Donald Miller’s newest book, Scary Close: Dropping the Act and Finding True Intimacy, is out and off to a great start. I can see why. It’s his best book so far.
I’ve known Don for over a decade. He was one of our bestselling authors at Thomas Nelson, during the time I was publisher, president, and later CEO. But more than an author, over time he also became a friend—and a teacher.
Don told us about his relationship with God in Blue Like Jazz, which went on to become a huge success. Now, Don tells us about his relationship with relationships. And I hope it becomes a huge success too.
Why? Full of the personal revelations and humor he’s best known for, Scary Close is about learning to base our relationships on honesty instead of positioning and performance. And whatever we think about the strength of our relationships, there’s a lot to gain from Don’s journey.
I especially see how his insights apply to leaders and platform-builders. Seriously, is anyone more prone to positioning and performance than us? Here are three powerful truths Scary Close can teach us.
1. Shame Has More Power over Us Than We Realize
Somewhere in our lives we experience enough criticism or social pressure to believe that we don’t measure up. So we create a façade. If we can’t be worthy, we think, then at least our act can be worthy. Then when our act starts getting applause and validation, we learn to pass that off like it’s the real us.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve certainly done this. Don did too. It took a counselor to show him that people cannot connect with an act, even if it’s one as good as his.
Don says shame drives this whole process. We feel as if we have nothing to offer, we’re not good enough, or whatever version of that story we tell ourselves. To overcome that shame and the limits that come with it, we adopt a persona we hope will win approval and help us accomplish our goals.
I’ve seen leaders and bloggers do a lot of this. I’ve also seen that it’s unsustainable. In the case of Don it was crippling. He couldn’t maintain relationships, and his writing stalled.
2. Being Open Is Better Than Being Careful
This act is meant to protect ourselves, but Don discovered when he dropped the act people could finally connect with him and he could connect with them.
Isn’t that risky? Doesn’t that open ourselves up to getting hurt or rejected? Absolutely. But if you know anything about my approach to risk, you know that nothing good comes from staying inside our comfort zones. It’s when we venture outside that we find meaning, joy, and fulfillment.
Scary Close offers several examples of this in action, but one sticks with me. Don opened himself up on his Storyline blog to some significant criticism. Instead of retreating, he leaned into the discomfort and found the honesty liberating.
The new freedom unleashed his productivity. He started writing again—a lot. His blog traffic exploded along with his increased output. He even drafted a new book in just four months. That’s when Don decided it was better to be open than careful.
3. There are More Lifeguards Than Sharks
Criticism can make us afraid. If were a leader with a vision to share or blogger with something to say, it’s very easy to take criticism to heart and dial back our determination. But the real scandal is that we sometimes retreat before the darts start flying.
Sometimes all it takes is anticipating a negative reaction and we torque back our initiatives or soften our words.
I’m guilty of that, but as Don says, “For the most part, others aren’t out to get us.” We just need to step out and jump in the water knowing that their are more lifeguards than sharks. When we “dive into the unknown,” he says, “there [a]re very real dangers, but mostly rewards.”
This is similar to perceived scarcity and outrageous abundance. The world is richer and more welcoming than we know. But to protect ourselves from disappointment, we choose to disbelieve that. It’s hard to have our hopes dashed when we don’t hope for much.
But that’s a debilitating way to look at the world.
Criticism and social pressure are not the only things that matter.
If we were brave, we would say the things that were on our hearts. If we were brave, we would take our organizations the direction we want them to go. If we were brave, we would do many things differently than we do right now.
So why not be brave? I’m grateful to Don for pointing the way in Scary Close.