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The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are Paperback – August 27, 2010
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About the Author
She has spent the past two decades studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy and is the author of four #1 New York Times bestsellers: The Gifts of Imperfection, Daring Greatly, Rising Strong, and Braving the Wilderness. Her newest book is titled Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts.
Brené’s TED talk—The Power of Vulnerability—is one of the top five most viewed TED talks in the world with over 35 million views.
Brené lives in Houston, Texas with her husband, Steve, and their children, Ellen and Charlie.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Once you see a pattern, you can’t un-see it. Trust me, I’ve tried. But when the same truth keeps repeating itself, it’s hard to pretend that it’s just a coincidence. For example, no matter how hard I try to convince myself that I can function on six hours of sleep, anything less than eight hours leaves me impatient, anxious, and foraging for carbohydrates. It’s a pattern.I also have a terrible procrastination pattern: I always put off writing by reorganizing my entire house and spending way too much time and money buying office supplies and organizing systems. Every single time.
One reason it’s impossible to un-see trends is that our minds are engineered to seek out patterns and to assign meaning to them. Humans are a meaning-making species. And, for better or worse, my mind is actually fine-tuned to do this. I spent years training for it, and now it’s how I make my living.
As a researcher, I observe human behavior so I can identify and name the subtle connections, relationships, and patterns that help us make meaning of our thoughts, behaviors, and feelings. I love what I do. Pattern hunting is wonderful work and, in fact, throughout my career, my attempts at un-seeing were strictly reserved for my personal life and those humbling vulnerabilities that I loved to deny. That all changed in November 2006, when the research that fills these pages smacked me upside the head. For the first time in my career, I was desperate to un-see my own research.
Up until that point, I had dedicated my career to studying difficult emotions like shame, fear, and vulnerability. I had written academic pieces on shame, developed a shame-resilience curriculum for mental health and addictions professionals, and written a book about shame resilience called I Thought It Was Just Me.
In the process of collecting thousands of stories from diverse men and women who lived all over the country--ranging in age from eighteen to eighty-seven--I saw new patterns that I wanted to know more about. Yes, we all struggle with shame and the fear of not being enough. And, yes, many of us are afraid to let our true selves be seen and known. But in this huge mound of data there was also story after story of men and women who were living these amazing and inspiring lives.
I heard stories about the power of embracing imperfection and vulnerability. I learned about the inextricable connection between joy and gratitude, and how things that I take for granted, like rest and play, are as vital to our health as nutrition and exercise. These research participants trusted themselves, and they talked about authenticity and love and belonging in a way that was completely new to me.
I wanted to look at these stories as a whole, so I grabbed a file and a Sharpie and wrote the first word that came to my mind on the tab: Wholehearted. I wasn’t sure what it meant yet, but I knew that these stories were about people living and loving with their whole hearts. I had a lot of questions about Wholeheartedness. What did these folks value? How did they create all of this resilience in their lives? What were their main concerns and how did they resolve or address them? Can anyone create a Wholehearted life? What does it take to cultivate what we need? What gets in the way?
As I started analyzing the stories and looking for re-occurring themes, I realized that the patterns generally fell into one of two columns; for simplicity sake, I first labeled these Do and Don’t. The Do column was brimming with words like worthiness, rest, play, trust, faith, intuition, hope, authenticity, love, belonging, joy, gratitude, and creativity. The Don’t column was dripping with words like perfection, numbing, certainty, exhaustion, self-sufficiency, being cool, fitting in, judgment, and scarcity.
I gasped the first time I stepped back from the poster paper and took it all in. It was the worst kind of sticker shock. I remember mumbling, No. No. No. How can this be?”
Even though I wrote the lists, I was shocked to read them. When I code data, I go into deep researcher mode. My only focus is on accurately capturing what I heard in the stories. I don’t think about how I would say something, only how the research participants said it. I don’t think about what an experience would mean to me, only what it meant to the person who told me about it.
