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The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are

The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are

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by Brené Brown

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New York Times best-selling author and professor Brené Brown offers a powerful and inspiring book that explores how to cultivate the courage, compassion, and connection to embrace your imperfections and to recognize that you are enough.

Each day we face a barrage of images and messages from society and the media telling us who, what, and how we should be


New York Times best-selling author and professor Brené Brown offers a powerful and inspiring book that explores how to cultivate the courage, compassion, and connection to embrace your imperfections and to recognize that you are enough.

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. So most of us perform, please, and perfect, all the while thinking, What if I can't keep all of these balls in the air? Why isn't everyone else working harder and living up to my expectations? What will people think if I fail or give up? When can I stop proving myself?In The Gifts of Imperfection, Bren頂rown, PhD, a leading expert on shame, authenticity and belonging, shares what she's learned from a decade of research on the power of Wholehearted Living--a way of engaging with the world from a place of worthiness.In her ten 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.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Brown, author or I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn't), again urges us to expose and expel our insecurities in order to have the most fulfilling life possible. Her latest is a guidebook for pilgrims on the journey to wholehearted living, which she defines as containing courage, compassion, deliberate boundaries, and connection. She has defined 10 guideposts for personal introspection, which involve cultivating some positive quality, whether it be authenticity, self-compassion, or a resilient spirit, intuition, meaningful work, or laughter. Each guidepost is the focus of a chapter that contains illustrative stories, primarily from her own life; definitions, including the difference between shame and guilt; quotes from such diverse sources as Diane Ackerman and E.E. Cummings; and brief suggestions of activities that she pursues with the assumption that they might help her audience. Although these activities are highlighted in her introduction to the book, they are in short supply and the book functions more as a chatty meditation on the guideposts. Despite occasional moments of insight, this book's primary value may be in spurring thought and providing references to other authors that will provide further inspiration for those seeking a more meaningful life. (Oct.)
From the Publisher

"This important book is about the lifelong journey from 'What will people think?' to 'I am enough.' Brown's unique ability to blend original research with honest storytelling makes reading The Gifts of Imperfection like having a long, uplifting conversation with a very wise friend who offers compassion, wisdom, and great advice."
--Harriet Lerner, New York Times best-selling author of The Dance of Anger and The Dance of Connection

"Brené Brown courageously tackles the dark emotions that get in the way of leading a fuller life; read this book and let some of that courage rub off on you."
--Daniel H. Pink, New York Times best-selling author of A Whole New Mind

"Courage, compassion, and connection: Through Brené's research, observations, and guidance, these three little words can open the door to amazing change in your life."
--Ali Edwards, author of Life Artist

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Hazelden Publishing
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Read an Excerpt


Once you see a pattern, you can’t un-see it. Trust me, I’ve tried. But when the same truth keeps repeating itself, it’s hard to pretend that it’s just a coincidence. For example, no matter how hard I try to convince myself that I can function on six hours of sleep, anything less than eight hours leaves me impatient, anxious, and foraging for carbohydrates. It’s a pattern.I also have a terrible procrastination pattern: I always put off writing by reorganizing my entire house and spending way too much time and money buying office supplies and organizing systems. Every single time.

One reason it’s impossible to un-see trends is that our minds are engineered to seek out patterns and to assign meaning to them. Humans are a meaning-making species. And, for better or worse, my mind is actually fine-tuned to do this. I spent years training for it, and now it’s how I make my living.

As a researcher, I observe human behavior so I can identify and name the subtle connections, relationships, and patterns that help us make meaning of our thoughts, behaviors, and feelings. I love what I do. Pattern hunting is wonderful work and, in fact, throughout my career, my attempts at un-seeing were strictly reserved for my personal life and those humbling vulnerabilities that I loved to deny. That all changed in November 2006, when the research that fills these pages smacked me upside the head. For the first time in my career, I was desperate to un-see my own research.

