Does Brene Brown Flip Off Roosevelt?

I shouted for joy the day O Magazine announced Brene Brown as a regular contributor. Dr. Brown has become a household name in my recovery community, where her shame research, approachable writing, and presentations have connected deeply with a population that knows shame all too well. Yet her work is intended for everyone and to land a gig with Oprah means her message will reach most of the planet.

Shame is pervasive and Brown has opened a topic for conversation that needed air, one that stays hidden by virtue of its own existence. To expose it as a common experience with predictable origins, patterns and outcomes is a gift. Brown’s work gave me insights I could never have achieved on my own because I was too busy protecting and denying parts of myself deemed too humiliating and disgraceful to acknowledge. I was too ashamed of my shame to speak of it, but Brown did that for me.

Of the stacks of books I read and reread to inform my self-managed journey, Brene Brown’s “I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t)” is by far the most resonate. Her phrases have become woven into my own vernacular and turn up here in my writing; shame identity, resiliency, vulnerability.

Brown’s array of work has not only given new insights, she has reminded us of solid existing wisdom and added a fresh take on old gems. Take, for example, Roosevelt’s famous “Citizenship in a Republic” quote (more commonly referred to as “Man in the Arena”) which has long been a staple of graduation ceremonies and locker room rallies:

“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 the best knows in the end 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

The speech from which this passage was taken is a full 35 pages long and written over 100 years ago. Roosevelt’s audience was a large group of scholars, court ministers, and military officers (therefore, mostly powerful males) at the University of France in 1910 and his message was one of nation-building. Women did not even have the right to vote at this time, so it is safe to presume that Roosevelt was not overly concerned with their interpretation at any rate.

That Brown should resurrect this gem as a battle cry for women seeking personal empowerment is both forgiving and defiant. Certainly Roosevelt would be surprised to know that a century later his “Man in the Arena” imagery be given new life in a world so utterly changed that women are not only powerful, bur also free to challenge conventional thinking and stigmas.

Regardless of back story, we are reminded that to live an examined life, to be willing to address and correct problems – be they addiction, disordered behaviour, unhealthy personal relationships, or other outcomes of our maladaptive coping strategies –   is to be “in the arena”. Better to struggle and fail than to be the critical bystander.

This is at the heart of so many struggles for us in recovery. What will others think? How will I fit in? Who will understand me?

How many of have said this in early recovery: “I don’t want to be like other alcoholics – they’re losers, I’m not.” Guess what? That’s the sentiment of the critic in the stands. The minute we get honest and start working on ourselves we are in the ring, shoulder to shoulder with others who look a whole lot more like us once we view them up close.

Reading Brene Brown’s work felt like a series of fireworks for me, as one new insight after another exploded into my understanding. Just as she dusted off a hundred year old speech and gave it relevance, she also gave me tools to see that long-standing beliefs I held about myself as “true” we really seeds planted by someone else’s words and behaviours. Her work not only helped me identify the origins of these beliefs, but also powerful tools to change them.

In case you have had your head down and so far missed hearing about this amazing scholar and her brilliant work, here is a teaser – the TED talk that started it all, “The Power of Vulnerability”:


About UnPickled

I am learning to walk without the crutch of alcohol. As I begin I am 1 day sober. Gulp. I drank in private and hope to quit just as privately. The purpose of this blog is to help make me accountable - just by following you will give me enormous support and encouragement.

Posted on November 15, 2014, in Getting Sober and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. I guess it is time for me to start reading her books. And Jean I also love your daily posts.


    • You will love her! And I am so thankful you are reading all my blabbityblahblah writing this month. I am working really hard to ensure it is meaningful and not just navel gazing or breakfast recaps.


  2. So how are you doing now Brene?


  3. Such a great post… I’m going to mourn when you stop this posting-every-day malarkey! xxx


    • Awww, you are too sweet. Mrs. D. I am going to miss it, too. The challenge has reminded me that I am still a writer at heart. Maybe I’ll write a book in December and do my own little “nanowrimo”project.


  4. Brene is my hero. The gifts of imperfection is amaxing.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Brown’s “Gifts of Imperfections”, for me, set off a series of little life changes that have eventually led to changes I’d never imagined were possible (quitting drinking rather painlessly [ish] being one of the biggest). Her talks and writings and entire demeanor has shaped more of my life than probably any other singular person. Saint Brene!!


  6. Have you seen the brilliant cartoon version of the ‘man in the arena’ speech that Brene asked Zen Pencils to design for her? You can see it here: Hope you like 🙂 xx


Your Turn! Have Your Say:

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Anna Bananas

I might be crazy, but at least I'm sober

mistakes by the lake

sit down. let me tell you a story about ohmygod what am I doing?

the soberista.

a nonlinear collection of musings on unlearning how to destroy and remembering how to create. told from the perspective of a depressed alcoholic in recovery.


I used to drink to do life, now I have to figure it out the old fashioned way - dazed and confused, lucky it's hilarious.


who knew life would be better????

Total Fatty

Escaping my escape mechanisms.

Hurrah for coffee!

My new sober adventure!


How I Secretly Quit My Secret Habit of Secretly Drinking

Honeybee Living

How I Secretly Quit My Secret Habit of Secretly Drinking

suburban betty

clean & serene

Heya, Monster.

A SoberBlog by a TallWoman.

A Spiritual Evolution

an alcoholic's blog and addiction memoir

life without vodka rocks

Quitting alcohol on my own terms


living without alcohol, living again

Seeing Clear Lee

musings on becoming alcohol-free

The Truth About Alcohol

We Are Not Alcoholics and we Refuse to be Anonymous

My Road To Abstinence

Sober, me? Really?


Trying to ace sober living


Today is the first day of the rest of my life. Starting today I am on my way.

The Six Year Hangover


sparkly sober

writing my way out of drinking

And Everything Afterwards

How I quit alcohol and discovered the beauty of a sober life

Raising Healthy Children in an Alcoholic Home

A Book and Blog for Parents in Recovery from Alcoholism and Codependence


Finding myself by leaving the wine behind...


From daily wine drinker to alcohol free living...this is my journey.

Mrs D Is Going Without

How I Secretly Quit My Secret Habit of Secretly Drinking

A hangover free life

Waking up to the sobering reality that booze is the problem not the solution


Mixed-up, Mashed-up, Mished-up.


I got sober. Life got big.

Heather Kopp

about grief, grace, and recovery from addiction

Sober Grace

Finding and practicing grace in recovery


There are no coincidences.

Running on Sober

This blog is on permanent hiatus, thank you for your support.

Sober Identity

Sober Identity #Life Coach #The 50+ Years #Striving #Thriving #38-Empowering Affirmations #"Emerge: Growing From Addiction-Starter's Guide" #AfterRehabCoaching #Motivate

%d bloggers like this: