Brene Brown’s Braving the Wilderness is about “The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone.” It’s a Reese’s book club pick from the renowned, bestselling “shame” researcher who has a folksy, relatable way of communicating about how to both be yourself and connect with others, particularly in a divisive world.

person holding braving the wilderness by brene brown in front of a bridge.

For more information, below are a summary, quotes, discussion questions, and podcasts for Brene Brown’s Braving the Wilderness, as well as a list of my favorite Brene Brown books on shame for further reading.

Summary of Brene Brown’s Braving the Wilderness

The Theme of Braving the Wilderness

Brene Brown’s Braving the Wilderness is about both standing alone in your personal beliefs and values and connecting to others in theirs. It’s about how to share your most authentic self: to stand both alone and together as part of a community, as we all have a primal desire to be part of something bigger than ourselves

According to Brown, true belonging can only occur when we present our most authentic, imperfect selves to the world. So, we must first have the courage to be ourselves, then belong to a community.

The 4 Big Questions of Braving the Wilderness

Brene Brown’s Braving the Wilderness seeks to answer the following 4 questions:

  1. What do people who have a true sense of belonging all have in common?
  2. What does it take to get to a place where we belong nowhere and everywhere?
  3. If we are willing to brave the wilderness, do we still need a communal sense of belonging?
  4. Does today’s culture of increasing divisiveness affect the quest for true belonging?

7 Aspects of “Trust” to Survive the Wilderness

Brene Brown’s Braving the Wilderness offers 7 aspects of “trust” which will allow us to survive the wilderness, which means practicing authenticity, belonging and civility:

  • Boundaries – respecting one another’s boundaries and being able to say no where necessary
  • Reliability – committing to doing what we say we will do and knowing your limits
  • Accountability – owning up to our mistakes and apologizing
  • Vault – not sharing information that isn’t yours to share
  • Integrity – choosing courage over comfort (what is fun, fast or easy) and practicing your values versus just speaking them
  • Non-judgment – the ability to ask for and receive what you need and talk about it without judgment
  • Generosity – extending the most generous interpretation possible to the actions and words of others

More Helpful Insights from Braving the Wilderness

Brene Brown’s Braving the Wilderness provides so many more helpful insights, which are discussed below.

Brown notes that “self-selection” (choosing to be around those like us) is common, and this results in an absence of meaningful social interaction. She states that pain can only subside when we acknowledge it and care about it. Committing to getting closer to each other means committing to experiencing “true conflict” with others.

Of note, people are harder to hate when they are close up. For this reason, another important point Brown makes is to fight dehumanization.

Brown says that the proliferation of “BS” in our culture today is primarily driven by 3 factors:

  1. People feeling compelled to know everything.
  2. There is growing dismissal of trust in an objective inquiry.
  3. And false dichotomies are used during emotional arguments. (you’re either with us or against us)

What she means is that many people want to feel they already have a steadfast opinion formed, and they are less likely to ask for more information or other viewpoints. Then, they take the position that you are either with or against them.

But Brown says that you can’t be brave and never disappoint anyone. And it’s possible to stand up because you know your bond to others is unshakeable.

Brown describes the 4 rules that Viola Davis lives by as a guidepost for Braving the Wilderness:

  1. I am doing the best I can.
  2. I will allow myself to be seen.
  3. I will not be afraid to put it all there.
  4. I will not be a mystery to my daughter.

Brown encourages the reader to have a strong back, but a soft front, with heart. Then, show up for collective moments of joy and pain: for example, both a concert and a funeral. Coming together creates an opportunity to feel connected which has a profound impact.

Actionable Insights:

  • Remember to show up.
  • Find ways to change the debate when it’s defined as black and white.
  • Get close to people you hate to understand their humanity.
  • Remember to maintain a strong back and soft front: both strength and vulnerability when necessary.
  • Follow the principles of BRAVING.
  • Remember there is beauty in pain when shared.
  • Remember that standing out is never a sign that you don’t belong.

Quotes from Braving the Wilderness

Below are some of my favorite quotes from Brene Brown’s Braving the Wilderness. I suggest you read them in order to best process the takeaways behind each and build upon them as you continue to read:

True belonging has no bunkers. We have to step out from behind the barricades of self-preservation and brave the wild.