Up until that point, I had dedicated my career to studying difficult emotions like shame, fear, and vulnerability. I had written academic pieces on shame, developed a shame-resilience curriculum for mental health and addictions professionals, and written a book about shame resilience called I Thought It Was Just Me.

In the process of collecting thousands of stories from diverse men and women who lived all over the country--ranging in age from eighteen to eighty-seven--I saw new patterns that I wanted to know more about. Yes, we all struggle with shame and the fear of not being enough. And, yes, many of us are afraid to let our true selves be seen and known. But in this huge mound of data there was also story after story of men and women who were living these amazing and inspiring lives.

I heard stories about the power of embracing imperfection and vulnerability. I learned about the inextricable connection between joy and gratitude, and how things that I take for granted, like rest and play, are as vital to our health as nutrition and exercise. These research participants trusted themselves, and they talked about authenticity and love and belonging in a way that was completely new to me.

I wanted to look at these stories as a whole, so I grabbed a file and a Sharpie and wrote the first word that came to my mind on the tab: Wholehearted. I wasn’t sure what it meant yet, but I knew that these stories were about people living and loving with their whole hearts. I had a lot of questions about Wholeheartedness. What did these folks value? How did they create all of this resilience in their lives? What were their main concerns and how did they resolve or address them? Can anyone create a Wholehearted life? What does it take to cultivate what we need? What gets in the way?

As I started analyzing the stories and looking for re-occurring themes, I realized that the patterns generally fell into one of two columns; for simplicity sake, I first labeled these Do and Don’t. The Do column was brimming with words like worthiness, rest, play, trust, faith, intuition, hope, authenticity, love, belonging, joy, gratitude, and creativity. The Don’t column was dripping with words like perfection, numbing, certainty, exhaustion, self-sufficiency, being cool, fitting in, judgment, and scarcity.

I gasped the first time I stepped back from the poster paper and took it all in. It was the worst kind of sticker shock. I remember mumbling, “No. No. No. How can this be?”

Even though I wrote the lists, I was shocked to read them. When I code data, I go into deep researcher mode. My only focus is on accurately capturing what I heard in the stories. I don’t think about how I would say something, only how the research participants said it. I don’t think about what an experience would mean to me, only what it meant to the person who told me about it.

I sat in the red chair at my breakfast room table and stared at these two lists for a very long time. My eyes wandered up and down and across. I remember at one point I was actually sitting there with tears in my eyes and with my hand across my mouth, like someone had just delivered bad news.

And, in fact, it was bad news. I thought I’d find that Wholehearted people were just like me and doing all of the same things I was doing: working hard, following the rules, doing it until I got it right, always trying to know myself better, raising my kids exactly by the books...After studying tough topics like shame for a decade, I truly believed that I deserved confirmation that I was “living right.” But here’s the tough lesson that I learned that day (and every day since):

How much we know and understand ourselves is critically important, but there is something that is even more essential to living a Wholehearted life: loving ourselves.

Knowledge is important, but only if we’re 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.

And perhaps the most painful lesson of that day hit me so hard that it took my breath away: It was clear from the data that we cannot give our children what we don’t have. Where we are on our journey of living and loving with our whole hearts is a much stronger indicator of parenting success than anything we can learn from how-to books.

This journey is equal parts heart work and head work, and as I sat there on that dreary November day, it was clear to me that I was lacking in my own heart work.

I finally stood up, grabbed my marker off the table, drew a line under the Don’t list, and then wrote the word me under the line. My struggles seemed to be perfectly characterized by the sum total of the list. I folded my arms tightly across my chest, sunk deep down into my chair, and thought, This is just great. I’m living straight down the shit list.

I walked around the house for about twenty minutes trying to un-see and undo everything that had just unfolded, but I couldn’t make the words go away. I couldn’t go back, so I did the next best thing: I folded all of the poster sheets into neat squares and tucked them into a Rubbermaid tub that fit nicely under my bed, next to my Christmas wrap. I wouldn’t open that tub again until March of 2008.