I sat in the red chair at my breakfast room table and stared at these two lists for a very long time. My eyes wandered up and down and across. I remember at one point I was actually sitting there with tears in my eyes and with my hand across my mouth, like someone had just delivered bad news.
And, in fact, it was bad news. I thought I’d find that Wholehearted people were just like me and doing all of the same things I was doing: working hard, following the rules, doing it until I got it right, always trying to know myself better, raising my kids exactly by the books...After studying tough topics like shame for a decade, I truly believed that I deserved confirmation that I was living right.” But here’s the tough lesson that I learned that day (and every day since):
How much we know and understand ourselves is critically important, but there is something that is even more essential to living a Wholehearted life: loving ourselves.
Knowledge is important, but only if we’re being kind and gentle with ourselves as we work to discover who we are. Wholeheartedness is as much about embracing our tenderness and vulnerability as it is about developing knowledge and claiming power.
And perhaps the most painful lesson of that day hit me so hard that it took my breath away: It was clear from the data that we cannot give our children what we don’t have. Where we are on our journey of living and loving with our whole hearts is a much stronger indicator of parenting success than anything we can learn from how-to books.
This journey is equal parts heart work and head work, and as I sat there on that dreary November day, it was clear to me that I was lacking in my own heart work.
I finally stood up, grabbed my marker off the table, drew a line under the Don’t list, and then wrote the word me under the line. My struggles seemed to be perfectly characterized by the sum total of the list. I folded my arms tightly across my chest, sunk deep down into my chair, and thought, This is just great. I’m living straight down the shit list.
I walked around the house for about twenty minutes trying to un-see and undo everything that had just unfolded, but I couldn’t make the words go away. I couldn’t go back, so I did the next best thing: I folded all of the poster sheets into neat squares and tucked them into a Rubbermaid tub that fit nicely under my bed, next to my Christmas wrap. I wouldn’t open that tub again until March of 2008.
Next, I got myself a really good therapist and began a year of serious soul work that would forever change my life. Diana, my therapist, and I still laugh about my first visit. Diana, who is a therapist to many therapists, started with the requisite, So what’s going on?” I pulled out the Do list and matter-of-factly said, I need more of the things on this list. Some specific tips and tools would be helpful. Nothing deep. No childhood crap or anything.”
It was a long year. I lovingly refer to it on my blog as the 2007 [Breakdown] Spiritual Awakening. It felt like a textbook breakdown to me, but Diana called it a spiritual awakening. I think we were both right. In fact, I’m starting to question if you can have one without the other. Of course, it’s not a coincidence that this unraveling happened in November 2006. The stars were perfectly aligned for a breakdown: I was raw from being newly sugar and flour free, I was days away from my birthday (always a contemplative time for me), I was burned out from work, and I was right on the cusp of my midlife unraveling.
People may call what happens at midlife a crisis,” but it’s not. It’s an unraveling--a time when you feel a desperate pull to live the life you want to live, not the one you’re supposed” to live. The unraveling is a time when you are challenged by the universe to let go of who you think you are supposed to be and to embrace who you are.
Midlife is certainly one of the great unraveling journeys, but there are others that happen to us over the course of our lives:
- becoming a parent
- an empty nest
- experiencing loss or trauma
- working in a soul-sucking job
As it turned out, the work I had to do was messy and deep. I slogged through it until one day, exhausted and with mud still wet and dripping off of my traveling shoes, I realized, Oh, my God. I feel different. I feel joyful and real. I’m still afraid, but I also feel really brave. Something has changed--I can feel it in my bones.”
I was healthier, more joyful, and more grateful than I had ever felt. I felt calmer and grounded, and significantly less anxious. I had rekindled my creative life, reconnected with my family and friends in a new way, and most important, felt truly comfortable in my own skin for the first time in my life.
