Read This Now: Brené Brown's Rising Strong

Screen Shot 2015-11-05 at 2.11.38 PMBrené Brown certainly doesn't need me to hawk her books--she is dizzyingly popular right now. But her latest book has been my favorite by far. It is Rising Strong and deals with how people come back from failure in a creative and healthy way. In some ways, the book covers similar territory as her previous ones, especially Daring Greatly. There are a few basic themes that come up again and again in her research and writing:

  • Wholehearted people are able to face their dark places in their lives, because they know deep down that they are worthy of love and belonging.
  • Our power comes from living authentically, not from hiding our faults and flaws and hoping nobody notices.
  • We can't numb the negative emotions without also numbing the positive ones.

Chapter Six, Sewer Rats and Scofflaws, is funny and profound and is worth the price of the book in itself. In it Brown talks about her own tendency to judge others and stew in her own self-righteousness. She describes an encounter with a boorish roommate at a conference--a conference she didn't even want to speak at in the first place, but felt guilted into saying yes to. (This is an important detail; more later.)

I've said many times that Brené Brown is the older sister I never had. I suspect a lot of us feel that way. Given how much this roommate raised MY hackles, and how cringingly funny Brené's subsequent reactions were, it was clear this chapter could have been written for me. How dare she trash the couch in the hotel! And smoke in the non-smoking section! She might as well have titled the chapter "Sewer Rats and Scofflaws: Listen Up, MaryAnn."

The roommate experience lands her in her therapist's office, who asks her to consider a simple question: Are people basically doing the best they can? And her therapist admits that for her, the answer is yes: while we can always grow and improve as people, and we should, it's possible that the boorish roommate is using the tools and resources she has to try and make her way in the world.

Brown is disgusted with the thought: how can wiping Cinnabon icing on a hotel couch be one's best? (Preach it, sis!) And then she starts asking around, hoping to bolster her own view: Do you think everyone is doing the best they can? She begins to notice that everyone who thinks people aren't doing their best are hard, unequivocal and judgy in their responses. By contrast, here's what she says about the people who believe people are doing their best:

They were slow to answer and seemed almost apologetic, as if they had tried to persuade themselves otherwise, but just couldn’t give up on humanity. They were also careful to explain that it didn’t mean that people can’t grow or change. Still, at any given time, they figured, people are normally doing the best they can with the tools they have.

...Every participant who answered “yes” was in the [research] group of people who I had identified as wholehearted— people who are willing to be vulnerable and who believe in their self-worth. They offered examples of situations where they made mistakes or didn’t show up as their best selves, but rather than pointing out how they could and should have done better, they explained that, while falling short, their intentions were good and they were trying.

In short, Brown realized that the people who were willing to extend grace (my language) to their fellow human beings--and to themselves--seemed happier, better adjusted and wholehearted. It almost didn't matter whether people really were doing their best--treating them as if they were, deciding to view life that way, led to better outcomes. By contrast:

Self-righteousness starts with the belief that I’m better than other people, and it always ends with me being my very worst self and thinking, I’m not good enough. 

Now, Brown is clear that just because people may be doing their best doesn't mean you must let them walk all over you. You need a combination of boundaries, integrity and generosity (what she calls living BIG) in order to deal with people whose "best" is in some way harmful to you. Remember when I said she was feeling resentful about having been guilted into doing this conference in the first place? She set herself up for the self-righteous loop she got stuck in by not practicing self-care, by not setting good boundaries.

This chapter spoke to me because like Brené Brown I'm a recovering perfectionist, and perfectionists are all about the Not Good Enough that then gets projected onto everyone else. But I've also been struck by how much this dynamic is reflected in how we treat one another these days, particularly online. Since reading this chapter, I've realized that virtually every snarky, vicious, graceless comment can be traced to this same self-righteousness.  I refuse to give the negativity a signal boost, but look for yourself.

It makes me wonder, are these Judgy Judgersons as pinched and self-righteous in real life, with their spouses and children and coworkers and aging parents, or have they found a convenient outlet for their negativity? After all, if all you have is a name and a thumbnail, you can project all kinds of evil intent on them.

The good news is, if self-righteousness can get you into a death spiral of "I'm not good enough, nobody's good enough," then whole-heartedness can get you into a "life spiral." (I just made that term up.) But making a conscious decision to give people the benefit of the doubt helps us treat ourselves more graciously, which then extends back to others, and on and on in a positive way.

I'm trying!

What do you think? Have you read the book?


Image is from Rising Strong.

Friday Link Love

Can you believe this is my 108th Link Love? That's about 2 years of collecting bits and pieces of stuff. Like a magpie. I should probably go on hiatus at some point. Don't want to get stuck in a rut. Maybe this summer. In the meantime... here we go!


Modern Art Desserts -- Brain Pickings

This is from a few weeks ago--I've been saving it.


More at the link.


Perfectionism as Paralysis -- David Foster Wallace

Courtesy of The Dish and a good adjunct to my post about perfectionism and failure the other day, an animated clip of DFW talking in 1996 about perfectionism, ambition... and tennis:


The Good Kind of Crazy -- David Lose

After filling me in on some of the latest and greatest ideas she’s had about the church she leads, she stopped and said, “You know, you’re about the only person I know who doesn’t think I’m crazy when I talk this way.”

“Actually,” I replied with a smile, “I think you’re crazy too. But the church needs crazy right now.”

...My friend is perceived as a little crazy. She’s not content with the same old thing, only better. She wants something new. So she has the youth of her church lead worship and participate in the sermon. She doesn’t do confirmation anymore, but instead finds ways to gather her youth around conversations about faith, life, and life lived faithfully. And this summer they’re not singing hymns at her church, but pop songs. And talking about popular YouTube videos. And other crazy stuff.


On that note... maybe this is an example of the good kind of crazy, albeit from another era:

100 Years Later, a Time Capsule is Opened -- Yahoo! News

The First Lutheran Church of Oklahoma City dug up and opened its Century Chest, a time capsule that was buried under the church 100 years ago.

The artifacts inside the copper chest were remarkably well intact. Credit for that goes to the church's Ladies Aide Society, the group that buried the capsule a century ago. The group buried the chest in double concrete walls and under 12 inches of concrete, according to Fox News.

As my friend Alex Hendrickson said, "Varsity level church ladies." Seriously.


For a Student of Theology, Poetry Reverberates -- NPR

My favorite class in seminary was The Preacher and the Poet, so Robert sent this to me with the subject line "MaryAnn bait."

I read a lot of theology, both for my degree and for my professional track, and sometimes I think poetry, whether or not it's explicitly religious, is one of the best modes that theology, or talking about God, can take. ... Poetry is a form where the language is under so much pressure, and that can really bring about these wonderful surprises and insights in our ways of talking about God or thinking about our faith.


The Best Lesson My Kids Ever Taught Me -- Practicing Families

The author describes the experience of having a newborn and always having to think about the next thing. Ohhhh yeah. That kind of extreme time maximization is part of what led us to Sabbath, when we can turn off (or at least mute) those endless calculations:

I was always planning ahead for the next step of the operation. It’s breakfast time. Eat because we have to get dressed! Get dressed because we have to go to baby class! Finish baby class so we can get home for nap! Get nap started so I can have writing time! Hurry, hurry through writing before the baby wakes up! Get ready so we can go to the park! Finish up at the park so we can get home so I can make dinner! And on and on…We were still on that hamster wheel, still always urgently moving forward to the next item on the agenda.

It wasn’t my schedule that was the problem. It was the fact that during every activity we engaged in, my mind was already on the next one.


