The Gifts of Imperfection

Summary Written by Carol-Ann Hamilton
"Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy – the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light."

- The Gifts of Imperfection, page 6

The Big Idea

Live Wholeheartedly!

"Wholehearted living is about…cultivating 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’. It’s going to bed at night thinking, ‘Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging.’"- The Gifts of Imperfection, page 1

Building on this foundational definition, Brown goes on to say wholehearted living is not a one-time choice. It’s a process. In fact, she sees it as a lifelong journey from “What will people think?” to “I am enough”.

The central answers to reflective questions posed throughout are Courage, Compassion, and Connection.

While this potent triad could seem like a cluster of lofty (even impossible) ideals, they’re actually daily practices that, when exercised enough, become incredible gifts. Do you want to hear something fascinating? Wholeheartedness is as much about embracing our tenderness as it is about developing knowledge or claiming power.

Perhaps you’re thinking, “Oh great, the very qualities I wish to deny or squelch altogether!” Here’s the beauty of it. Because we’re imperfect, we get plenty of opportunities to use these amazing tools each day. The end results include belonging and worthiness – ultimate quests that characterize the human experience.

Insight #1

10 Guideposts for Living

"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."- The Gifts of Imperfection, page 23

Brown’s fundamental commitment is to clarify “gauzy” terms tossed around all the time but rarely explained. She firmly believes good definitions should be accessible and actionable. Isn’t that perfect for our purposes?

For instance, many of us use the terms fitting in and belonging interchangeably. They’re not the same at all. One interferes with the other. Fitting in is about becoming who you need to be to gain acceptance. Can you spell chameleon? Belonging doesn’t require us to change who we are; it requires us to be who we are.

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Insight #2

Dig Deep

"Often people attempt to live their lives backwards: they try to have more things, or more money, in order to do more what they want so they will be happier. The way it actually works is the reverse. You must first be who you really are, then do what you really need to do, in order to have what you want."- Margaret Young

Based on thousands of conversations with men and women living in amazingly wholehearted ways, Brown found these special individuals operate in core ways very distinct from most of us – particularly when exhausted or overwhelmed. They DIG by getting:

  • Deliberate in their thoughts and behaviors through prayer, meditation, or simply setting intentions;
  • Inspired to make new and different choices;
  • Going. They take action.

For example, the author asserts within the “Cultivating Play and Rest” Guidepost: We are a nation of overstressed adults raising overscheduled children. Great challenge! Instead of viewing exhaustion as a status symbol, we are roused to silence gremlin voices that whisper, “One more hour of work! Push through. You can catch up on your sleep this weekend.”

Given Brené’s admitted previous standby of soldiering on, she now carves out weekly fun to take photographs and do art projects with her kids. In turn, we’re urged to say “no” – today. Buck the system. Take something off your list and add a nap!

Personally, I became aware of The Gifts of Imperfection through an absolutely amazing TEDx talk. If you have only 20 minutes to spare one day (even if you don’t, you need to find that time), watch her YouTube on vulnerability.

Read the book

Get The Gifts of Imperfection on Amazon.

Brené Brown

Brené Brown, Ph.D., LMSW is a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. She has spent the past decade studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame.

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