Book Review: Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead


“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 errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at best knows in the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

— Theodore Roosevelt

Going into this book, I envisioned a stirring call to action like the above quotation which inspired the title.  I was a bit skeptical, too.  Books like that tend to get me in the go getter mindset right after reading them, but the mood rarely lasts long enough to be useful.

The good news was that I was wrong on both counts.  This book came across as a warm hug.  At it’s heart, this book teaches us that we are all worthy and have the  potential of daring greatly.

The book digs in and shows us why we might not have thought we were worthy of being that man in the arena.  We live in a culture of scarcity as the author describes it.  We never have enough.  We are never good enough.  We are always pushed to do more, to have more without being allowed to appreciate the value of what we currently have. We are crippled by perfectionism, afraid to make mistakes.

Society often punishes us with shame rather than guilt.  The difference between these is the difference between thinking we are a bad person rather than we did a bad thing.  There is a cute story of her young daughter correcting her teacher for calling her a mess after a craft project.  He daughter tells her that she might have made a mess but she is not a mess.

I found those words powerful.  As the author points out, it gives a person room to change.   If I am a mess, I am hopeless; but if I have MADE a mess, there is hope.  I just need some soap.

Opening yourself up to this method of change allows you to take the next step to daring greatly: becoming vulnerable.

Being aware of our weaknesses does not make us weak.  It makes us stronger as we learn to achieve our goals.  Other people knowing about our weaknesses also does not make us weak.  No one would call FDR our weakest president just because he used a wheelchair.

Real change, real connection,  and real achievement require vulnerability.  The man in the arena could not fail if he stayed home but he also could not triumph either.   We have to risk failing to succeed.

That is why I think this book is a worthwhile read.  It is not enough to know that I can do great things, I need to find the strength to accept that bad things can happen too.

If you find yourself frustrated with your life goals and filled with a sense of shame and unworthiness, this book is for you.


Book Review: Honor Your Anger: How Transforming Your Anger Style Can Change Your Life


This is a follow up book from my earlier review of The Nice Girl Syndrome also by Beverly Engel.  I liked Engel’s writing style and was intrigued by the idea that my self criticism, anxiety, tears, and overeating could all be caused by repressed anger.  This book is an expansion on what the destructive nature of passivity and lack of assertiveness can do on your mental health.

Many of us fear anger.  We have seen what explosive anger can be like and seek to never do that ourselves.  Unfortunately, we replace one poor anger coping mechanism with another one by burying the emotion.  We find ourselves frequently upset and having unsatisfactory interactions with other people.  By avoiding one poor behavior, we stumble into a whole new set of hidden ones.

Engel asserts that anger in itself is not a bad emotion.  At its basic level, it is merely our mind’s way of alerting us that some boundary has been crossed.  What we do with that anger is where the problem arises.  When properly dealt with, anger goes away quickly and is replaced by a more productive emotion.  When dealt with poorly, it can fester.

What I like about this book, is that it recognizes the various ways we deal with anger.  The author teaches us to recognize the clues showing what anger style we prefer from completely aggressive to completely passive.  She also recognizes that sometimes we flip to another style.  Some people are passive at work but aggressive at home or aggressive with most people and passive with one specific person.

She gives specialized advice to each anger type, giving an almost personalized approach to dealing with anger.  I also liked reading the chapters that didn’t apply to me because they helped me understand other people in my life.

This books was a breath of fresh air.  I had developed the habit of internalizing unfair criticism and assuming that something must be fundamentally wrong with me.  The book showed me I was refusing to accept I was angry over the criticism and chose self destruction as the way to cope with my emotions.

My unexplained tears, my horrible anxiety,  and my feelings of worthlessness become understandable.  I had an anger problem.  What I needed to learn was that I am allowed to be angry.  Being angry doesn’t make me less of a person.  I am angry because I’m a person.

I know there are many books available on anger, but I would definitely recommend starting with this one if you are upset in your life and don’t understand why.  It is well written, easy to understand, and infused with many personal stories to let you know that you are not alone.

Book Review: Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most


We are all haunted  by past conversations that did not go the way we wanted.  We keep thinking of things we could of said and remain angry that the other person couldn’t just get what we were trying to express.

Difficult Conversations gives us many of the answers to what went wrong and gives us advice on how to resolve the conflict and repair the damage caused.

The book is less about tricks to manipulate people into getting what you want and more of a textbook on the anatomy of a difficult conversation and how to successfully participate in it.

You are encouraged to look at the conversation as an opportunity to learn so that you can find a solution.  Often, there is much more going on than either person knows.  The book describes conversations as having three levels: the “What Happened?” conversation, the feelings conversation, and the identity conversation.

If the discussion doesn’t also address people’s emotions and sense of self, it is likely to fail in getting to the real issue at hand and therefore a resolution.

A healthy conversation will include a shift from blaming to understanding each party’s contribution, active listening to understand each others’ perspective, and an understanding that there is always room to grow.

After teaching you the makings of a difficult conversation, the book moves on to show how to actually have such a conversation.  It recognizes that the other person will not likely have to read this book and gives suggestions on how to handle such conversations.

Overall, I found the book very helpful.  It is straightforward and provides plenty of example conversations.  The samples are more successful than I suspect my own first difficult conversations will be, however.  The book takes some time to get through, at least for me, because I often found myself dwelling on past conversations that could have helped with this advice and also because some of the new techniques are difficult for me to adjust to.

Specifically what the book calls the “And Stance.”  It’s the idea that you recognize the others’ feelings and your own by something like, “I realize that family time is important AND I’m still going to work late this evening.”  It is just too ingrained to put a but,yet, or however as the link in that sentence.  It is something that I will have to work on.

I borrowed this book from the library but will be buying a copy because it is the sort of book that will be read and reread and bookmarked for future reference.