I learned how to worry more about how I felt and less about what people might think.” I was setting new boundaries and began to let go of my need to please, perform, and perfect. I started saying no rather than sure (and being resentful and pissed off later). I began to say Oh, hell yes!” rather than Sounds fun, but I have lots of work to do” or I’ll do that when I’m _________ (thinner, less busy, better prepared).”
As I worked through my own Wholehearted journey with Diana, I read close to forty books, including every spiritual awakening memoir I could get my hands on. They were incredibly helpful guides, but I still craved a guidebook that could offer inspiration, resources, and basically serve as a soul traveler’s companion of sorts.
One day, as I stared at the tall pile of books precariously stacked on my nightstand, it hit me! I want to tell this story in a memoir. I’ll tell the story of how a cynical, smart-ass academic became every bit of the stereotype that she spent her entire adult life ridiculing. I’ll fess up about how I became the middle-aged, recovering, health-conscious, creative, touchy-feely spirituality-seeker who spends days contemplating things like grace, love, gratitude, creativity, authenticity, and is happier than I imagined possible. I’ll call it Wholehearted.
I also remember thinking, Before I write the memoir, I need to use this research to write a guidebook on Wholehearted living! By mid-2008, I had filled three huge tubs with notebooks, journals, and mounds of data. I had also done countless hours of new research. I had everything I needed, including a passionate desire to write the book that you’re holding in your hands.
On that fateful November day when the list appeared and I sunk into the realization that I wasn’t living and loving with my whole heart, I wasn’t totally convinced. Seeing the list wasn’t enough to fully believe in it. I had to dig very deep and make the conscious choice to believe...to believe in myself and the possibility of living a different life. A lot of questioning, countless tears, and a huge collection of joyful moments later, believing has helped me see.
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Changing my mind on reading this was undoubtedly one of the best decisions I have ever made and I am a much better person for it. I don't guarantee very much, due to my skeptical nature; but, I think I can guarantee that something in this book will profoundly change you. Perhaps this was done by Dr. Brown's approach of confronting the 'things that stand in our way' of leading a 'wholehearted life'. This is important because thoughtful people need to confront these things in order to overcome them and develop not just a positive mindset; but, a *realistic* one that doesn't ignore the potentially negative cognitions that arise.
Some of my PROs and CONs follow. But, allow me to be clear: if you have just been dumped, divorced, or experienced a break-up, then I think this is a great book for you. Some other titles like to do half-baked analysis of what happened between you two. Some of those books are like your own, highly-biased pep talker ("she was all wrong for you", "you're better off, now", etc.). While well-meaning, this can weaken you going forward. They sacrifice truth and accuracy for 'feel-good' support.
Much has already been said about this book, so I've avoided a super thorough review.
-well-organized content. topics overlap somewhat (of course), but they are introduced in the form of very manageable daily 'guideposts'.
-content is qualitative research-based. I think this is the right approach, since qualitative research is well-suited to derive meaning from the experiences of people.
-writing style is down-to-earth, clear, and very humorous at times.
-the book is relatively inexpensive.
-the approach of tackling 'obstacles' of thinking that prevent wholehearted living.
-realistic expectations of the results of reading this book.
-comprehensive treatment of the elements of wholehearted living.
-the persuasiveness of pretty much every guidepost.
-for the uninitiated (read: myself), I thought that guidepost 8 wasn't as clear in defining the concept of stillness.
-umm.. I'll have to get back to you on this one.
I would like to conclude with a few things that convince me that something in this book has made profound changes. First, I grew-up with a very domineering father and reading this book has made me truly comfortable with him for the first time in my life. Second, I NEVER danced at a bar without having some 'liquid courage' to prime me. After reading, I danced several songs (badly, of course ;-) ) and truly enjoyed myself. Third, because of my balding, etc. I always felt a little too self-conscious to dare flirting with some very beautiful ladies that I've met. Not any more.
These are just a few thoughts, but I hope that they speak to someone out there.