Journey to the Center of the Earth: Glimpse Inside an Active Volcano -- Colossal

I didn't do Kid Link Love this week but if I had, this would've been featured. Volcanoes are so awesome. This planet is doin' stuff:




Speaking of Kid Links, I shared this one with my girls:

A Wet Towel in Space is Not Like a Wet Towel on Earth -- NPR

I've gotta think that zero gravity tourism will happen in our lifetimes. Which is irrelevant for me since I get motion sick on a porch swing. So I'll have to content myself with videos like this:


Have a wonderful weekend, everyone. We've got a party Saturday night and I'm leading a retreat after church on Sunday. A full weekend but a good one. Peace.

On Failing for Our Kids

risk-control Every third Sunday at Tiny Church, we have guest musicians come in and play for the service. Our accompanist plays the hymns and leads the congregational singing, but the guest musicians play music at the beginning and end of the service, plus two pieces in the middle.

This past Sunday, my fourth grader was scheduled to be the guest musician. She chose four pieces she knew well, and for a week prior, she practiced them to flawlessness.

And on Sunday... well, who can say how it happened. She'd been to three birthday parties that weekend and as an introvert was peopled out, perhaps. She was tired. She didn't have a good breakfast. I don't know. But she got an attack of stage fright the likes of which I've never seen in her. No pep talk could snap her out of it.

She is old enough to be aware of what I write here, so the details are between her and those of us in Tiny Church. Let me just say that she made it through the first piece beautifully.

Robert took her out afterward so she could compose herself, and I went right into the call to worship. It's one of the most uncomfortable moments of ministry I've ever had. I wanted to be with her, but I had a job to do.

Since then she's talked to her parents, her grandparents, and her piano teacher about what happened. We've laughed about the fact that no matter where people start, every last one of us concludes with the same expression: Get back on the horse.

Myself, I was flummoxed about the whole thing. What brought this on? Then I remembered playing The Baker's Wife in a college production of Into the Woods. It was a fantastic experience, but very intense---several nights of performances, but with the same classload and homework as always. My worst performance of the entire run was when my dad was in the audience. My Dad was never one of those hyper-critical, impossible to please types. Still, I so wanted to do a good job that night. But my timing was off, my voice sounded terrible, and realizing this just made me sieze up even further.

Remember when I said intense? One of the RAs found me outside, crying uncontrollably between scenes.


So what's a perfectionist raising a perfectionist to do?

I told her later that I wished I'd asked the congregation for a show of hands: how many of you have experienced stage fright? Or nervousness at doing something new? And let her see the sea of hands. Surely everyone would raise a hand, except people who a) are lying or b) have never challenged themselves.

It's probably just as well that I didn't do that, because it would've put her on the spot. Plus, I don't think kids get it. They don't get that adults had (and have) fears and phobias. Adults must seem so... competent to kids. Sure, kids see us lose our cool; they see us spill the cereal and scrape the car door against the garage. But mainly, they see us succeed. Hold down a job. Set a goal and meet it. Be where we're supposed to be, more or less on time.

I read a lot of stuff about parenting, and of the many critiques of helicopter parenting---and there are many, and rightfully so---the most significant is that it doesn't serve kids well. Children don't learn resilience when we're always smoothing things over for them. But I also wonder whether resilience gets built when children witness adults taking risks. I don't mean stupid risks (no cooking meth in your basement). But I don't mean cute risks either (taking a ballroom dancing class). I mean real, authentic, bowel-quivering risk.

Maybe just letting them in on the risks we do take would help. Every night at dinner, we do a modified examen with our kids---we all share our most and least grateful moments (framed as most/least favorite when they were younger). Often my least grateful moment is something in the news, or concern for someone who's sick. It's less often that I share about the rejection letter I received, or the withering comment that came when I stuck my neck out about something. But maybe those moments are important for children to witness.

Of course, parents should provide a sense of stability and security for their kids. We don't want to come off as capricious. But the world our children are inheriting is a world of rapid change. The roles and rules are not spelled out. People who can conquer their own fear of the unknown, take risks, and shrug off disappointment will be much better off in life.

On Sunday I said to Caroline, "You were really scared, you tried something hard, and you didn't die." Let me be clear that I do not think she failed. But maybe children need to see us fail. Or more to the point, maybe they need to see us fail and not die.