Book notes: The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown

The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown book summary.

The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brene Brown



“In The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown, a leading expert on shame, authenticity, and belonging, shares 10 guideposts on the power of Wholehearted Living – a way of engaging with the world from a place of worthiness. Each day we face a barrage of images and messages from society and the media telling us who, what, and how we should be. We are led to believe that if we could only look perfect and lead perfect lives, we’d no longer feel inadequate.

In her 10 guideposts, Brown engages our minds, hearts, and spirits as she explores how we can cultivate 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,” and to go to bed at night thinking, “Yes, I am sometimes afraid, but I am also brave. And, yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am worthy of love and belonging.”” -Audible

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Opening thoughts:

I picked up this book because it was on an Audible 2 for 1 sale. It had a lot of reviews and had a high average rating (usually my main criteria for buying a book). It also seemed like a good balance to the other books I chose this month.

Key notes:

  • Lesson: How much we know and understand ourselves is critically important, but there is something even more essential to living a wholehearted life: Loving ourselves
  • Knowledge is important, but only if we are being kind and gentle with ourselves as we work to discover who we are
    • Wholeheartedness is as much about embracing our tenderness and vulnerability as it is about developing knowledge and claiming power
  • We cannot give our children what we don’t have
    • Where we are living and loving with our whole hearts is a much stronger indicator of parenting success than anything that we can learn from “how-to” books
  • 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 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
  • Courage, compassion, and connection: the gifts of imperfection
    • The heart of compassion is really acceptance
      • The better we are at accepting ourselves and others, the more compassionate we become
    • Setting boundaries and holding people accountable is a lot more work than shaming and blaming, but it is also much more effective
    • Connection is the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard and valued
      • When they can give and receive without judgment, and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship
      • We need to consider letting go of the myth of self-sufficiency and “going at it alone”
      • Until we can receive with an open heart, we are never really giving with an open heart
    • We are worthy of love and belonging right now
    • “Fitting in” is about assessing the situation and becoming who you need to be to be accepted.
      • Belonging doesn’t require us to change who we are. It requires us to be who we are
      • Love belongs with belonging
        • A deep sense of love and belonging is an irreducible need of all women, men, and children
  • Love is not something we give or get. It is something that 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
      • Our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance
    • To begin by always thinking of love as an action rather than a feeling is one way in which anyone using the word in this way automatically assumes accountability and responsibility
      • Professing love and practicing love are two different things
        • It’s possible to love someone and still betray them, but when you betray them or behave in an unkind way towards them, you are not practicing love
  • Shame resilience 101: The first three things you need to know about shame
    1. We all have it. Shame is universal
    2. We are all afraid to talk about shame
    3. The less we talk about shame, the more control it has over our lives.
  • Shame is basically the fear of being unloveable
    • It is the total opposite of owning our story and feeling unworthy
    • Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging
      • Shame is all about fear. We are afraid that people won’t like us if they know the truth about who we are, where we come from, what we believe, how much we are struggling, or how wonderful we are when soaring
        • Sometimes it’s just as hard to own our strengths as our struggles
    • 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
    • Shame needs 3 things to grow out of control in our lives:
      1. Secrecy
      2. Silence
      3. Judgment
    • Shame happens between people and it heals between people
      • Guilt = I did something bad
      • Shame = I am bad
        • Shame is about who we are, and guilt is about our behaviors
  • Cultivating Authenticity: Letting go of what people think

You must first be who you really are, then do what you really need to do in order to have what you really want” -Margaret Young

  • Authenticity isn’t always the safe option
    • Sometimes choosing to be real over being liked is all about playing it unsafe
    • It’s all about stepping outside our comfort zone
  • There is risk putting your true self out into the world. But there is even more risk hiding yourself and your gifts from the world
    • Our unexpressed ideas, opinions, and contributions don’t just go away. They are likely to fester at eat away at our worthiness
    • Being true to ourselves is the best gift we can give to the people we love

