Book Notes: The Gifts of Imperfection

After much prodding by my friend Val to read this book, I finally got down to it. She recommended it so much that she almost shoved it into my bag until I promised that I would head to the nearest Kinokuniya to get a copy for myself and text her when I did.

Brene Brown is also known for her TED talk on vulnerability.

And I did.

It’s not a difficult read, the language is simple and peppered with lots of personal stories, but it was still hard because at so many points I put it down and went, “Oh shit, that’s me.”

She titled her book as “The Gifts of Imperfection – A Guide To a Wholehearted Life” and how to “Let go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are”. I was skeptical.

I can’t tell you how hard that is to do, particularly in a collective Asian society. Sometimes the expectations of family, friends, teachers and coworkers drown out your own voice. So much so that we turn to addiction, be it gambling, alcoholism, more bags, bigger houses, a better paying job, just to tell ourselves that we’re ok, we’re on the “right track” that whoever set us on. We numb ourselves by telling ourselves all we need to do is to do more yoga, or lose a little more weight, watch more netflix or seek comfort in mala steamboat (that’s me) or Arnold’s fried chicken (so good).

All because it’s too painful to be left alone with your own thoughts telling you to do one thing and having to compromise and do another.

I’m grateful for her book for showing me that it’s ok to be vulnerable. To be vulnerable is to allow creativity to flourish, to be ok to say that the first version of whatever I create is going to suck real bad, but that’s ok too. To be able to connect with people I care about and who really care about me. To know that I should trust myself and that little voice inside my head and heart.

So yes, get the book. And in meantime, here are my favourite excerpts from it.

We invite compassion into our lives when we act compassionate toward ourselves and others, and we feel connected in our lives when we reach out and connect.

I think we’ve lost touch with the idea that speaking honestly and openly about who we are, about what we’re feeling, and about our experiences (good and bad) is the definition of courage. Ordinary courage is about putting our vulnerability on the line.

One of the greatest (and least discussed) barriers to compassion practise is the fear of setting boundaries.

The better we are at accepting ourselves, and others, the more compassionate we become. It’s difficult to accept people when they are hurting us and taking advantage of us and walking all over us. Research has taught me that if we really want to practice compassion, we have to start by setting boundaries and holding people accountable for their behavior.

When we fail to set boundaries and hold people accountable, we feel used and mistreated. This is why we sometimes attack who they are, which is far more hurtful than addressing a behavior or choice.

Connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard and valued; when they can give and perceive without judgement; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.

Technology has become a kind of imposter for connection, making us believe that we’re connected when we’re really not – at least not in the ways we need to be. Just because we’re plugged in, doesn’t mean we feel seen and heard.

We need to let go of the myth of self sufficiency. One of the greatest barriers to connection is the cultural importance of “going it alone”. Somehow we’ve equate success with not needing anyone.

Until we can receive with an open heart, we are never really giving with an open heart. When we attach judgement to receiving help, we knowingly attach judgement to giving help.

Practicing self-love means learning how to trust ourselves, to treat ourselves with respect, and to be kind and affectionate toward ourselves.

We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honor the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect kindness and affection.

True belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our self-acceptance.

Practicing self-love means learning how to trust ourselves, to treat ourselves with respect, and to be kind and affectionate toward ourselves.

Love and accepting ourselves are the ultimate acts of courage. In a society that says, “Put yourself last,” self-love and self-acceptance are almost revolutionary.

If we want to live and love with our whole hearts, and if we want to engage with the world from a place of worthiness, we have to talk about the things that get in the way – especially shame, fear, and vulnerability.

When we struggle to believe in our worthiness, we hustle for it. The hustle for worthiness has its own soundtrack. It’s the cacophony of shame tapes and gremlins – those messages that fuel “never good enough.”

Shame is that warm feeling that washes over us, making us feel small, flawed, and never good enough. If we want to develop shame resilience – the ability to recognize shame and move through it while maintaining our worthiness and authenticity – then we have to talk about why shame happens.

Shame is basically the fear of being unlovable – its the total opposite of owning our story and feeling worthy. It is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.

Shame resilience is the ability to recognize shame, to move through it constructively while maintaining worthiness and authenticity, and to ultimately develop more courage, compassion, and connection as a result of our experience.

When we experience shame, we feel disconnected and desperate for worthiness. Full of shame or fear of shame, we are more likely to engage in self-destructive behaviours and to attack or shame others. Shame is also related to violence, aggression, depression, addiction, eating disorders, and bullying.

