“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly…who at best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”
— Theodore Roosevelt
By and large, I tend not to read self help books much anymore. There was a time when life spiraled so far out of control that I would latch onto anything that could help me find a center. What happened as a result is what usually happens when you go too far down that rabbit hole: you get to the point where you hit a wall, and suddenly every self help book is seen at the same level, as predatory money grabs.
Thing is, you get to a point after that where you can tell the difference, usually within the first chapter. For example, if a book uses any variation whatsoever on the phrase “crushing it,” it’s a money grab. Having said that, any book a person finds value and meaning in that continues long after the book has been put down… that’s a book worth reading. And different books have different audiences.
Which brings me to this book. Go back and read that opening quote by Teddy Roosevelt. Seriously, read it again and really consider it. I’ll wait.
Back now? This quote is where the title of this book is derived. Having come to know Roosevelt, I can honestly say he’d be flattered that he’d be in the spotlight, but horrified by the translation of his words into this context. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. You see, Roosevelt was a sickly kid who quite literally beat his weaknesses — all of them — into submission through Batman-level training. He earned every bit of the ego that goes with that. That’s the kind of inhuman feat most of us can never understand, let alone dream of accomplishing. So while we can admire a man like that, this book is written for the rest of mere mortals.
The older I get, the more I find that I no longer care about the presumptions and stereotypes of the world that created the “man’s man” like Roosevelt. I admire the man, but the expectations he worked under are complete and utter bullshit. This idea that men have to be mighty oaks that can weather any storm is all well and good, but we’re never told how to do that. The advice — and expectation — my own father bequeathed to me, and I’m sure many guys can relate to this one, is simply to shut off. We’re not robots. Even Roosevelt was brought low by tragedy. Even in fiction, the exemplar of stoicism Mr. Spock found there was more to life than cold logic. We are all vulnerable at some point. Knowing what that means and how to use that knowledge is the difference between surviving and thriving, especially in a world where seemingly every little perceived misstep is recorded and blown out of proportion on your social media platform of choice. The world wants more authenticity from us, but the moment we’re anything less than perfect, the vultures are circling. And people wonder what’s wrong with the world? This is certainly a symptom.
A friend of mine, Book Cupidity, was telling me that she was reading this book based on the author’s TED Talk. After some discussion, and some due consideration on my part, I dropped my credit towards the audio version. Nice thing about Audible: if I don’t like it, I can always return it.
As a researcher in human sociology, Dr. Brené Brown brings her in expertise and insights to the topic of human shame and vulnerability. It’s exactly as uncomfortable as it sounds when we start talking about touchy-feely stuff that most of us would rather hide. That’s the funny part about this sort of thing. If we don’t learn about it, we can’t learn to deal with it. At least, not effectively, and certainly not over the long term. Again, ask Teddy. Since the rest of us will never be that strong, no matter how well we might fake it, it makes sense to look into it and see what kind of studies are being done and how.
I freely admit that I didn’t really expect much from this book, having been down that self help rabbit hole too many times. That was my mistake. I’m actually quite impressed with the insight and presentation here. For whatever reason, it worked for me. The right book at the right time, as it were. I’m not going to air out my dirty laundry for all of you, but to put this bluntly, this book gave me a lot of new ideas that I can actually use. A lot. Whole trucks full. The more I unpacked it, the more there was to unpack. There’s so much to discuss, for those souls brave enough to do so. This is probably a worthy title for a book club.
My advice, for what it’s worth… skip the audiobook. It’s still good material, and it’s still worth hearing. I tend to learn better from audio, better to grasp more difficult concepts through this medium. But I found that there was so much to unpack that I kept backtracking to hear things again. For the purposes of getting the most out of this, a print copy is superior. I will be getting one soon as part of my ongoing quest for personal improvement because I’m not afraid to do the shadow work. Also, while the narrator has a breathy, dramatic quality to her voice that I rather like, the presentation is more appropriate to a soap opera or a pulp novel than a serious exploration of human behavior. I won’t hold that against the either the book nor the narrator. It’s simply not the best match here. For those inclined to look into something like this and really sit with the ideas being offered, I can’t recommend it enough.