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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 – October 4, 2010
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'This important book is about the lifelong journey from 'What will people think?' to 'I am enough.' Brown's unique ability to blend original research with honest storytelling makes reading The Gifts of Imperfection like having a long, uplifting conversation with a very wise friend who offers compassion, wisdom, and great advice.'
—Harriet Lerner, New York Times best-selling author of The Dance of Anger and The Dance of Connection
'Brené Brown courageously tackles the dark emotions that get in the way of leading a fuller life; read this book and let some of that courage rub off on you.'
—Daniel H. Pink, New York Times best-selling author of A Whole New Mind
'Courage, compassion, and connection: Through Brené's research, observations, and guidance, these three little words can open the door to amazing change in your life.'
—Ali Edwards, author of Life Artist
In The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown, a leading expert on shame, authenticity, and belonging, shares ten guideposts on the power of Wholehearted living—a way of engaging with the world from a place of worthiness.
Each day we face a barrage of images and messages from society and the media telling us who, what, and how we should be. We are led to believe that if we could only look perfect and lead perfect lives, we'd no longer feel inadequate. So most of us perform, please, and perfect, all the while thinking, What if I can't keep all of these balls in the air? Why isn't everyone else working harder and living up to my expectations? What will people think if I fail or give up? When can I stop proving myself?
In The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown, Ph.D., a leading expert on shame, authenticity and belonging, shares what she's learned from a decade of research on the power of Wholehearted Living – a way of engaging with the world from a place of worthiness.
In her ten guideposts, Brown engages our minds, hearts, and spirits as she explores how we can cultivate the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough, And to go to bed at night thinking, Yes, I am sometimes afraid, but I am also brave. And, yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable, but that doesn't change the truth that I am worthy of love and belonging.
About the Author
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 jobThe universe is not short on wake-up calls. We’re just quick to hit the snooze button.
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.
- ASIN : 159285849X
- Publisher : Hazelden Publishing; 1st edition (October 4, 2010)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 260 pages
- ISBN-10 : 9781592858491
- ISBN-13 : 978-1592858491
- Item Weight : 7 ounces
- Dimensions : 6 x 0.5 x 9 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #10,574 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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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...
1. In order to feel joy, you have to lean into uncomfortable feelings and not numb pain (through food, TV, substances, sex/love, obsessions, etc), because you can't selectively numb emotions, so if you numb pain, you numb joy as well
2. That joy will often be accompanied by fear because we fear we will lose the things that make us joyful, so you can expect anxiety to come up when you are about to feel joy or in the midst of feeling joy. You have to be able to tolerate the discomfort, because If you can't tolerate discomfort, then you will lose your capacity to experience joy. But there is no way to feel joy without feeling vulnerability because this life has no guarantees. She suggests, very helpfully, that one focuses on gratitude in order to overcome it. I've practiced this and it helps a lot- she suggests saying "I feel vulnerable right now, and that's okay, I feel so grateful for..." Gratitude is the key to joy.
4. That we think we can avoid pain by avoiding feeling the joys in life, but actually you need to feel the joy fully in order to be able to handle the difficult things that will come up. If you never feel joy (because you are numbing yourself), then when difficult things happen you don't have the inner resources to handle them and you end up having to numb yourself more, then because you are numbing yourself, you don't feel joy, so it's a cycle.
5. That everyone is so busy trying present themselves in certain ways and live up to expectations in order to be accepted, but you can never feel true love and belonging if you don't present your real self (be authentic).
6. In order to be authentic you must have a lot of courage in order to risk being vulnerable, because you could present your true self and be rejected, but if you don't try you will never experience true belonging.
7. The root of feeling love and belonging is feeling worthy, now, just as you are, of love and belonging, because you have to believe that your true self is worthy in order to have the courage to be authentic.
8. Feeling worthy now is also the answer to handling shame. Shame is the fear of being unlovable, so believing that you are worthy is the opposite of shame and the antidote to shame. You have to face shame and practice using shame resilience (which she teaches in the book, which feeling worthy is at the root of) in order to overcome perfectionism.
I don't really love her writing style. You can really tell that she loves to put things in boxes, her background is as a researcher, and she loves definitions (and the majority of the definitions are really good and some of them are fantastic). But it means that her writing style doesn't seem to work the best for this subject matter. It feels like if she had a more of a clear, simple, inspirational tone, it could have had a little more flow and felt a little stronger, writing-wise. It's just a little hard to read sometimes, it feels a little clunky. But there are so many amazing parts that blow your mind and change your life, so it's totally worth reading.
She made some really amazing points about so many subjects, but there were several subjects she really just brushes through and says basically that she discovered that "these were important characteristics of whole-hearted people as well, and here are some other books to look at on the subject" but I didn't really think she herself made that many great points on these subjects. And maybe for other people she did say things that hit home, but the subjects I felt she could have worked more on were:
1. Cultivating Intuition and Trusting Faith (This is a really huge thing for me, and now, from the book, I know that it is important to have faith to be whole-hearted, but I didn't get any closer to figuring out HOW to have faith from what she said)
2. Cultivating Calm and Stillness (There is so much fantastic information out there on this subject, I would highly recommend the book "Mindsight" on this subject.)
3. Cultivating Creativity, Play and Rest, Laughter, Song and Dance (these are fairly straight-forward topics, probably most people can figure out how to incorporate more of these things into their lives, but these chapters didn't feel like they offered a lot of useful points on the subjects, aside from just pointing you in the right directions towards doing these things- which in and of itself is very important!
4. I wish she had said more about HOW to cultivate authenticity. The chapter on authenticity was chock-full of great points, but I would have loved more on how
5. She discusses using boundaries and holding people accountable to be compassionate, instead of the usual shaming and blaming we do. I could have used A LOT more instruction and advice on HOW to use boundaries and hold people accountable in a compassionate way.
This book is life-changing, it is necessary reading for everyone in my opinion. The first chapter was actually the hardest to get through for me- writing-style wise. I actually thought it wasn't a good book and I put it down and considered it a bad investment after reading the first chapter- I felt it was full of fluff, and obvious stuff, and that it didn't have any useful information. But then thankfully, a month or two later, I picked it up again, and once you get to chapter two, everything starts getting a lot better. Then it kind of goes downhill again at Guidepost 5 and beyond. But between chapter two and guidepost 5, it is pure gold.
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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.
I found her writing style to be too much of a mix between personal spoken colloquial description of experience and attempt at justifying the professionalism and the science. Without fully explaining the science.
I do get that it’s about conveying the main ideas to the mass audience and those with deeper interest will go and research. I just find it sometimes a hard sell about the grounded theory approach and a seeming lack of awareness that there is researcher bias and ‘here’s how mine plays out’. It feels too preachy and takes away from the message which is the research.
I’ll continue to read the research but not the books.