The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown

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Keeping with the theme of Ownership for this month, I’m going to talk about The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown. I plan to do regular book reviews as a part of this blog, since there are so many fantastic books out there that we can tap into for knowledge and inspiration.

Being comfortable owning the ‘less desirable’ parts of myself requires a change in perspective, which is exactly what this book offers. Just consider the title, The Gifts of Imperfection. Brown is about to show us how being less than perfect is a good thing! Such a good thing, in fact, that it earns us presents! I don’t know about you, but I love presents 🙂

Like a lot of people with anxiety, I often (very often) fall into the perfectionism trap.   Perfectionism sounds like a good thing, doesn’t it? It’s the safe answer to that terrible interview question “tell me about a weakness you have.” I know because I used to use it myself! (Covers eyes with hand).   It comes across like – “I am such a hard worker and I’m not willing to stop unless the project/task is completed to the highest, most discerning standards.” Sounds great, right? No. Not right.

Actually, what I am coming to realize through this book as well as other resources, is that perfectionism is not a positive at all – it is a dangerously compelling Siren Song that pulls you away from doing what you need to be doing. This seemingly positive ‘quality’ coaxes you out of the churning waters of life, over to its ‘safe’ harbor –where you wait. You wait until you feel comfortable competing with the other boats out there, that are passing you by, sailing away, having adventures. Perfectionism keeps you from making any progress at all. It is a hiding place. I know that I have hunkered down in the Perfect Harbor many a time in order to avoid those unpredictable waters. The Siren Song of Perfectionism is a farce. It is to be ignored, shunned and rejected. You WANT to be out in the choppy, churning, wild waters…that is where real life and real empowerment happens.

Which brings me back to the presents! The central focus of Brown’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection, is that, in order to live a wholehearted life – a life in which we can be truly authentic and fully engaged with the world around us, we need to embrace our imperfections. Owning the flaws and insecurities that we work so hard to hide from the world is the key to living a life of peace and contentment.

It sounds strange. Counterintuitive. And scary. Mostly scary. I, for one, don’t want the bad stuff, so why would I give it more attention? I don’t want to be fearful and anxious and I definitely don’t want others to see me as such, so my instinct is to ignore these feelings. But as Brown explains, this strategy only makes the negative feelings worse:

“When we spend a lifetime trying to distance ourselves from the parts of our lives that don’t fit with who we think we’re supposed to be, we stand outside of our story and hustle for our worthiness by constantly performing, perfecting, pleasing, and proving. Our sense of worthiness – that critically important piece that gives us access to love and belonging – lives inside of our story.”  – Brown Pg 23.

Tucking away my scary feelings and instead focusing on “performing, perfecting, pleasing, and proving” is exactly the strategy I have been using for most of my life. To see it for what it is, to stop spinning my wheels for a moment and honestly identify HOW I am owning my life makes me…………sad. I am heartbroken to realize that, for so many years, I have been living to please other people. I have been living to create an appearance of myself that others will accept.

According to Brown, being vulnerable – letting down your guard and being your real imperfect self — gets you these gifts: Courage, Compassion and Connection.

These are precisely the things I long for:

  • Courage to be myself ALL THE TIME.
  • Compassion for my own difficulties.
  • Connection with others – a feeling of belonging. Just as I am.

Whaaatttt?!?!?!?! I’ve always worried that being my true self would get me odd looks, criticism and avoidance. In order to get these things I long for, it turns out I need to do the exact OPPOSITE of what I have been doing!

Mind blown.

Instead of hiding imperfections…retreating into the Perfect Harbor until I feel adequate enough to compete, I need to OWN my imperfections. This means accepting my anxiety. It means giving loving attention to my fears. And it means sitting with and consoling my worries.

If any of this rings true for you, I highly recommend reading Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection. There are so many more great insights than I have space to communicate here (I took six pages of notes)! I will definitely be reading this book again.

Nelly Take-Away: Authenticity is a better goal than approval. I’d rather live this life as a unique, imperfect me, than as a cookie-cutter shadow of what I think others want to see.

So, what do YOU think? Do you ever get stuck in the Perfect Harbor? Would you be willing to change the way you own your imperfections, by treating them more compassionately and lovingly? Share you thoughts below! And make sure to subscribe to the blog so you don’t miss future posts!

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5 thoughts on “The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown

  1. It earns us presents! LOVE that! Its totally true by the way. Brené Brown has been my guru for the last five years. I have made such headway and received so many “presents” in my life by really taking ‘ownership’ of her principles such as creativity, mindfulness, and vulnerability. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this life-changing book. You are certainly embracing vulnerability by putting yourself out there like this! <3

    1. It’s nice to hear how Brene Brown’s work has helped you. I am pretty new to her work and “The Gifts of Imperfection” was my first introduction to her. I had never heard of her before, but I was intrigued by the title. Once I read it, it really spoke to me. I love any book that is packed with so much good stuff that I feel the need to read it multiple times, and this is definitely one of those books.

  2. “Perfectionism keeps you from making any progress at all. It is a hiding place. I know that I have hunkered down in the Perfect Harbor many a time in order to avoid those unpredictable waters. The Siren Song of Perfectionism is a farce. It is to be ignored, shunned and rejected. You WANT to be out in the choppy, churning, wild waters…that is where real life and real empowerment happens.” = LOVE this! My perfectionism manifests in far-too-frequent procrastination. The progress I have made after years of therapy (and medication) is acknowledging this perfectionism and trying to “talk back” to the automatic negative thoughts I got so used to over nearly 30 years. I have a feeling the procrastination will always be a struggle, but I’ve nevertheless come along way from needing EVERYTHING to be just-so. Anyone wanting to read another great piece on anxiety, check this out: http://jamesclear.com/evolution-of-anxiety

    1. Anita –
      You bring up two very important points in your comment:
      1) “talking back” to negative thoughts – Most of us have a broken record of negative thoughts that run under the surface. We may not even be consciously aware of these thoughts, but they direct our behavior non the less. Understanding, addressing and “talking back” to these thoughts is a hugely important strategy for managing anxiety. I definitely plan to cover this in detail in future posts.
      2) I’m glad you mentioned the concept of something continuing to be a struggle, even though you have made significant progress – It’s good to keep in mind that our purpose in working on these issues is not to “fix” anything. Rather, our goal is to better manage these issues. The same goes for anything else in life – there will always be challenges and struggles that we cannot control, but we can certainly better equip ourselves to handle them!

      Thanks for the insight!

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