Book Review: The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene’ Brown

“The Gifts of Imperfection” is the second book written by Brene’ Brown but it is the book that jump started her career.  The book was originally published in 2010 and an updated version was recently released as an anniversary book.  If you are an audio book lover, then you can listen to Brown read the more recent version.  I originally read this book in the Spring of 2020 when I first discovered Brown’s work and I have to say that this is definitely in my top 10 of all time favorite books.  If you read my book review of Brown’s latest book, “Braving the Wilderness” earlier this year, you may remember me claiming my status as a Brene’ Brown super fan and that has not changed over the past few months.  I am also a follower of Brown’s podcast “Unlocking Us” and was very excited when she and her two sisters did a series of podcasts this summer discussing “The Gifts of Imperfection”, it gave me the perfect excuse to read it again but this time I got to experience it with the author.  If you listen to the podcast Brown recommends that before you read the book you go to her website and take her wholehearted inventory, so of course I did.  I took it before I read the book the first time but I didn’t print it out so I couldn’t compare my ratings. If you do take the inventory, (it’s free and they don’t ask for any personal information) I recommend printing it and dating it, so if you do take it more than once you can compare the data. 

“The Gifts of Imperfection” is a guide to living a wholehearted life.  Brown wrote this book during what she refers to as her “midlife unraveling”. “A time when you feel a desperate pull to live the life you want to live, not the one you are supposed to live. A time when you are challenged by the universe to let go of who you think you are supposed to be and embrace who you are”. Honestly the first time I read this book I could very much relate to the idea of being in the middle of a “midlife unraveling”. It was about a year after I had retired from a career that was my calling.  Being a teacher had defined me and my life for over 30 years and I was finding it hard to navigate the next part of my life.  This book helped give me perspective and insight into how to continue on the next part of my journey in life.  

Brown describes wholehearted living as a journey or a process and the tools that you need for this journey are courage, compassion, and connection.  They are the three gifts of imperfection. She defines courage as, “speaking honestly and openly about who we are, what we’re feeling and our experiences good and bad”. Compassion is acceptance. “The better we are at accepting ourselves and others the more compassionate we become”. With compassion Brown also talks about the importance of setting boundaries.  Finally, connection is “giving and receiving without judgement”.  My takeaway from this section of the book was to live a wholehearted life meant to let go of what others might think of you and to believe that you are worthy now as you are.  It means to learn self-love and to be authentic. But of course, there are things that get in the way of this journey and the three big ones here are shame, fear, and vulnerability. 

The rest of the book is divided into 10 Guideposts that Brown describes to help you on your wholehearted journey.  This is where the wholehearted inventory comes in as the inventory gives you a rating that shows where you are personally with each of the guideposts. The guideposts are:

  1. Cultivating Authenticity and Letting go of what people think
  2. Cultivation Self-Compassion and Letting go of Perfection
  3. Cultivating a Resilient Spirit and Letting go of Numbing and Powerlessness
  4. Cultivating Gratitude and Joy and Letting go of Scarcity and Fear of the Dark
  5. Cultivating Intuition and Trusting Faith and Letting go of the Need for Certainty
  6. Cultivation Creativity and Letting go of Comparison
  7. Cultivating Play and Rest and Letting go of Exhaustion
  8. Cultivating Calm and Stillness and Letting go of Anxiety
  9. Cultivating Meaningful Work and Letting go of Self-Doubt
  10. Cultivation Laughter, Song and Dance and Letting go of being Cool and In Control.

At the end of each Guidepost Brown has a DIG Deep where she asks you to Get Deliberate, Get Inspired and Get Going to help you get motivated to action. Each of the guideposts are going to hold different meaning for the individual reader but a couple things that stuck with me were the need to be less judgmental and that practicing gratitude leads to joyfulness.  

The book is short and very easy to read. One of the reasons that I enjoy Brown’s books and podcasts is how much her personality shines through. She is a research professor, but her writing doesn’t sound like it. It reads more like a conversation.  The book was just as good the second reading, as it had been the first.  It is the kind of book that you can read at different times of your life to gain different insights. 

As I said earlier, this book really helped me start to put things in perspective when I was at one of those major milestone crossroads of life.  Sometimes we just need a little help remembering to own our story, or that we are worthy now. Whether you are at a life changing crossroad (getting a new job, moving, becoming a parent, becoming an empty nester, etc) or just looking for some direction on how to live a more authentic life, this book could be just what you need.

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