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

  • Self-compassion has three elements:
    1. Self-kindness
    2. Common humanity
    3. Mindfulness
  • Guidepost #3: Cultivating a resilient spirit
    • 5 of the most common characteristics of resilient people
      1. They are resourceful and have good problem-solving skills
      2. More likely to seek help
      3. Hold the belief that they can do something that will help them to manage their feelings and cope
      4. They have social support available to them
      5. They are connected with others such as family or friends
    • Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion
      • Practicing spirituality brings a sense of perspective, meaning, and purpose to our lives
      • Spirituality as the foundation of their resilience was the common characteristic of resilient people
    • 3 significant patterns emerged as being essential to resilience
      1. Cultivating hope
      2. Practicing critical awareness
      3. Letting go of numbing and taking the edge off vulnerability, discomfort, and pain
    • Hope is not an emotion, it is a way of thinking or a cognitive process
      • Hope is a combination of setting goals, having the tenacity and perseverance to pursue them, and believing in our own abilities
      • Hope is learned. We learn hopeful, goal-directed thinking in the context of other people
    • Ads sell a great deal more than products
      • They sell values, images, and concepts of success and worth
      • They tell us who we are and what we should be
      • Sometimes they sell addictions
    • Consequences of numbing and “taking the edge off” behaviors are related to addiction:
      1. Most of us engage in behaviors, consciously or not, that help us to know him and take the edge off vulnerability, pain, and discomfort
      2. Addiction can be described as chronically and compulsively numbing and taking the edge off feelings
      3. We cannot selectively numb emotions. When we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions
    • The Vowel Check: A, E, I, O, U, Y
      • A = have I been abstinent today?
      • E = have I exercised today?
      • I = what have I done for myself today?
      • O = what have I done for others today?
      • U = am I holding onto unexpressed emotions today?
      • Y = yeah! what is something good that has happened today?
  • Guidepost #4: Cultivating gratitude and joy
    • Letting go of scarcity and fear of the dark
    • Gratitude without practice may be a little like faith without works: it’s not alive
    • Joy seems a step beyond happiness. Happiness is a sort of atmosphere you can live in sometimes when you’re lucky
      • Joy is a light that fills you with hope, faith, and love
      • Happiness is tied to circumstance, and joyfulness is tied to spirit and gratitude
      • Neither joy nor happiness is constant. No one feels happy all of the time or joyful all of the time
      • We need both happiness and joy
        • It is important to create and recognize the experiences that make us happy
      • A joyful life is made up of joyful moments gracefully strung together by trust, gratitude, inspiration, and faith
    • Until we can tolerate vulnerability and transform it into gratitude, intense feelings of love will often bring up the fear of loss
      • The dark does not destroy the light, it defines it. It’s our fear of the dark that casts our joy into the shadows.
      • Addressing scarcity doesn’t mean searching for abundance, but rather choosing a mindset of sufficiency
        • We each have the choice in any setting to step back and let go of the mindset of scarcity
        • Joy is what happens when we allow ourselves to recognize how good things really are
  • Guidepost #5: Cultivating intuition and trusting faith. Letting go of the need for certainty
    • Intuition is our ability to hold space for uncertainty and our willingness to trust the many ways we’ve developed knowledge and insight, including instinctexperiencefaith, and reason
    • Faith is a place of mystery where we find the courage to believe in what we cannot see and the strength to let go of our fear of uncertainty
    • The opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference” -Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr

