This book review is dedicated to the lone wolves, the lone nuts ( if you are not sure what a lone nut is, click the link) and the outliers who dare to live authentically, on the fringes, with integrity, courage and honesty so that they, in turn, can give their best version of themselves to the world they live and lead in. Call them what you may, but to all the lone wolves, lone nuts and outliers….thank-you.
Written by Brene Brown (@BreneBrown), a social researcher who for years has been studying how courage, vulnerability, love, belonging, shame and empathy shape us. Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone, spoke to me in two different ways, on a personal level as well as my professional level, but both centred on the theme of belonging. Whether in your personal life or your professional life, belonging has a profound impact on our emotional, spiritual and physical well-being and this book is an excellent read for those seeking to be braver in any aspect of their lives.
Today In these increasingly divisive times, it is much easier to retreat behind the walls with those that are seemingly “like you” or to hunker down silently, individually; closed off from others: “…we’ve geographically, politically, and even spiritually sorted ourselves into like-minded groups in which we silence dissent, grow more extreme in our thinking, and consume only facts that support our beliefs.” (Brown. Braving the Wilderness, 47)
Isolating oneself is counterintuitive. We need to be connected in meaningful ways to not only survive but to thrive. The world today can make lasting, rich relationships much easier to opt out of but it is our shared collective human experiences that shape us, for better and for worse.
“We don’t derive our strength from our rugged individualism, but rather our collective ability to plan, communicate and work together. Our neural, hormonal, and genetic makeup support interdependence over independence (Brown, Braving the WIlderness, 53).
The irony is that as we live in an increasingly connected world but there is a greater sense of disconnect. Brown offers up 4 practices in to help guide us in having a better understanding and greater sense of perseverance in our own search for connectedness:
- People Are Hard to Hate Close Up. Move In.
- Speak Truth to Bullshit. Be Civil.
- Hold Hands. With Strangers.
- Strong Back. Soft Front. Wild Heart (Brown 36)
Belonging is key to our individual and societal survival. If this is so then why is belonging so hard? What happens to those who work in an environment where their sense of belonging is challenged? Where fitting in is valued more than belonging? If you are anyone who has ever questioned current practice, took a risk or wondered “what if”, it is easier to “fit in” than to question, to take risks, and be out front. The risk is high. There is a risk of failing. There is a risk of isolation. That risk of taking that first step is lonely and it is scary. It takes a tremendous sense of self. But as Maya Angelou states, …“The price is high. The reward is great.”
Do our organizations and systems truly support a culture of belonging or do they covet a culture of fitting in? As a leader do you celebrate the uniqueness of your team? Do you actively seek out those with different vantage points for new learning?
If you are working on the fringe there is hope. For each lone nut, for each lone wolf, there are other lone nuts who have braved the wilderness before you and the company is so worth the risk. Seek out your people. Your people who will challenge you, push you and most importantly accept you.
We must do better at sharing our experiences. In sharing and communicating the deeply personal experiences of being lone wolves, you make the path to the wilderness a little easier for someone else. We thrive when we connect. David Truss (@datruss)and Donna Fry (@fryed) have both been strong advocates in connecting others who lead from the edge, in creating and supporting learning communities in which people can connect and belong. Read David’s Letter to the lone wolves here. It serves as a reminder that despite how you might feel, what you are told, and regardless of your role in an organization, you are not alone. You do belong.
This year, I had the opportunity to attend a conference and I wasn’t sure who else would be in attendance. I was soon approached by a new colleague who said her friend had spotted me walking into the room and recognized me from Twitter. Her friend said to my colleague, “isn’t that …(and she paused because she couldn’t recall our shared provincial job title) one of your people who likes ships ( I am a self-professed #boatnerd)?” I laughed and said, “yes, I am your people.” That phrase stuck with me for the next few days. On the plane ride home I kept repeating that phrase over and over again and It struck me how comfortable I was with that phrase. How it made me smile. I had been lucky enough to find my people. I belonged.
Go ahead. Be true to yourself. Find your people. Look far and wide for them. Look for them in face to face and in virtual spaces. Braving the wilderness will require courage, empathy, and vulnerability, but do not fear, it will bring great reward and there is a community of brave souls waiting for you. Never stop braving the wilderness. Take that first step, but as Brene Brown stresses, belong to yourself first.