I learned about The Gifts of Imperfection from my friend Lori. It took me a few months, but I finally picked it up at my local library. And I couldn’t put it down!
This post contains affiliate links. Purchasing items through the affiliate links below will provide MiddayMornings a small commission. Please see my full disclosure policy here. Thank you for your support.
Who Is Brené Brown?
First, a little introduction to the author. Brené Brown is a researcher who ventures into the complex world of shame. She tackles qualitative concepts like vulnerability and worthiness and shares her findings in an easy-to-understand and easy-to-relate-to manner.
She gave a popular TED Talk entitled “The power of vulnerability” which you can watch here. But before that, she wrote her first book on shame and vulnerability entitled I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t): Making the Journey from “What Will People Think?” to “I Am Enough” which you can buy here.
Brown is a wife and a mother. As such, she’s no stranger to the insecurities, guilt, and pressures wives, mothers, and women can face. Backed by thousands upon thousands of interviews and hours of pattern-finding and connection-making, this woman knows what she’s talking about.
The Three Gifts
In The Gifts of Imperfection, Brown begins by discussing wholeheartedness, a term that she defines as “engaging […] from a place of worthiness” (Gifts, pg. 1). She suggests we can find, accept, and maintain our worthiness by practicing courage, compassion, and connection.
“Practicing courage, compassion, and connection in our daily lives is how we cultivate worthiness.”
The Gifts of Imperfection, page 7
We need to cultivate courage in order to create the life we desire. The gift of compassion allows us to “suffer with” others, helping us to grow and serving humanity as a whole. As human beings, we have a deep need to connect – with others, with ourselves, and with the universe.
These three “gifts of imperfection” are integral to our desire for love and belonging and will help us cultivate our own wholehearted life.
Love, Belonging, and Authenticity
I think everyone knows what it feels like to feel left out. The term “black sheep” is a popular one, and for good reason. To crave belonging is good and healthy. Babies would die more often if there wasn’t a mutual craving for connection between mother and babe. We were wired for it for our survival.
You can read more about our biological need to belong and the role oxytocin plays in that here.
There’s a subtle difference between approval and belonging, however. For example, you could make the Olympic team (you’re approved) but still feel like an outsider within the team (you don’t feel like you belong). It’s easy to equate the two and seek approval when you truly desire belonging.
Because you want to “belong” you start seeking approval from your group. Sometimes you get it, and sometimes you don’t. When you do get the approval, though, do you always feel like you “belong”? In my experience, I’d have to say no.
The disconnect between approval and belonging relates to the idea of authenticity.
What does it mean when someone is authentic?
authentic: (1) of undisputed origin; genuine
Brown asserts that people who live wholehearted lives realize they must practice being authentic. It’s not easy for most. But the joy and peace (not to mention genuine relationships) one can cultivate by living authentically make it sound like it’s worth the effort.
The 10 Guideposts
Brown suggests 10 guideposts which can cultivate some attribute of wholehearted living. I could spend a full post discussing each guidepost, but I’ll just focus on the four that impacted me the most.
Guidepost #1 – Cultivating Authenticity: Letting Go of What People Think
Ultimately, this is a book about cultivating your authentic self – and letting that self be good enough. I found the concept of authenticity so impactful I’ve consciously and subconsciously been checking my words and actions against it. “Is this authentic Jen or trying-to-fit-in Jen?” Trying-to-fit-in Jen has become a knee-jerk reaction in various relationships and situations which has made switching gears to authentic-Jen a tad bit difficult.
Feeling vulnerable is the biggest obstacle to practicing authenticity. What if they don’t like the authentic me?
“Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.”
The Gifts of Imperfection, page 49
Not many people like the idea of standing naked in front of a crowd – and that’s what practicing authenticity can feel like at first. However, once the initial shock of the cold breeze on your bare skin wears off, I think we’ll all find that wearing our authentic selves is a much more flattering and fitting outfit after all.
