2021 Reading List: Dare to Lead by Brene Brown

I think I have to stop reading books by Brene Brown. Don’t get me wrong, I love all her vulnerability work and I think she really has something there. But I looked back at the past few books of hers that I read and I didn’t love those ones either.

I love her as a person. I really do. I think she’s doing great work. I think she’s changing lives and organizations. I think she’s making a difference. And I’m sure her message and her books resonate for a lot of people.

But for me, I just can’t read about rumbling and wholeheartedness anymore.

I picked up Dare to Lead for a few reasons: my husband read it for his graduate class and so when he finished it, the library book was just sitting here; I thought I liked Brown’s books; and I find myself in a new leadership position at a new job. I thought Dare to Lead would be a great refresher of all the “be brave, be vulnerable, be yourself at work” stuff that I needed to start off on the right foot with a new team. But I found myself nodding off as the chapters got repetitive. I wondered if I’d actually read this book before. I don’t think I have, but she quotes her other books so much that it’s like I’m reading the same book over again. She even acknowledges clearly that she’s repeating the same thoughts and ideas from other books. So….why am I reading this book again?

Maybe she wrote this book to be the same ideas on purpose, but with a spin toward the leadership audience. Maybe those other books were for normal people with issues and this is for leaders with issues? I’m really not sure if she meant for us to read all her books or not. I definitely found this more difficult to get through since it was redundant and I also started skimming, just waiting for some new idea I hadn’t heard of already. It didn’t happen. I got to the end with a sigh of relief.

I do give this three stars because I think what Brene has to say is important and relevant. But this book, on top of the others I’ve read, was not for me.

I also can’t picture a world in which I tell my team that “today we are going to rumble with our vulnerabilities” and we’re going to talk about “the story I’m making up.” Sorry, not going to happen. I think that Brene relies a lot on her own made-up words and phrases with meaning that she assigns to it, in order to stand out and be different in a vast world of self-help books. And really all she’s trying to tell you is to communicate more and better. Have more real conversations. Be more open to your emotions.

After all that criticism, I will say this: I love that this book was a general reminder in my own life that to be vulnerable is to be brave. That it’s okay to go into a tough new situation and not have all the answers. That it’s okay if I admit that I don’t have all the answers. It’s okay to be unsure, to ask questions, to be new, to acknowledge that I have things to learn, to admit if I make a mistake. In order to make change and to get better and to do good work, I have to put myself in these challenging, vulnerable situations where I might fail. I might mess up, I definitely won’t be excellent at first, and I will have room to grow.

That’s a hard thing to remember, but it’s especially important as I start a new job. At my last job, I was excellent. I felt like I knew what I was doing at all times, I was the one people relied on. I was confident and good at my job. And to switch to a new job is to literally start from zero again. I am not familiar with the clients, I don’t have the background of what’s been going on, I don’t know the processes, I’m meeting new people and I feel like at every turn I have no idea what I’m doing. I am completely vulnerable in this moment. But I am doing it, so I’m brave. I’m pushing through the uncertainty and trying to set aside the shame. I’m trying to have open and honest conversations so that I can level set with the team about where I’m coming from and where I hope to be.

Like I said, I may not have loved this book, but I love Brene’s ideas overall. Perhaps over the years, I’ve also just grown up. Perhaps I’ve come into my own confidence and I’ve internalized the right lessons in order to be a courageous, self-assured, “wholehearted” individual and employee. Maybe I just don’t need Brene’s wisdom anymore.

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