When I’m talking about a book I love, I’m unfiltered and all heart — and usually discussing it with people who are on the same page (no pun intended).
Just like any worthwhile piece of art, discussing a good book brings out a part of me I sometimes hide in fear of not “fitting in” with those around me.
So when The Fullest told me I got to choose my own book to discuss for their NYC bookclub, it was a no-brainer. If I was gonna go there, I wanted to really go there. I was going to choose the book ABOUT fitting in.
Braving The Wilderness by Brené Brown (whom I oft refer to as HPB — High Priestess Brené) is hands down the most important read right now in our current cultural climate. In actuality, it isn’t only about fitting in — it’s about belonging. There’s a difference between the two, and the fact that so many of us are looking for the former and disregarding the latter is why I truly believe it’s the most important book of the year. Maybe the most important book of the decade. And maybe — no, certainly — the most important book for every single person to have in their hands right now. It could save relationships, save communities… and help us save ourselves.
Some questions the book brought up for me:
When do you feel the biggest sense of belonging? The weightiest pressure to fit in?
Where in life can you write yourself a permission slip to be yourself?
Do you trust others? But more importantly — do you trust yourself? In what ways can you trust yourself more?
What truths are you telling yourself that might actually be of your own making?
Why, as an introvert, can big groups sometimes feel more comforting than one-on-one experiences?
Where does dehumanization exist, and how can you combat it?
Why are we all so lonley and doing so little about it???
Considering that what ended up being a two-hour book club discussion wasn’t nearly enough time to dig into every single powerful point (and that I’d planned for the discussion to last, oh, 45 minutes or so), starting to dive into all of them on here could result in a whole other book itself (Braving Braving The Wilderness?). So I’ve narrowed it down to some of my favorite points made, and some of the most universal of the universal truths Brené so beautifully lays in front of us to do with them as we will. And man oh man, I hope we do Good with them.
If you read ONE book this year, make it this one. Here are four of my top takeaways:
1 | True belonging is the exact opposite of fitting in —
One of the reasons this book gets awarded the Katie Horwitch Award (patent pending) for Most Important Book Of The Year is this world-rocking thesis statement. The book begins with a Maya Angelou quote that pissed Brené off:
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.
True belonging, Brené learns, is about belonging to YOURSELF first and foremost. True belonging is being fully yourself wherever you go, and being called to stand alone. True belonging “doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are.”
Fitting in, then, is the exact opposite.
Fitting in is trying to mold yourself to fit a situation, a clique, a stereotype — whatever it is that will make you less like YOU and more like THEM.
This simple yet ridiculously profound difference explains a lot. Mainly why so many of us feel so shitty even when we feel we’ve acclimated to whatever group we hoped to become a part of. It’s why so many of us are so lonely even when we’re far from alone. We belong to everyone… everyone else but ourselves.
I’ve been in the “self-improvement”/wellness/mind-body/whatever-you-want-to-call-it world for a while now. I’ve heard the phrase “Belong to yourself” before. That statement alone wasn’t revolutionary to me. But the dichotomy of belonging vs. fitting in WAS. And when I thought deeply about the phrasing and jumbled the words a bit, I noticed something I’d never thought of before.
I belong to me.
To me, I belong.
In my opinion, I belong.
True belonging is about full possession of yourself, sure. But it’s also about BELIEVING in your capacity to belong wherever you go.
2 | Don’t study the moment; be in it —
One of my favorite little snippets of storytelling in Braving The Wilderness comes when Brené is about to go on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday. She’s walking down the street with her manager, Murdoch, the night before, and he calls her out on how “not-present” she just was at dinner with the Super Soul producer.
She says to him:
Brene: ‘I’m doing that thing I do when I’m afraid. I’m floating above my life, watching it and studying it, rather than living it.’
Murdoch: ‘I know. But you need to find a way to stop and bring yourself back here. This is a big deal. I don’t want you to miss it. Don’t study the moment. Be in it.’