Next, I got myself a really good therapist and began a year of serious soul work that would forever change my life. Diana, my therapist, and I still laugh about my first visit. Diana, who is a therapist to many therapists, started with the requisite, “So what’s going on?” I pulled out the Do list and matter-of-factly said, “I need more of the things on this list. Some specific tips and tools would be helpful. Nothing deep. No childhood crap or anything.”

It was a long year. I lovingly refer to it on my blog as the 2007 [Breakdown] Spiritual Awakening. It felt like a textbook breakdown to me, but Diana called it a spiritual awakening. I think we were both right. In fact, I’m starting to question if you can have one without the other. Of course, it’s not a coincidence that this unraveling happened in November 2006. The stars were perfectly aligned for a breakdown: I was raw from being newly sugar and flour free, I was days away from my birthday (always a contemplative time for me), I was burned out from work, and I was right on the cusp of my midlife unraveling.

People may call what happens at midlife “a crisis,” but it’s not. It’s an unraveling--a time when you feel a desperate pull to live the life you want to live, not the one you’re “supposed” to live. The unraveling is a time when you are challenged by the universe to let go of who you think you are supposed to be and to embrace who you are.

Midlife is certainly one of the great unraveling journeys, but there are others that happen to us over the course of our lives:

  • marriage
  • divorce
  • becoming a parent
  • recovery
  • moving
  • an empty nest
  • retiring
  • experiencing loss or trauma
  • working in a soul-sucking job
The universe is not short on wake-up calls. We’re just quick to hit the snooze button.

As it turned out, the work I had to do was messy and deep. I slogged through it until one day, exhausted and with mud still wet and dripping off of my traveling shoes, I realized, “Oh, my God. I feel different. I feel joyful and real. I’m still afraid, but I also feel really brave. Something has changed--I can feel it in my bones.”

I was healthier, more joyful, and more grateful than I had ever felt. I felt calmer and grounded, and significantly less anxious. I had rekindled my creative life, reconnected with my family and friends in a new way, and most important, felt truly comfortable in my own skin for the first time in my life.

I learned how to worry more about how I felt and less about “what people might think.” I was setting new boundaries and began to let go of my need to please, perform, and perfect. I started saying no rather than sure (and being resentful and pissed off later). I began to say “Oh, hell yes!” rather than “Sounds fun, but I have lots of work to do” or “I’ll do that when I’m _________ (thinner, less busy, better prepared).”

As I worked through my own Wholehearted journey with Diana, I read close to forty books, including every spiritual awakening memoir I could get my hands on. They were incredibly helpful guides, but I still craved a guidebook that could offer inspiration, resources, and basically serve as a soul traveler’s companion of sorts.

One day, as I stared at the tall pile of books precariously stacked on my nightstand, it hit me! I want to tell this story in a memoir. I’ll tell the story of how a cynical, smart-ass academic became every bit of the stereotype that she spent her entire adult life ridiculing. I’ll fess up about how I became the middle-aged, recovering, health-conscious, creative, touchy-feely spirituality-seeker who spends days contemplating things like grace, love, gratitude, creativity, authenticity, and is happier than I imagined possible. I’ll call it Wholehearted.

I also remember thinking, Before I write the memoir, I need to use this research to write a guidebook on Wholehearted living! By mid-2008, I had filled three huge tubs with notebooks, journals, and mounds of data. I had also done countless hours of new research. I had everything I needed, including a passionate desire to write the book that you’re holding in your hands.

On that fateful November day when the list appeared and I sunk into the realization that I wasn’t living and loving with my whole heart, I wasn’t totally convinced. Seeing the list wasn’t enough to fully believe in it. I had to dig very deep and make the conscious choice to believe...to believe in myself and the possibility of living a different life. A lot of questioning, countless tears, and a huge collection of joyful moments later, believing has helped me see.

