The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown

The Gifts of Imperfection is a guidebook on what Brené calls Wholehearted Living. She offers the stuff that gets in the way of living this sort of life and the 10 “guideposts” that make Wholehearted people so, well, whole.

First, what is Wholehearted living?

Wholehearted living is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It means 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.

This is a daily practice, not a destination. And the guideposts are meant to be our areas of practice. For each guidepost, Brené offers up suggestions for how to approach them, in her “DIG deep” format, for when we’re noticing that we’re straying from the guideposts. Digging deep means getting:

  • Deliberate in thought and behavior through prayer, meditation, or setting an intention.
  • Inspired to make new and different choices
  • Going. Take action.

The definition above talked about courage, compassion, and connection… what do those mean?

  • Courage – putting our vulnerability on the line.
  • Compassion – compassion means “to suffer with” and not turn away from suffering.
  • Connection – Brené defines this as “the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgement; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”

Love and Belonging

A deep sense of love and belonging is an irreducible need. Brené says that one thing is the prerequisite for love and belonging in our lives: the belief in our own worthiness. We have to believe that we are enough.

Love is not something we give or get; it is something we nurture and grow, a connection that can only be cultivated between two people when it exists within each one of them—we can only love others as much as we love ourselves.

Belonging is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us. Because this yearning is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and seeking approval, which are not only hollow substitutes for belonging, but often barriers to it. Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.

Shame gets in the way

Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.

Shame resilience: 

  1. Understand shame and recognize what messages and expectations trigger shame for you.
  2. Practice critical awareness by reality-checking the messages and expectations that tell us that being imperfect means being inadequate.
  3. Reach out and share you story with people you trust.
  4. Speak shame—use the word shame, talk about how you’re feeling, ask for what you need.

Guidepost #1: Authenticity

The daily practice of letting go of what people think about you or who you think you’re supposed to be and embracing who you are.

Guidepost #2: Self-Compassion

Let go of perfectionism of trade it for self-compassion using self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness.

Guidepost #3: Resilience

Facing our struggles and working through them by embracing spirituality, hope, critical awareness, and letting go of numbing and powerlessness. It’s about consciously checking in when we struggle — instead of checking out.

When we numb the dark, we numb the light

Guidepost #4: Gratitude and Joy

Happiness depends more on how external things are going. Wholehearted people practice injecting joy from the inside by practicing gratitude, especially when we experience fear of vulnerability and scarcity (never enough).

Guidepost #5: Intuition and Faith

Life is uncertain, especially if you’re going to pave your own way. Intuition and faith are about living with this uncertainty. Gradually building tolerance to the vulnerability that uncertainty produces. Cultivating a stronger faith in your ability to remain open and connected when hard times hit.

Faith is essential when we decide to live and love with our whole hearts in a world where most of us want assurances before we risk being vulnerable and getting hurt. To say ‘I’m going to engage wholeheartedly in my life’ requires believing without seeing.

Guidepost #6: Creativity

Being creative is viewed as risky in our society. We should do it anyway though, because it’s more satisfying than not taking the risk, and this is very good practice for taking risks in the rest of our lives.

To truly cultivate creativity, though, we have to let go of comparison. Comparison is about conformity, and its paradoxical message is to “be just like everyone else, but better.”

Guidepost #7: Play and Rest

Let go of exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self-worth.

Living and loving with our whole hearts requires us to respect our bodies’ need for renewal.

Guidepost #8: Calm and Stillness

Calm is about creating perspective and mindfulness while managing emotions. Stillness is about creating a clearing in our minds so that our truth can be heard.

When I think about calm people, I think about people who can bring perspective to complicated situations and feel their feelings without reacting.

Guidepost #9: Meaningful Work

Let go of self-doubt and “supposed to” and bringing purpose and meaning to our work.

Squandering our gifts brings distress, while giving them brings joy.

Guidepost #10: Laughter, Song, and Dance

We hide from vulnerability by “hustling to be perceived as cool and in control.” Let go of being cool and “always in control” by letting it all hang out every now and then.