Strategies like moving away, silencing ourselves, or move against by trying to gain power over others, move us away from our story. Shame is about fear, blame, and disconnection. Story is about worthiness, and embracing the imperfections that bring us courage, compassion and connection. If we want to live fully, without the constant fear of not being enough, we have to own our story.

Our stories are not meant for everyone. Hearing them is a privilege and we should always ask ourselves this before we share: “Who has earned the right to hear my story?” If we have one or two people in our lives who can sit with us and hold space for our shame stories, and love us for our strengths and struggles, we are incredibly lucky

We don’t need love and belonging and story-catching from everyone in our lives, but we need it from at least one person.

Often people attempt to live their lives backwards: they try to have more things, or more money, in order to do more of 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

Courage is telling our story, not being immune to criticism. Staying vulnerable is a risk we have to take if we want to experience connection.

There’s risk involved in putting your true self out in the world. There’s even more risk in hiding yourself and your gifts from the world. They are likely to fester and eat away at our worthiness. Sacrificing who we are for the sake of what other people think just isn’t worth it.

Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgement and shame. Perfectionism is, at its core, about trying to earn approval and acceptance.

Research shows that perfectionism hampers success. In fact, it’s often the path to depression, anxiety, addiction, and life-paralysis.

Life paralysis refers to all the opportunities we miss because we’re too afraid to put anything out in the world that could be imperfect. It’s also all the dreams that we don’t follow because of our deep fear of failing, making mistakes and disappointing others. It’s terrifying to risk when you’re a perfectionist; your self-worth is on the line.

A moment of self-compassion can change your entire day. A string of such moments can change the course of your life.

Christopher K. GerMer

We develop a hopeful mind-set when we understand that some worthy endeavours will be difficult and time consuming and not enjoyable at all. Hope also requires us to understand that just because the process of reaching a goal happens to be fun, fast and easy doesn’t mean that it has less value than a difficult goal.

Tolerance for disappointment, determination and a belief in self are the heart of hope.

Powerlessness is dangerous. For most of us, the inability to effect change is a desperate feeling. We need resilience and hope and a spirit that can carry us through the doubt and fear.

Most of us engage in behaviours (consciously or not) that help us to numb and take the edge off vulnerability, pain and discomfort. For many of us, our first response to vulnerability is not to lean into the discomfort and feel our way through but rather to make it go away.When we numb the dark, we numb the light.

Unused creativity doesn’t just disappear. It lives within us until it’s expressed, neglected to death or suffocated by resentment and fear.

If we want to make meaning we need to make art.

If creativity is seen as a luxury or something we do when we have spare time, it will never be cultivated. When I make creating a priority, everything in my life works better.

I think it’s so important to find and be part of a community of like-spirited people who share your beliefs about creativity.

The opposite of play is not work. It’s depression. Respecting our biologically programmed need for play can transform work. It can bring back excitement and newness to our job. Play helps us deal with difficulties, provides a sense of expansiveness, promotes mastery of our craft, and is an essential part of the creative process. True play that comes from our inner needs and desires is the only path to finding lasting joy and satisfaction in our work. In the long run, work does not work without play.

When we compared our dream list to our “joy and meaning” list, we realised that by merely letting go of the list of things we want to accomplish and acquire, we would be actually living our dream – not striving to make it happen in the future, but living it right now.

Do you want to inflect more people with anxiety, or heal ourselves and the people around us with calm?

If we choose to heal with calm, we have to commit to practicing calm. Small things matter. Before we respond we can count to ten or give ourselves permission to say, “I’m not sure. I need to think about this some more.

Stillness is not about focusing on nothingness; it’s about creating a clearing. It’s opening up and emotionally clutter-free space and allowing ourselves to feel and think and dream and question.

Using our gifts and talents to create meaningful work takes a tremendous amount of commitment, because in many cases the meaningful work is not what pays the bills.

Self doubt undermines the process of finding our gifts and sharing them with the world. To overcome self doubt and “supposed-to,” we have to start owning the messages. What makes us afraid? What’s on our “supposed to” list? Write them down and own the gremlins’ messages messages to give yourself the opportunity to say, ” I get it. I see that I’m afraid of this, but I’m going to do it anyway.

Overcoming self -doubt is all about believing we are good enough and letting go of what the world says we’re supposed to be and supposed to call ourselves.

Meaningful change is a process. It can be uncomfortable and is often risky, especially when we’re talking about embracing our imperfections. But what’s the greater risk? Letting go of what people think or letting go of how I feel, what I believe, and who I am?