Meet the Author

Dr. Brené Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. She has spent the past twelve years studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame. Her groundbreaking research has been featured on PBS, NPR, CNN, in The Washington Post, and The New York Times.Brené's 2010 TEDxHouston talk, The Power of Vulnerability, is one of the top ten most viewed TED talks on TED.com, with approximately 6 million viewers. Additionally, Brené gave the closing talk at the 2012 TED conference where she talked about shame, courage, and innovation.Brown lives in Houston, Texas.

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The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 109 reviews.
20MAKAYLA11 More than 1 year ago
This concept is a gem that needs to be studied and practiced! Our struggle for perfection, fear of being seen as "different", fear of being disliked, un-accepted and so many other crippling aspects of "being human" all make us vulnerable to sickness, and misery. This wonderful book endears us to living an authentic life, whole-hearted living and accepting the fact that what makes us different also make us unique and special. We need to embrace our authentic selves and STOP trying so hard to please everyone else by being the way we think THEY want us to be. Yes, it sounds easy on paper but the truth is that, of course, this insight makes more sense than anything else I can think of! This should be on all of our bookshelves!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Realy teaches you that nobodys perfect and you dont have to be and you should take pride in your inperfections once in a while. I would recomend this to a friend
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I highly recommend this book. This book has helped me to relax and enjoy life instead of worrying all the time about being perfect. It's high expectations of ourselves that lead to stress/anxiety and this book helps open your eyes to realize you can be who you are and no one is going to care that you aren't perfect. I will probably end up reading this book again in a few months. It has really changed my perspective on things.
Charles_Merrick More than 1 year ago
An excellent and practical treatment of a ususally unspoken element in understanding/treating depression. I have read many books on getting to the root of personal depression issues and this one cuts to the chase with clarity and a refreshing sense of humor. I feel very inspired by the information and instruction in this book and by the author herself. Her description of her personal process with shame/imperfection really touched a chord within me and I am looking anew at my own journey towards a healthier outlook on life.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book brings forth a simple, but very important concept of accepting our own self. What makes the book so great is that it is easy to read and relate to because it comes with Brene Brown's personal experiences and not a lot of analytical mumbo jumbo.
room145teacher More than 1 year ago
Have not finished the book yet, but so far I like what the author has to say. The irony is that this ebook has some technical difficulties that have prevented me from finishing it. I'm not seeing the gift of this particular imperfection.
Brasseur More than 1 year ago
I bought this title in book-form for my son and in CD form for us. The author is a brilliant speaker (and writer) and she should have read her own book. The reader on the CD was quite annoying to me --- frequently sounded too perky and not serious. The information is presented clearly and there is much to learn about the consequences of feeling shame and how to work around and through it. The advice is pragmatic and non-preachy. Worth referring back to ----- all the more reason to buy as book and not CD.
MommaC04 More than 1 year ago
This is one of the best "self help" books I've read so far. Teaching me how to let go of preconceived notions of what others have of me and so many other things.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
even if you only have time to read the table of contents, your life will be changed! I encourage you to read it cover to cover. Breathe. And then read it again. Thanks, Brene!!!
EJOB More than 1 year ago
No matter who you are, you should be able to find something in this book to help you with living your life.
Joanne Rome More than 1 year ago
Such an easy yet compelling read.
JenRene More than 1 year ago
If you ever really wonder what makes people truly authentic, you won't have to wonder anymore after reading Brene's book. She so completely, deliately and tranparently shares how authemtically we can find ourselves i f we dig deeply within this complex self called our soul.
HOMELESSINCHEYENNE More than 1 year ago
