirations to inner peace instead of outer greatness. Words that speak comfort. Yes, life is filled with suffering. Be compassionate with one another. Be compassionate with yourself. Accept it all as best you can with equanimity. It’s no shame to be weak, to be inadequate, and in fact, those labels are meaningless. Pass judgement on no one, including yourself. We are all, even the most awkward and cowardly, doing the best we can.
Fame and worldly success are seductions, sweet and insubstantial as spun sugar. The glue that holds our lives together are kindness and tolerance, simplicity and humility, and the willingness to get up each day, clean up after the cat, the kids, the dog, go to work and do whatever you are able, try to earn enough to pay the bills, help others when the opportunity presents itself. Some days you are not able to do even this; you fall short, but you go to bed forgiving yourself, and getting up again the next day. That is good enough.
When Life gives you lemons, and you haven’t got what it takes to make lemonade, you just learn to appreciate lemons.