True belonging is the spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world and find sacredness in both being a part of something and standing alone in the wilderness.

True belonging is not passive. It’s a practice that requires us to be vulnerable, get uncomfortable, and learn how to be present with people without sacrificing who we are.

Belonging so fully to yourself that you’re willing to stand alone is a wilderness — an untamed, unpredictable place of solitude and searching.

…the key to building a true belonging practice is maintaining our belief in inextricable human connection. That connection – the spirit that flows between us and every other human in the world – is not something that can be broken; however, our belief in the connection is constantly tested and repeatedly severed.

Right now, we are neither recognizing nor celebrating our inextricable connection. We are divided from others in almost every area of our lives. We’re not showing up with one another in a way that acknowledges our connection.

The sorting we do to ourselves and to one another is, at best, unintentional and reflexive. At worst, it is stereotyping that dehumanizes.

In the case of the United States, our three greatest fault lines – cracks that have grown and deepened due to willful neglect and a collective lack of courage – are race, gender, and class.

When we are in pain and fear, anger and hate are our go-to emotions.

When a group or community doesn’t tolerate dissent and disagreement, it forgoes any experience of inextricable connection.

Social media are great for developing community, but for true belonging, real connection and real empathy require meeting real people in a real space in a real time.

The way we engage with social media is like fire—you can use them to keep yourself warm and nourished, or you can burn down the barn.

We have to listen to understand in the same way we want to be understood.

Belonging so fully to yourself that you’re willing to stand alone is a wilderness – an untamed, unpredictable place of solitude and searching. It is a place as dangerous as it is breathtaking, a place as sought after as it is feared. The wilderness can often feel unholy because we can’t control it, or what people think about our choice of whether to venture into that vastness or not. But it turns out to be the place of true belonging, and
it’s the bravest and most sacred place you will ever stand.

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.

Discussion Questions for Braving the Wilderness

Below are discussion questions I personally wrote about Brene Brown’s Braving the Wilderness for you to think about, journal about and/or share this thought-provoking book club book:

What people, famous or not, resonate with you as braving the wilderness well?

Discuss a time when you or someone else braved the wilderness by speaking out.

Discuss a time when you or someone else braved the wilderness by listening to someone different than you.

What actions or behavior of others make you feel safe to brave the wilderness?

What actions or behavior of others make you feel unsafe to brave the wilderness?

What do you think are the biggest obstacles to braving the wilderness?

What does braving the wilderness look like in the age of social media?

What does braving the wilderness look like in a politically divisive world?

Discuss your thoughts on the BRAVING acronym.

What do we risk, or what may suffer, if we do not attempt to brave the wilderness?

What are your thoughts on Viola Davis’s rules for living? Would you add or subtract any?

Discuss ways to have a strong back and soft front.

Discuss the differences between belonging and fitting in. Is this different for children and adults?

What behaviors are dehumanizing?

Brene Brown’s Podcasts About Braving the Wilderness

Putting into practice the teachings of Brene Brown’s Braving the Wilderness is especially hard at especially divisive and violent times. On her podcast, Brene dives deeper to help us navigate the extra emotional divide:

List of Favorite Brene Brown Books on Shame

Lastly, if you already read and loved Brene Brown’s Braving the Wilderness, below are more of her books I personally recommend:

Dare to Lead: how to develop courageous and empathetic leadership at work

Daring Greatly: (#1 New York Times bestseller) how the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent, and lead

The Gifts of Imperfection: (bestseller of 2+ million copies) how to overcome fear and self-consciousness, strengthen your connection to the world and believe you are worthy of self-discovery, growth and love

Rising Strong: how the ability to “reset” transforms the way we live, love, parent and lead

The Power of Vulnerability: (my personal favorite of Brown’s books) how to develop authenticity, connection, and courageousness by allowing ourselves to be vulnerable


That concludes my summary, quotes and discussion questions and podcasts for Brene Brown’s Braving the Wilderness, as well as my list of my favorite Brene Brown books on shame for further reading.

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One Comment

  1. Another wonderful description of belonging can be found on p.85, The Wisdom of the Wilderness by Gerald May. Highly recommend this book for another in-depth expression of what it means to belong to yourself.