This book was recommended to me because I was in the process of divorcing myself from my three siblings and going it alone. I am a big fan of Brené Brown. I read and enjoyed two of her books: The Gifts of Imperfections and Daring Greatly. She is a research professor at the University of Houston and studies courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy. Her TED talks are also inspiring.

The book begins with a powerful quote from the great poet Maya Angelou:

“You are only free when you realize you belong no place – you belong every place – no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great.”

Brené is a qualitative grounded theory researcher, which means she develops theories based on how people live their lives. She asks questions and tries to understand the participant’s main concerns.  She wanted to understand what “belonging” means to people, how do they find it, or how do they stand alone. She also explored our quest for true belonging within the current culture of the United States—where there is increasing divisiveness.

Her definition of true belonging involves a spiritual practice of believing in, and belonging to, yourself so deeply that you share your most authentic self with the world and find sacredness in both being a part of something and standing alone in the wilderness. It involves not changing who you are, rather have the courage to be who you are.

The book describes the four daily practices that she found in her research of how to brave the wilderness:

  1. People are hard to hate. Get close up
  2. Speak truth to bullshit. Be civil
  3. Hold hands with strangers
  4. Strong back. Soft front and wild heart

She shares her own personal experiences, as well as the stories of others who she interviewed. What moved me the most was a long quote from a friend of hers who is an activist and community leader for LGBTQ rights who experienced hostile challenges from her community. She talked about how belonging is primal, and to go against it is utterly terrifying. Yet, when this LGBTQ woman went to the wilderness she was surprised to find how alive it is, and how many people are living, dancing and flourishing! She said the wilderness is where the all the creatives, system-buckers, and risk-takers have always lived, and it is stunningly vibrant. This so resonated with me as this feels like this is where I live.

The book ended with a reminder of how to enjoy this wilderness dance party and not feel so alone. Brené says,

“Stop walking through the world looking for confirmation that you don’t belong. You will always find it because you’ve made that your mission. Our call to courage is to protect our wild heart against constant evaluation, especially our own. No one belongs here more than you.”

I leave this book feeling inspired rather than alone. Brené offers the BRAVING checklist to be attuned to what really matters while staying connected to others. It is learning to embrace the paradoxes of life. Instead of labeling, judging, and stereotyping what disconnects you from yourself and everyone around you, adopt a nonjudgmental, generous approach while keeping firm boundaries.  When I accept that the wilderness is my friend, the more dancing I will do!


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