The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown

If you know me, you know that I think Brené Brown is a queen who must be protected at all costs. I read Daring Greatly at the end of last year based on a recommendation from my friend Dara (who happens to be an incredible artist – check out her work here). I have to say, Brené is nothing short of marketing genius. The only thing that made me want to read The Gifts of Imperfection is the fact she mentioned it so much in Daring Greatly. She definitely made it seem like there was so much more information in this book that you had to go check out in order to get the full scope of research. She was correct.

The Rundown

This book goes through 10 guideposts – basically the things that allow us to accept our insecurities and flaws so that we can live more wholehearted, vulnerable lives. I’m not gonna share all 10 of the guideposts (can’t fuck up Brené’s bag), but I’ll share my top three. Brené shares a lot of personal stories and parts of interviews she did in her extensive research (she interviewed thousands of people during her research) to make the things most of us feel seem more widespread and common than we might think. She’s a very accomplished and wealthy woman, but there’s something about her and the way that she writes that doesn’t make her seem so untouchable or difficult to relate to. 

Length: 126 pages

Additional sections: Preface, Introduction, Final Thoughts, About the Research Process – definitely need to read the first three, you can skip the research section if you’re not interested in that

Genre: Non-fiction/Self-help

Year Published: 2010

The Good Stuff

Here are my top 3 guideposts from The Gifts of Imperfection:

1. Cultivating Authenticity: Letting Go of What People Think

I liked this section because it talked about authenticity in a way that I had never thought of it before. According to Brené, authenticity is a practice, like discipline. This was a relief to me. I have a fear of coming off “the wrong way.” I don’t even completely know what “the wrong way” is, but I can be honest in saying I try to do what I can to be likeable. I don’t think that’s a rare personality trait, especially for those of us in our 20s. In college, I didn’t want to come off as mean, bougie (or however you spell it), overly enthusiastic, or condescending. I’m 100% sure I’ve come off as all of those things at some point in my life. It’s unavoidable. And it’s impossible to be perfect and to be liked by everyone. So Brené asserts that instead of aiming for perfection, simply aim for being yourself. And I can try to do that. 

I always thought “being yourself” was a lofty term. How do you figure out who that is? Do you be yourself all the time, or are there times and places where you should tone it down? What if the real you is a shitty person?  These are questions I don’t have answers to, but I do have a thought that I think is useful. Being yourself is who you are when you’re not thinking too hard about it. The first thought you have when someone asks you for a favor, or your knee-jerk reaction when someone disagrees with you. For most of us, it’s who we are when we’re alone or when we’re with someone who we genuinely feel won’t judge us. 

If there’s something you don’t like about who you are right now, change it! That’s the beauty of being human – we have so many options on what kind of person we want to be. We can choose to be kind, disciplined, reliable, punctual, non-judgmental, or patient. I don’t plan on being unrealistic on this blog, so I get that choosing to be those things is not easy. But they’re all possible. Be yourself, and if you have qualities that you can recognize are not that good, change them. 

2. Cultivating Self-Compassion: Letting Go of Perfectionism

 If you’re familiar with the Enneagram personality types, you should know I’m a 1. I’m also a double Capricorn (sun and rising), so perfectionism has plagued me my whole life. If you’re not into personality tests or astrology, just know that I’m the child of a black mother with high expectations. Being average was never an option for me, and it’s never been something I aspired to. I don’t like to make mistakes, I don’t like looking stupid, and I hate being wrong. Unfortunately, I think this line of thinking kept me from pursuing things I didn’t think I’d be good at out of fear of making mistakes. When I read Daring Greatly, Brené went IN on perfectionism and why it’s the worst thing for people who want to live wholehearted lives, and she did it again in this book. Short answer: Perfection is impossible and chasing perfection does nothing but steal your joy because you’ll never reach it. It’s based so much in trying to impress other people and prove to yourself that you’re worthy based on your ability to out-do other people. Your worthiness is not based in any of that! You are here, therefore you are worthy. 

3. Cultivating Intuition and Trusting Faith: Letting Go of the Need for Certainty

I think control issues pair with perfectionism quite well – like a well-balanced anxiety cocktail. It’s hard to have one without the other. I’m not good with not being sure where I’m headed in life. This makes being a 24-year-old difficult at times, because this period in life is rife with uncertainty. What career path do I want to take? When do I want to get married? Do I want to live in this area forever or should I move? When should I go back to school? And those are just the questions in my own head! It’s even worse when everyone else expects you to know the answers to this stuff. The first 21 years of my life, I always knew where I’d be the next year: in school. When it came to senior year of college, it really sunk in that I’d have to be an adult. Since then, I’ve been trying to iron out exactly where I want to go from here. 

I also have a habit of looking to other people for what I should do next. Call me what you want, but I care about other people’s opinions. It seems like that’s something everyone wants to pretend they don’t have these days. Having a DGAF attitude is great, but it’s not really me all the time. I’m still working on it. This section of the book was a good reminder to trust myself, and to go with my gut. Brené basically says that sometimes you just have to have faith that things will work out and trust yourself to know when to make the next move. It resonated with me, and it helped me to resolve to do better. 

What I Would Change

The only thing I’d do differently is make this book longer. It would’ve been great to see her go deeper on some of the topics. To be honest, since I read this book right after Daring Greatly and I’m writing this six weeks after finishing it, the two books kind of blend together in my mind. But I think it’s a good book. Even though this came out first, I’d still read it after Daring Greatly

Final Thoughts

Brené Brown is excellent. Her self-help books are relatable and interesting, which I think is hard to do. There’s been a big surge of interest in self-help books with the introduction of the self-care movement and the desire of everyone on the internet to look like they’re smart, intellectual, and self-aware. I think this book could be considered a leader in the new wave of self-help books that are funny, insightful, and as enjoyable to read as fiction books. Brené talked about uncertainty in her own career (including after her epic first TED talk), and how she combatted that. It was inspiring. This may come as a surprise, but Brené Brown and I have very little in common. She’s a white woman in her 50s with her doctorate degree who lives in Texas and works at a university. I am almost none of those things. And yet I still related to so many of her stories. I hope to one day have the open and accepting relationship with my children that she has with hers. I thought this was a beautiful book, and I would definitely recommend it. 

Overall rating: 9/10

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