That HIT me. Hard. How many times have we completely missed out on experiencing greatness — big deal, big-ass things — because we were too preoccupied dissecting the moment? How many times have we unknowingly lost love because we were so busy analyzing every little gesture, glance, and word to see if it matched up with our preconceived definitions? How many opportunities have we failed to seize because we were too busy trying to be what we oh-so-carefully deduced the opportunity demanded of us? How many Big Deals have we missed because we were too busy studying them and not enough time being IN them? It hurts my head to think about all the potential moments I’ve missed in the past because I was too busy dissecting them or too preoccupied with “Am I worthy? How do I make myself worthy?”
Big-ass things are only big-ass things when we trust ourselves enough to live within them. Otherwise, they’re just a bunch of Somethings that once happened at Some Point.
3 | Silence leads to storytelling —
Yup. Boom. I’m a pro at this. I’d just never heard it put SO succinctly.
I am an expert storyteller, and I bet you are, too. We tell ourselves stories to fill in the blanks — not because we’re all masochists, but because we’re trying to make sense of the broken pieces. Maybe you weren’t chosen to work on a project because your manager needs you to have availability for an even greater task that’s coming up a few months down the line — but without asking a simple question or two (spoiler, try “Why?” to start), your brain probably decides it’s because you’re ill-equipped or pissed someone off. Maybe your friend didn’t call or text you back because they’re going through a tough time and feel overwhelmed — but without checking in, you might assume it’s because you did something wrong. Maybe your date let out a long SIGH at the end of the night because they got a text from their manager on their day off – but without asking, I bet you assume it’s because they’re sick of spending time with you.
These are all just small examples, but small examples turn into big stories. And the big stories we weave for ourselves are made up of multiple threads of actual or perceived truth upon actual or perceived truth. Every story we tell informs the next action we take and sets the stage for how we’re going to react to the next thing that comes our way.
Our lives are our collection of stories. So what kind do you want to tell?
4 | Bullshit is in a whole other ballpark than Truth and Lies (which is why it feels so wrong) —
I always thought there were two options when it came to communication: telling the truth or telling lies. But it turns out, most of what I was referring to as Lying was actually something else. Bullshitting.
Brené describes truth and lies as opposing players in the same game. BS, however, completely disregards the game. She quotes Harry Frankfurt’s book, On Bullshit and says, “It’s helpful to think of lying as a defiance of the truth and bullshitting as a wholesale dismissal of the truth.”
She goes on to say we use bullshit to talk about things we don’t understand. To be a part of a conversation based on what you guess “your people” think about it. And it’s what creates black-and-white ideologies of You’re Either With Us Or Against Us.
Oof. LOL to how many pages I dog-eared and underlined in this chapter.
I always tell my husband, Jeremy, that his biggest strength and biggest weakness is that he’s able to see all sides of any situation. For the LONGEST time, this frustrated the hell out of me. Just agree with me! I’d silently stew. Don’t you think that’s just HORRIBLE?? I’d ask, words loaded, out loud. I couldn’t get over that he just wouldn’t choose a point to be for or against.
I grew up around adults who jumped to conclusions fast and expressed opinions even faster — and I have what used to be painful memories of being “put in my place” and silenced when I tried to see all sides.
I know I’m not alone in that kind of upbringing. Because look at our country. Look at our world. We wouldn’t be this way if we weren’t, generation after generation, either overtly or passive-aggressively either silenced or forced to pick sides. We are living in Bullshit Nation.
The solution to this? Brené says we need to call out bullshit… with CIVILITY. “Speaking truth to BS” doesn’t mean pointing fingers or placing blame. It means disagreeing respectfully and getting curious about where opinions and information come from.
While Jeremy’s see-all-sides and ask-all-questions approach can be frustrating when I just want him to show me he has an opinion that’s all his own, I know he’s right. Our opinions can be loaded. And there is no way we can evolve into the people we want to be — individually or collectively — if we give up on each other and don’t get curious about how those opinions came to be in the first place. There is no way we will ever find a sense of belonging if we keep choosing a culture of Fitting In.
I say it on the WANTcast all the time, and I’ll say it here again for the people in the back: I truly believe that curiosity could change the world. And with the help of Braving The Wilderness, it just might.
Katie Horwitch is a writer, speaker, artist, activist, and the founder of WANT: Women Against Negative Talk — a platform that gives women tips, tools, motivation, and inspiration to move forward in their lives by shifting their negative self-talk patterns.