Books: Brené Brown’s “Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone”, as reviewed by Amy Kellestine

Brené Brown is a storyteller, proud Texan, professor and researcher turned TED talk star and sought-after speaker. For over a decade, she has been evangelizing the importance of courage, vulnerability, empathy and the high cost of shame. Already the author of three #1 New York Times bestsellers, Brown prepares to jump up the bestseller list again with her most recent offering Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone.

In it, Brown defines true belonging as “the spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world and find sacredness in both being a part of something and standing alone in the wilderness. True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are.”

Feel free to pause and reread that definition. I’ll wait. I think I’ve probably read it at least 100 times myself. It soaks in a little bit more each time.

Brown also introduces us to the four elements of true belonging that rose from the data that she has analyzed:

  1. People Are Hard to Hate Close Up. Move In.
  2. Speak Truth to Bullshit. Be Civil.
  3. Hold Hands. With Strangers.
  4. Strong Back. Soft Front. Wild Heart.

Each of the four elements is illustrated with Brown’s usual artful combination of personal anecdotes, quotes and stories from everyone from Maya Angelou (poet) to Pete Carroll (NFL Coach), and additional facts and figures from complementary research.

There are about a million tweetable quotes including Brandolini’s law in the “Speak Truth to Bullshit” chapter that says, “The amount of energy needed to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it.” In other words, if someone is speaking falsehoods it’s best to step in as early as possible to set the record straight and keep things from snowballing out of control. Another tweetable quote was “Stop walking through life looking for confirmation that you don’t belong.” This one showed up in the Strong Back chapter. It highlighted the important practice of recognizing our own self worth and natural belonging in place of constantly looking for validation outside of yourself.

Throughout the book, Brown challenges us to confront the “us versus them” mentality we see everywhere in the media, and do our best to be vulnerable and kind in the process. At one point, she questions whether the book should have been called How to Lose Friends and Piss Off Everyone because it teaches us to break party lines and foster connections instead of pointing our righteous fingers at everyone other than us.

This offering provides so many answers to the challenges we currently face. She states, “I didn’t intend to write a book about belonging set against a backdrop of political and ideological chaos. But that’s not my call to make. My job is to be true to the data.” I, for one, am thankful for the data and for Brown’s brilliant offering to help us all brave the wilderness.

Amy Kellestine headshotAmy Kellestine is an educator, engineer, Arati life coach and entrepreneur living in Edmonton, Alberta. She spends her free time camping, gardening, and volunteering for causes such as Cystic Fibrosis and nature conservation. She is a devoted mother and is passionate about helping others and writing.

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