  • Guidepost #6: Cultivating creativity. Letting go of comparison
    • Comparison is the thief of happiness
    • Creativity:
      1. There is no such thing as “creative people” and “non-creative people”. There are only people who use their creativity and people who don’t
        • Unused creativity doesn’t just disappear. It lives within us until it is expressed, neglected to death, or suffocated by resentment and fear
      2. The only unique contribution that we will ever make in this world will be born of our creativity
      3. If we want to make meaning, we need to make art:
        • Cook, write, draw, doodle, paint, scrapbook, take pictures, collage, knit, rebuild an engine, sculpt, dance, decorate, act, sing, it doesn’t matter
        • As long as we are creating, we are cultivating meaning
    • When she makes creating a priority, everything in her life works better
  • Guidepost #7: Cultivating play and rest. Letting go of exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self-worth
    • Play is as essential to our health and function as rest
    • Play is purposeless. We play for the sake of play
      • We do it because it’s fun and we want to
    • The opposite of play is not work, it is depression
  • Guidepost #8Cultivating calm and stillness. Letting go of anxiety as a lifestyle
    • Calm is creating perspective and mindfulness while managing emotional reactivity
    • Stillness is not about focusing on nothingness. It is about creating a clearing
      • It’s opening up an emotionally clutter-free space and allowing ourselves to feel, think, dream, and question
  • Guidepost #9Cultivating meaningful work. Letting go of self-doubt and “supposed to”
    • We all have gifts and talents. When we cultivate those gifts and share them with the world, we create a sense of meaning and purpose in our lives
      • Squandering our gifts brings distress to our lives
    • When we don’t use our talents to cultivate meaningful work, we struggle
      • We feel disconnected and weighed down by feelings of emptiness, frustration, resentment, shame, disappointment, fear, and even grief
    • Sharing our gifts and talents with the world is the most powerful source of connection with God

Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it because what the world needs is people who have come alive” -Howard Thurman

  • Make a list of the work that inspires you
    • Don’t be practical and don’t think about making a living. Think about doing something you love
  • Guidepost #10Cultivating laughter, song, and dance. Letting go of being cool and always in control

Dance like no one is watching. Sing like no one is listening. Love like you’ve never been hurt. And live like it’s heaven on earth.” -Mark Twain

  • Laughter, song, and dance create an emotional and spiritual connection
    • They remind us of the one thing that truly matters when we are searching for comfort, celebration, inspiration, or healing: we are not alone
    • Shame resilience requires laughter
      • Laughter is a spiritual form of communing
        • Without words, we can say to one another, “I’m with you, I get it.”
        • True laughter is not the use of humor as self-deprecation or deflection. It’s not the kind of painful after we sometimes hide behind
        • Knowing laughter embodies the relief and connection we experience when we realize the power of sharing our stories
          • We are not laughing at each other but with each other
    • Music reaches out and offers us connection, something we really can’t live without
    • For many of us, there is no form of self-expression that makes us feel more vulnerable than dancing
  • What one loves in childhood stays in the heart forever
  • The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you are uncool
  • Wanting to be cool is about minimizing vulnerability in order to reduce the risk being ridiculed or made fun of
    • We hustle for our worthiness by slipping on the emotional and behavioral straight jacket of cool, and posturing as the tragically hip and terminally better than
    • Being in control isn’t always about the desire to manipulate situations, but often it’s about the need to manage perception
      • We want to be able to control what other people think about us so that we can feel good enough
    • When we value being cool and in control over granting ourselves the freedom to unleash the passionate, goofy, heartfelt, and soulful expressions of who we are, we betray ourselves
      • When we consistently betray ourselves, we can expect to do the same to the people we love
      • When we don’t give ourselves permission to be free, we rarely tolerate that freedom in others
  •  The question we must ultimately answer is this:
    • What is the greater risk, letting go of what people think or letting go of how I feel, what I believe, and who I am?

Closing thoughts:

Again, this was one of those books where I didn’t expect it to be good, but it turned out to be fantastic. There are so many invaluable insights in this book that are hugely important to the individual. Most notably how to cultivate more self-love through courage, compassion, and connection.

Brene does a great job not only describing what she has learned through her many years of research but also how to put into practice. Each section provides a sort of “next steps” or putting the principles into action. She also gives advice on how to get inspired, which helps encourage action as well.

Overall, this is a great book because it is one I can highly recommend to anyone. No matter what walk of life someone may come from or their background, every person can get value out of the concepts in the book because self-acceptance and being our true selves is something most if not all of us struggle with.


How to cultivate self-love, courage, compassion, and connection. A complete guide to wholehearted living.

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