The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown – 5/5 stars
Brené Brown’s, The Gifts of Imperfection, not only explains how we become caught up in the need to be perfect, but also provides a clear road map with clear suggestions on how to move past the need to be perfect. It is a well-researched, well-written, well-organized account of how to embrace who you are, though Brown would likely object to my use of the phrase “how-to.” But this book is the closest to a how-to Brown’s work has been by covering the same three points after every guidepost, which allows the reader to take some steps on her own and use this more like a self-help book. Those points are: how to dig deep, how to get going, and how to take action. It was a welcome addition to Brown’s work. I can understand why other reviewers found this repetitive and a bit too simplistic, but with how much this book covers in such a small book, it can be easy to lose the thread of how to actually put into practice Brown’s guideposts. Even though I have listened to much of Brown’s work, I still find myself forgetting definitions, what holds me back, and how to be just a little bit more vulnerable. When it comes to making significant life change, a little repetition and symmetry can make it much easier to implement those much needed changes. I am personally grateful for the structure and feel I was better able to take away meaningful ways to make change.
The Gifts of Imperfection covers in detail, with examples the reader can identify with, what shame is and how it differs from other experiences, like embarrassment. But this book is more than easy to understand definitions of the various experiences people have. Instead, it also covers how to work with shame when it comes up. The idea of shame resilience was new to me before I came across Brown’s work and likely back then, I would have argued that shame is not something we need to learn resilience for. However, after reading this book, I am greatly convinced that it is easy to have a shame spiral and end up in a very dark place if one cannot name shame and then directly deal with it. I now find myself recognizing when I am in a shame spiral and taking steps to address it.
I particularly appreciated that Brown connected shame to vulnerability and also described in detail some ways we can shut down said vulnerability. One interesting discussion was of being too vulnerable and how that can actually be a way to not be vulnerable, by pushing people away. This ties in nicely with her discussion on how shame needs to be shared only with those people who have earned the right to hear those stories. Shame is not a time for a poor response as it only services to fuel the shame. For those of us who did not have shame and vulnerability modeled well for us as children, this discussion was vital to ensure that our attempts to address shame and be more vulnerable are successful.
The last section of the book goes into detail on what one needs to do in order to live a wholehearted life, filled with joy, connection, and balance. For me, this was the section I needed the most. Many of her guideposts covered things I was not doing nor had given much thought to. Those guideposts often fly in the face of our current culture, making it very challenging to implement. For example, Brown discusses the importance of play for adults. Play is defined as doing something enjoyable with no end goal or production. Play is not something encouraged for adults and often, people are shamed for playing as they age out of the acceptable range of childhood play. Yet, the research presents a strong case for all of us needing this in our lives. This book did an amazing job of breaking down this information and providing suggestions on how to build this into one’s life, which is critical here when much of this is the opposite of what American culture values.
A few things to note. First, this is the second book of the four books Brown has written and it is helpful to read them in order, though not strictly necessary. The Gifts of Imperfection does cover and explain parts of I Thought it was Just Me But it Isn’t which are relevant to this book. Second, I listened to the audiobook version, which is not read by Brown. This does detract from the quality of the audiobook because Brown is such an effective speaker. It is unfortunate that this and her first book are not read by her as it would make for a much stronger audiobook. Third, the audiobook version does not do a good job of dealing with the subtitles of sections like, dig deep, and at first, it comes across as though there are just random fragments in the book; however, at some point, the listener picks up on the structure of the book. It may be helpful to glance at the book before listening to it just to prevent this awkwardness. Lastly, if you expect to only ever read one Brené Brown book, this is not it. I instead highly recommend listening to the audiobook, The Power of Vulnerability: Teachings of Authenticity, Connections and Courage as it covers and ties together three of her four books in a digestible manner. The Gifts of Imperfection is a book I highly recommend if you are like me and need more knowledge and guidance in order to put the guideposts into practice. I recommend starting with The Power of Vulnerability as it is likely more effective to have an overview of how all of her research comes together before going more into the details and specifics of her work.
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