Book Review: Wreck This Journal


This isn’t your ordinary journal.  Its title is more of a set of marching orders than a description.  Its purpose is to be destroyed.  Each page has a suggestion of ways to do so by staining, licking, chewing, and even selling the pages.  It is chocked full of silly activities like documenting your dinner by smearing the page with the food or dragging the book behind you on a string.

Ok, so I might be stretching the self help book review theme here a bit. (I am currently finishing up the next crop of books, stay tuned!) But, I believe this book is it’s own form of therapy.

As, I’ve written before, we sometimes get trapped by bad habits and destructive assumptions.  We might want to create change in our life, but that change is hard.  We’ve built up a complex world of can’ts and dont’s that becomes a cage, keeping us on the slow path to self destruction.

That’s why I love this book.  It gives you permission to break the rules and have fun while doing it.  Using this book teaches you to question the assumptions about the world around you and frees you to do things differently.

Also, when you are having a frustrating day, you can take it out and do some productive destruction with one of the more intense suggestions in the book like throwing from a very high building.

Like I said before, big changes come in small steps.  Maybe spitting coffee onto the pages of this book can be your first step to the person you always wanted to be.

Book Review: The Last Lecture


This book has held an almost mythical place on my bookshelf.  I read an article somewhere about how moving and life changing it was and asked for it for Christmas, thinking that it was the answer to my prayers and would bring the change I needed.

Apparently, I wasn’t ready for that change.  I got that book for Christmas and it sat on my shelf.  For years.  I’m not sure what was holding me back, but I’m sure it isn’t a coincidence that I also stagnated in other areas of my life during that time span.

With my new push to better myself, I took down the book, dusted it off, then read it on my tablet. (Hey, there was a deal and I wanted to try out my new toy, so sue me.)

Man, was I disappointed.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good book and I’ll talk more about it later, but it wasn’t the be all, end all book I was looking for.  That is really my fault; I built it up too much.  To be fair, so does everyone else it seems.  The book is regularly placed on lists of inspirational books and suggested as a gift for graduates.

The book does make a good gift.  It’s short, easy to read, and has an attractive cover.  Add to it the emotional element of being written by a man who knows he only has months to live, and it isn’t hard to see why people buy it for recent graduates.

I just wish it were marketed as a memoir instead of an instructional booklet on how to live your life.  It just sets the reader up for disappointment and, if you are like me, spending a large portion of the book readjusting expectations.

The book is an expansion of a lecture that Randy Pausch gave at Carnegie Mellon in 2006 after learning that his pancreatic cancer was terminal.  The lecture quickly became viral on YouTube. Two years later, he would publish this book with most of the same advice in the lecture but with added background stories about himself and the people mentioned in the video.

The book is really an autobiography of someone successful who has fulfilled his dreams, written as a guide for children who will never get to hear those lessons from their father.

He lived a great life and achieved things that people often dream about (floating in zero gravity, working with the Disney Imangineers).  This book is full of advice and and stories to explain how he succeeded.  Some lessons require digging by the reader to learn, others are stated plainly.  My favorite quotation from the book is from Seneca (Roman philosopher): Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.  Be prepared to get teary eyed at times and jealous of the large stuffed animals he won at carnivals.

Not all of the book was for me.  I had a different childhood and my personality and values don’t line up with his.  I do, however, recognize that all of the book is useful to someone. For that reason and the ones stated above, I would definitely recommend this book to other people.

Just do yourself a favor and don’t make the book into a mystical creature.  The author was only human and the story is about his own very human journey.  Read it for the earnest window into how another person lived a successful life.

The ability to see the world from another’s perspective is a gift in itself.  Plus, there’s a rocket ship on the cover!

Book Review: The Nice Girl Syndrome


There are some books that you want to buy multiple copies so you can hand them out to people from time to time.  For me,  this book is one of them.

The Nice Girl Syndrome by Beverly Engel is a self help book that aims to help women break the nice girl habits taught to them by society and become a strong women who stands up for her rights and stops being taken advantage of. The book is marketed towards someone currently in an abusive relationship, but I found it very helpful without being in one.

I am not fond of books telling me what to do.  It is very rigid and cannot always be adapted to everyone’s lifestyle.  This book, fortunately, relies heavily on teaching and story telling.  Engel is very thorough in breaking down the false beliefs that many women have and why they have them.  She uses plenty of stories from her own counseling practice as well as the traumas of her own past to let us know that we are not alone.

She also shows us how to remedy these false beliefs and ways we can try to start acting like a strong woman.  Not all of the sections of the book applied to me, but I found myself reading every page because she explained people’s thought processes so plainly that I began to understand some of my friends’ puzzling behaviors.  I found myself wanting to photocopy those pages and pass them along.

One of the most interesting things that I learned is that women sometime cry or overeat out of anger.  Women are not allowed to express their anger in our society, but they still feel the emotion.  Some have found more acceptable ways to express the emotion through tears or food.  It has become so second nature that many women wouldn’t even know that they are angry.  They don’t know why they cry or why they eat.

This is certainly true for me.  That was a “Eureka!” moment for me.  I had so many things that I was angry about, but I wasn’t expressing them.  It was destroying me.  Since reading this book, I haven’t anger cried once and only anger binged once or twice. I can’t describe how much a relief it has been for me to stop those behaviors.  Sure, I’m learning to deal with new ones.  I have to learn to express my anger appropriately and I’m finding that is a challenge in its own right.

I strongly recommend this book for any woman who is struggling to find her own voice or doesn’t understand why things are happening to her.  It is such an easy read and has something for every aspect of the nice girl that I’m sure you will walk away with some worthwhile knowledge.

Interested and want to learn more? Check out the reviews on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.