Guidepost #3 – Cultivating a Resilient Spirit: Letting Go of Numbing and Powerlessness
One facet of resilience that Brown discusses in this guidepost is the idea of numbing. When the going gets tough, the tough can, many times, numb. How do we numb? By working overtime, drinking alcohol, shopping, playing on your smartphone, or avoiding the situation altogether.
I know I do these things when I’m stressed. Sometimes I recognize my subconscious or conscious choice to numb while I’m numbing; other times I only notice it after the fact. Numbing helps me get through emotionally intense situations, but there’s a consequence of numbing I hadn’t paid too much attention to until Brown spelled it out in black and white:
“[…] My research also taught me that there’s no such thing as selective emotional numbing. There is a full spectrum of human emotions and when we numb the dark, we numb the light.”
The Gifts of Imperfection, pages 72-73
So, what does Brown suggest we do in lieu of numbing? Lean into the discomfort.
Instead of figuratively or physically running from life’s dark feelings – because they will come – cultivating a resilient spirit is about learning how to lean (not love, not cherish, not embrace) into those vulnerable, raw feelings so we can learn how to “live with joy, gratitude, and grace” (page 73).
Guidepost #6 – Cultivating Creativity: Letting Go of Comparison
If you follow me on Instagram, you know I’ve been dabbling in drawing and watercolor painting lately. I’ve never considered myself “good” at visual art, so I often hesitate to try. But when Adam and I did some at-home painting with our buddy Bob Ross via Netflix for Valentine’s Day, I kinda got hooked on the visual arts.
I started getting into watercolor painting and have fallen in love. (I even created a dedicated Instagram handle for my art which you can follow here.) I learn something new with each and every painting. Watching YouTube videos of skillful artists and motivates me to try my own hand at it. Sometimes my attempts are an epic fail by pretty much any standard. But sometimes they’re more successful than I had even hoped.
What I’ve learned from any and all of my creative endeavors to date (embroidery, sewing, sketching, and watercolor painting) is that my joy comes from creating. Whether that creation is a peaceful home where the spirit can dwell or a healthful meal our family can enjoy or family traditions that we can all look forward to – creating makes me feel whole.
Creating is a fulfilling experience. However, when I compare my creations to others, what was once a beautiful creation can become a failure, a disappointment, or even a joke. Cultivating creativity is just as much about breaking free from comparison as it is the process of creating.
Guidepost #9 – Cultivating Meaningful Work: Letting Go of Self-Doubt and “Supposed To”
Being a mom is hard work with not a lot of fanfare. A few years ago I jotted down some thoughts that could be called a poem:
“My husband is mowing straight green lines in the lawn while I vacuum straight beige lines in the house.
We both push and pull and drag a cord (the mower is electric).
Sweat beads on both of our brows (I need to turn up the AC).
We both have been postponing this until Saturday (that unfortunate day of the week that gets assigned all the “fun” jobs).
All the neighbors will see his straight green lines, but my lines are for our eyes only. “
There’s not a lot of recognition in this motherhood gig. There’s no employee of the month award, no special parking spot, and certainly no cash bonus for doing your job well. The lack of recognition can really bog me down while trudging through the rough days of motherhood. Some days I can find meaning in laundry, cooking, and talking about Pokémon for the 50th time. Other days, I need to do something that’s meaningful to non-Mom Jen.
Non-Mom Jen finds meaning in reading, creating (see above), serving in and outside of the home, and doing something that will be seen by others. You can sometimes find non-Mom Jen trimming the grape vines in the yard, dropping off a handmade “thank you” card to a neighbor, or writing a review for a book on her blog.
What is a mom “supposed to” do? Whatever will make her a good, authentic mother.
The Gifts of Imperfection
I absolutely loved The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown. I highly recommend it and am considering buying more copies as gifts. Practicing authenticity and cultivating a wholehearted life is so worth the effort. May you embrace your whole, vulnerable self today and always.