fraskel More than 1 year ago
The heart knows the Truth through Brene's courage and willingness to share her life's work through her own embodiment is truly amazing. Her authenticity is breath taking there are no words to truly describe her beautiful spirit.
lmnKS More than 1 year ago
Brene Brown is a good author. The book is well written and good advice. It's a nice book to add to your collection.
ChrisMayorga1 More than 1 year ago
The Gifts of Imperfection is a beautifully written book that every reader will love.
AceFriedman More than 1 year ago
The concept of this book is teaching people how to have self worth, and how to nurture and develop it. The author definitely knows what she is doing and would like to see more from this concept and would be interested to check out some other topics as well.
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LifeisgoodinOR More than 1 year ago
This is not only a great book and an easy read, but it is really helpful too! Dr. Brené Brown has a wonderful style of writing that makes her totally relatable. In the book she reviews ten guideposts to help you make changes towards a better life. I've read every page and taken her two part class using this book as the textbook and I highly recommend it as a must read for everyone!
YoyoMitch More than 1 year ago
“Self-Help” books are endemic. Most of us want to improve some part of our life on an ongoing basis thus “How To” books abound – “Lose Weight Easily,” “Change Your Life in 30 Days,” “How Better Friends in Can Make You Rich!” – titles that intrigue and hook into our hope that “it will be better, then!” Rarely does a book come from an outlook of “this is how I changed my life, maybe it will be of help to you,” yet that is the style and tone offered by Dr. Brown in this well researched (she is a professional researcher), concise book whose writing is more prose than technical. The book deserves to be read slowly enough so the practical suggestions can take root beyond the, “Oh, that’s interesting!” phase, but could easily be read through in a weekend.  Dr. Brown is clear in her writing that people and things only change when the work is done to make those changes. The “Sub-Sub-Title of the book is “Your Guide To a Wholehearted Life” and is the result of her having experienced a “Breakdown Spiritual Awakening” (her description) in 2007. She defines Wholeheartedness “is as much about embracing our tenderness and vulnerability as it is about developing knowledge and claiming power.” (p.xi). Because she choose to grasp this time period as moment of awakening rather than a time of grief, she frames the “steps” to living Wholeheartedly as “Guideposts,” framing the tasks more as a guided journey than a “Fix It Fast” guarantee. None of the Guideposts are surprising and each is discussed in a chatty manner that feels more akin to having a talk with a trusted other than it does the results of a professional researcher, which is a good move if the author desires to have her results actually read.  This does not diminish the data she presents, especially when she uses her personal experience when relating said findings. The Guideposts are (emphases are mine):  #1 – Cultivating Authenticity: Letting Go of What People Think (so much for holding to my Co-Dependency!”)  #2 – Cultivating Self-Compassion: Letting Go of Perfectionism (I don’t have to be right all the time?!?!)  #3 – Cultivating a Resilient Spirit: Letting Go of Numbing and Powerlessness (feeling deeply is part of LIVING)   #4 – Cultivating Gratitude and Joy: Letting Go of Scarcity and Fear of the Dark (what I have is sufficient)  #5 – Cultivating Intuition and Trusting Faith: Letting Go of the Need for Certainty  #6 – Cultivating Creativity: Letting Go of Comparison (Being “me” is a good thing.)  #7 – Cultivating Play and Rest: Letting Go of Exhaustion as a Status Symbol and Productivity as Self-Worth (WHEW! Thank goodness!)  #8 – Cultivating Calm and Stillness: Letting Go of Anxiety as a Lifestyle (If people did this, I’d be out of work.)  #9 – Cultivating Meaningful Work: Letting Go of Self-Doubt “Supposed To” #10 – Cultivating Laughter, Song and Dance: Letting Go of Being Cool and “Always in Control” Each chapter ends with a DIG (Deliberate, Inspired, Going) reflection. This is a time to actually consider what was just read, consider what needs to be done if one is to incorporate that step into one’s life and create a plan to practice that choice regularly.   I found this book to be helpful and encouraging. The author offers no guarantees of how changes will occur only that these “guideposts” made, and continue to make, a difference in her life. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Amazing book. Even better when read aling with Brene's web-based art journaling classes! Invest in yourself. Invest in your happiness!