I read this book for a work event back at the end of May. Our dean had seen Brene Brown speak at an AACSB conference that my direct supervisor also attended, and suggested that everyone going to this event read portions of the book. So of course I read the entire thing.
The title comes from a speech by Theodore Roosevelt--the "man in the arena" speech, and the portion reference basically boils down to trying no matter what critics say and being satisfied with yourself. Brown's research, which centers around shame and vulnerability, basically also boils down to this central premise. In the book, she goes through the research of people who she considers to be "Wholehearted" and how dealing with shame and vulnerability can shape basically every aspect of your being. It's not a self-help book; there's no twelve-step plan to fixing anything here. But there is a lot to keep in mind, and so many things that I could point to, either in myself or others, and go "Yup," in both positive and negative ways.
There are chapters about leading and education, about parenting, about the things we use to shield ourselves from vulnerability and how to overcome them in order to live more fully. One thing that stuck out to me in that latter chapter? Disaster planning. Not "fill up the basement with canned goods" disaster planning, but the sort that you kind of mentally do when you're going down the road with family or friends, having a good time, and then think, seemingly out of the blue, "What do I do if the car crashes and everyone but me dies? Or if I die?" And then you start working through it just in case because surely being happy and having a good time has to come with some karmic balance, right? There's also a lot of good thinking material on how shame and guilt are not the same thing, and how using shame to "motivate" people actually causes them to eventually disengage, whereas guilt and be a real motivator because it speaks to what you did, not who you are, and you can always change what you do.
Is it something I would pick up and read on my own? No, probably not. I like things that tend to have a stronger central narrative, even in nonfiction. But there's a lot of food for thought in here, things to put aside and mull over, to give yourself a mental reminder to consider A when you encounter B, to be a bit more mindful of things that happen in our lives. I wish there had been a bit more about her actual research in the main body of the book, rather than a few smatterings here and there that she really used to bulk out her philosophy, but I liked it nonetheless. I did find it a bit hard to finish because the final chapter in the book is about parenting, which doesn't apply to me and I hope never applies to me, but even that gave me something to think about in looking at other people and how they interact with and raise their children.
Overall, I think this was a pretty useful read. It's not too long, either, so it won't be a huge drain on time if you decide it's not for you.
4 stars out of 5.