Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Brave Enough - Cheryl Strayed

Summary: Countless readers around the world have found inspiration in the words of Cheryl Strayed.  In the wide range of her writings -- including her best-selling memoir, Wild, and her "Dear Sugar" columns collected in Tiny Beautiful Things -- her honest, outspoken humor, and ample supply of tough love has enabled many, even in the darkest hours, to put one foot in front of the other, and be brave enough.  

This spirited book gathers more than one hundred of Strayed's indelible quotes and thoughts, "mini-instruction manuals for the soul" that urge us toward the incredible capacity for love, compassion, forgiveness, and endurance that is within us all. (Summary from back of book - Image from

My Review:  Words have incredible power; when arranged a certain way, they have the ability to lift heavy hearts, motivate change, build confidence, and inspire us to forge our own path.  As the mother of four girls (two teens and two tweens), I am always on the lookout for little snippets of wisdom that I can share with them and, if they like them, hang on their walls.  When I saw Brave Enough, the title just leaped out at me, and I knew I wanted to take a closer look. I flipped through, saw a couple great quotes I liked and popped it in the shopping cart. 

Brave Enough is a collection of Strayed's best advice, presented in quote form and taken from a variety of sources.  It begins with a prologue that talks about her love of quotes, in particular those that have sustained her in pivotal moments.  Strayed says, "I believe in the power of words to help us reset our intentions, clarify our thoughts, and create a counternarrative to the voice of doubt many of us have murmuring in our heads -- the one that says You can't, you won't, you shouldn't have.  Quotes, at their core, almost always shout Yes!  This aims to be a book of yes."  And it is that -- if a bit saltier than I expected.   

I reviewed the author's best-selling memoir, Wild, back in 2012 and had I thought to consult my review before purchasing the book, I would have realized that Strayed's quotes wouldn't be entirely appropriate for children's quote walls.  There were 6 variants of the F word in the prologue and quote a bit more throughout the book, in addition to other, equally bleep-able, words.  That is not to say that all her quotes merit an R-rating, many are quite G-rated, but if you're sensitive to language and hoping for a book full of glitter, sunshine, and unicorns, you can probably stop right here. Strayed is not that kind of inspirational.  In some cases, she's a drill sergeant, a helpful therapist, or a kind friend.  In all cases, her words are well-intentioned, but her method of delivery isn't for everyone.  

Brave Enough is a book that is meant to push the reader onward and upward.  It contains a great deal of common sense advice, simple wisdom, and indelible truths, as well as a few pages that felt like personal opinion.  Her advice is born out of her own experience and while it might not resonate with everyone, I do believe it will resonate with some.  Much of what she had to say felt like my own feelings made solid, echoed back at me more eloquently (or forcefully) than I could or would put into words.  While I didn't agree with a few things Strayed had to say, or particularly love how she said them, I did close this book with a few new quotes that really resonated.  When I typed them all out, I had 30 quotes, some of them shortened for space.  I narrowed it down by half; it was surprisingly painful:

  • Be brave enough to break your own heart.
  • My advice to my adolescent self?  You know who you are, so let yourself be her now.  It's okay to be smart and ambitious and curious and not terribly cool.  Don't waste all those years trying to get the boys to want you and the girls to like you.  Don't starve yourself skinny.  Don't be a pretty cheerleader.  Don't lose your virginity to the captain of the football team.  Don't lose anything to him.  Be the captain.  You are the captain.  Take the ball and run.
  • Nobody is going to do your life for you.  You have to do it yourself...And you have to do it no matter what is true.  Not matter what is hard.  No matter what unjust, sad, sucky things have befallen you.  Self-pity is a dead-end road. You make the choice to drive down it.  It's up to you to decide to stay parked there or turn around and drive out.  
  • When it comes to our children, we do not have the luxury of despair.  If we rise, they will rise with us every time, no matter how many times we've fallen.  Remembering that is the most important work we can possibly do as parents.  
  • The people who don't give up are the people who find a way to believe in abundance rather than scarcity.  They've taken into their hearts the idea that there is enough for all of us, that success will manifest itself in different ways for different people, that keeping the faith is more important than cashing the check.
  • Grief is tremendous, but love is bigger.  You are grieving because you loved truly.  The beauty in that is greater than the bitterness of death.  Allowing this into your consciousness will not keep you from your suffering, but it will help you survive the next day. 
  • You cannot convince people to love you.  This is an absolute rule.  No one will ever give you love because you want him or her to give it.  Real love moves freely in both directions.  Don't waste your time on anything else.
  • Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told.  I decided I was safe.  I was strong.  I was brave.  That nothing could vanquish me. ...And it wasn't long before I actually wasn't afraid.  
  • ...Be brave.  Be authentic.  Practice saying the word love to the people you love, so when it matters the most to say it, you will.
  • ...Boundaries have nothing to do with whether you love someone or not.  They are not judgements, punishments, or betrayals.  They are a purely peaceably thing: the basic principles you identify for yourself that define the behaviors that you will tolerate from others, as well as the responses you will have to those behaviors.  Boundaries teach people how to treat you and they teach you how to respect yourself.
  • I'll never know and neither will you about the life you didn't choose.  We'll only know that whatever that sister life was, it was important and beautiful and not ours.  It was the ghost ship that didn't carry us.  There's nothing to do but salute it from the shore.  
  • If someone is being unkind or petty or jealous or distant or weird, you don't have to take it in.  You don't have to turn it into a big psychodrama about your worth.  That behavior so often is not even about you.  It's about the person who's being unkind or petty or jealous or distant or weird.  If this were summed up on a bumper sticker, it would say: Don't own other people's crap.  The world would be a better place if we all did that.
  • Bravery is acknowledging your fear and doing it anyway.
  • This is not how your story ends.  It's simply where it takes a turn you didn't expect.  
  • You don't have a right to the cards you believe you should have been dealt.  You have an obligation to play the hell out of the ones you're holding.  

As you can see, Brave Enough acknowledges the darkness that all people face -- fear, grief, loneliness jealousy, insecurity, loss, injustice, sadness, etc. -- and then nudges the reader closer to the light.  It might not be for everyone, but it could be exactly what you need.

My Rating: 3 Stars.  

For the Sensitive Reader:  If you are bothered by profanity, this book is probably not for you.

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