I found this was a little shallow and abstract, whereas Daring Greatly so eloquently and articulately put words to ideas we understand intuitively, and it really enhanced my emotional vocabulary. This book offered little in that respect. Some of it (shame vs guilt, for example) was redundant of Daring Greatly (and other texts for that matter) and her discussion of ideas like intuition, spirituality, and numbing were vague and unhelpful to me. She was mostly quoting other people's definitions and discussion of these topics, and while some the quotes were thought-provoking, I didn't feel that it really enlightened me.
Her examples were also not as compelling in this text. It was mostly about her, and while some of the examples were useful and memorable, I came away feeling like she was painting a picture of her family rather than focusing on her research and data. Daring Greatly, on the other hand, was written in such an empathetic and compassionate way that I kept saying, "YES! That's me! She understands!" or "Wow! That's totally my brother-in-law!" It was like one light bulb after another going off. Reading Daring Greatly was so inspiring and healing. This book didn't have that same level of empathy and was missing that universal quality, focusing instead on examples that were auto-biographical. Some other reviewers said this read like a blog, and I have to agree. By the end of this book I didn't feel UNDERSTOOD like I did after reading Daring Greatly. I honestly felt that as I read Daring Greatly, Brene Brown was like looking inside me and having a conversation with me, even though she doesn't even know me. After reading The Gifts of Imperfection, however, I felt that I understood more about her and less about myself.
There was also something a little kitschy about this. She had a section after each chapter called DIG deep where she listed ways that she tries to employ these strategies, and she often said "Amen" at the end of some quotes. While cute, it lacked the maturity and empathy of Daring Greatly.
She was also a little judgmental in this book (towards others and towards herself) and I could ironically see her striving for perfectionism (like in order to be perfect she needs to become "wholehearted," so she is actively working to employ these strategies rather than actually embodying them). It is almost like by the time she got to Daring Greatly she was fully reborn and had reached that full enlightenment, and she was still working on getting there in this text.
Additionally, unlike Daring Greatly, this reads a little bit like a checklist (see comment above) of things you should do: 1. don't be a perfectionist 2. Get creative 3. Rest and play 4. But don't numb 5. Dance like no one is watching you 6. practice self-compassion 7. Have faith. By the end I felt like I was being told what to do to be happy, as if it was a formula. While some of the advice was certainly helpful, it wasn't inspiring in the same way Daring Greatly was. Daring Greatly got at the heart of one's emotions. It talked about courage, authenticity, compassion (true ideals) and it showed how there is extraordinary in the ordinary. The Gifts of Imperfection seemed to get sidetracked by specifics (dancing, jewelry making, her childhood house in New Orleans) and it never reached that universality that was so healing in Daring Greatly.
Lastly, this book was highly referential. As I said earlier, she quotes a lot of other people to get at defining abstract terms. She also references the work of many other psychologists, researchers, etc. For example, Kristin Neff and Marci Alboher. It isn't that I didn't appreciated her references, but this felt blog-like again: "Hey I read this and I LOVED this idea, check it out!" Or "this quote inspires me! Let me share." In contrast, it felt like Brene Brown had found her own voice in Daring Greatly, and no longer needed to continually reference others' work and could just share her research and the conclusions she reached from it.
All in all, while The Gifts of Imperfection was a nice book that offered a little refresher of Brown's understanding of "wholehearted living" with some ideas about intuition and faith, creativity, and song and dance, it was not as sophisticated or inspiring as her latest book Daring Greatly, which really felt like a true culmination of her research and experiences. I'd skip this one; or at least just borrow it from the library...
Top international reviews
It's a good book to go back to, because everytime you read it something new sinks in! Like an 'ahaa' moment.
I would definitly reccomend this purchase.
Stimulating and challenging read with Brené writing clear funny and truthfully through out If you have never read any of her books then this will be a true treasure.. one of my fave rate authors.