The Gifts of Imperfection: Book Review

The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are

Brené Brown, Ph.D., L.M.S.W.

How is imperfection a gift? Well let’s face it; we can’t be perfect and we’re using a lot of energy trying to achieve something we’ll never get. When we mess up, when we are imperfect, it would be great to connect with someone for support and encouragement. BUT we definitely want to avoid the following types of people at a moment like this:

  1. The friend who hears the story and is actually horrified by what you did
  2. The friend who responds with sympathy rather than empathy; “O you poor thing!”
  3. You’ve let the friend down, you didn’t measure up!
  4. The friend that scolds you or looks for someone else to blame
  5. How about the friend that wants to make it better and thinks you must be exaggerating
  6. The friend who confuses ‘connection’ with one-up-man ship; “Wait ‘til you hear what happened to me!”

You really want a trusted friend who has earned the right to hear your story.

In this opening chapter, there are some great comments about courage; courage to be vulnerable, courage to enjoy what has gone well.  Here are a few quotes:

“Heroics is often about putting our life on the line. Ordinary courage is about putting our vulnerability on the line. In today’s world, that’s pretty extraordinary.”

“…I’ve learned that playing down the exciting stuff doesn’t take the pain away when it doesn’t happen.  It does, however, minimize the joy when it does happen.”

What about connecting with people? We’re so ‘connected’ these days. As someone in the technology business, I would say we ‘look’ connected, but we’re very far away. There’s a growing trend of loneliness in the upcoming generation.  “Technology, for instance, has become a kind of imposter for connection, making us believe we’re connected when we’re really not – at least not in the ways we need to be.”

This was a good one; what’s the difference between shame and guilt? Guilt = I did something bad. Shame = I am bad

Letting Go of What People Think; Authenticity – this was a great section, too. Here’s a quote to whet your appetite.  “Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are.”  Being authentic isn’t always the ‘safe’ option.  Choosing to be real instead of liked can be very unsafe. This is sometimes met with cruelty which is “cheap, easy, and rampant.” Technology allows people to attack and criticize anonymously and that hurts, especially if the criticisms are untrue (which I think is cowardly).

Letting Go of Perfectionism – so now what? This is a life habit. “Perfectionism is not the same as striving to be your best.” It’s not self-improvement either.  Ms. Brown has several good quotes in this section; here’s one of them: “Healthy striving is self-focused – How can I improve?  Perfectionism is other-focused – What will they think?” Ouch!

There’s a great quote by Christopher K. Germer – “A moment of self-compassion can change your entire day. A string of such moments can change the course of your life.”  Towards the end of this chapter, Ms. Brown wraps up by saying “…our imperfections are not inadequacies; they are reminders that we’re all in this together. Imperfectly, but together.”

Letting Go of Numbing and Powerlessness – this one got my attention!  During her interview research process, people who showed signs of living a wholehearted life had spirituality at their core. She’s quick to point out that we’re not talking about religion or theology, but spirituality, “…a shared and deeply held belief.”  This can be a wellspring of Hope and Power.  Apparently I’m not the only who grew up thinking that life should never be fun or easy. If I’m a good person and doing what I’m supposed to do, I’ll know because life is hard, and that’s the opposite of joy.  Cultivating hopefulness requires us to be flexible and to persevere. There’s a short section about our youngest generation and their inability to handle disappointment; they feel entitled. Ms. Brown describes “Entitlement is ‘I deserve this just because I want it’ and agency is ‘I know I can do this.’” Where are the young people in your life?

A word about numbing from this section – you can’t selectively numb the bad and still experience the good, the joy. There are a lot of ways to ‘numb’ our feelings and she hits on several of them.  The risk, the trade, is that if we numb ourselves to avoid the pain or disappointment, we have also numbed the joy, and that’s no way to live a wholehearted life.

Letting Go of Scarcity and Fear of the Dark – the quote that caught my attention was, “Our anxiety and fear can manifest as scarcity.” I have been blessed on so many levels and I am thankful. I think this one takes us back to spirituality that was discussed before. Ms. Brown quotes Marianne Williamson who says “Joy is what happens to us when we allow ourselves to recognize how good things really are.”

Letting Go of the Need for Certainty – Ms. Brown references the Serenity Prayer; “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Amen!”

Letting Go of Exhaustion as a Status Symbol, and Productivity as Self-Worth – this one hit home! If I’m exhausted and can show everything I’ve accomplished, I must be worthy, adding value.  I’m also exhausted and not encouraging to anyone; not a good trade. “Play is as essential to our health and functioning as rest.” I have to admit; play was considered a waste of time when I grew up. There were 10 other children who needed things; get the work done! I still hear this voice so many years later.  This one is a tough one.

There are more chapters and more nuggets, but I’ll leave you with this quote from Mark Twain; “Dance like no one is watching. Sing like no one is listening. Love like you’ve never been hurt and live like it’s heaven on Earth.”  Are you willing? – CMW