The Gifts of Imperfection

This might be the very best nonfiction book I’ve ever read. Aside from writing-craft and various neopagan subject matters, I don’t read a whole lot of nonfiction. Nowhere near as much as my sister, who has all that excellent knowledge and interest in learning theory, child psychology, and various other enriching topics. Still, I would go so far as to say everyone should read this particular book. It’s that good, and that important.

I fell in love with Brene Brown’s TED Talk on the power of vulnerability. Everything she said felt so RIGHT and in line with how I thought everyone should be living their lives. This book takes the meat of that talk and pulls you deeper into it. Expands on everything, makes it really sink in.

Now, just because I think everyone should read this book, I wouldn’t say that we are all ready for it. I happened to pick it up shortly after my transformative HG Dark Night of the Soul, and the timing was perfect. Having a horrible illness, being so sick for a long period of time, opened me up to look at life in different ways. I’ve been re-arranging my priorities in a major way, and really analyzing where I’m at, where I want to be, and why there’s still distance between those two. So a book on how to embrace imperfection to live a more wholehearted life—well, the timing was just right.

One thing I really love about this book is how it presents concepts based on Brown’s research findings, but doesn’t give you that checklist sort of “do this and prioritize this and you’ll be happy” that we so often see nowadays. Brown offers mini guideposts on how to foster more of some of the concepts she says are important for wholehearted living, but she tempers all of it with the admission that it’s a constant process. That we all need to try all the time to cultivate a wholehearted life, and that we aren’t perfect (indeed “perfect” doesn’t exist). I love her personal anecdotes, because the way she is vulnerable in them, and still has the courage to tell them, is truly practicing what she preaches.

There’s a fabulous section on perfectionism that really hit home for me. I think I will have to read it another hundred times, but it gives me so much hope that there is a way to combat the everyday perfectionism that so often negatively impacts my creative output. I’ve tried reading self-help books geared toward overcoming/working through perfectionism (and its accompanying procrastination impulses), but none of them hit me like this one little section did.

One of her stories was so impactful that I had to put down the book for a while. I spent a good hour cuddling with the cat, thinking about what I’d just learned. It brought up a very strong memory that has always stuck with me.

I was at my high school sweetheart’s house, and his young cousin was visiting. They were running all around the house and yard, playing with the dog and with nerf guns. The cousin came up to me (I was sitting on my boyfriend’s bed, reading) and said I was “Superlady” and had to come help him save the world. And I couldn’t do it. I fed him excuses and stayed securely put. Why? Because I didn’t know how to “play” with others. I spent years playing outside with a neighbor when I was younger, but that was safe. It was always just he and I (with occasional visits from our older sisters), and he was a little younger than me. We had wonderful imaginations and would never have ridiculed each other for playing the “wrong” way. The rest of the time? I played alone, with stuffed animals and small dog and cat figurines. So by the time I was in high school, a full six years or so after that neighbor friend had moved away, I had no idea how to “play” with other people. And what if I did something wrong? Or what if I had too much fun and looked goofy in front of my boyfriend? No, it was safer to stay on that bed with a book than risk looking like an idiot.

Reading Brown’s book, I finally realized what I was actually afraid of. I wasn’t scared of letting my boyfriend see me be silly, or act like an idiot. We were teenagers in love, so we were already awkward enough around each other. He kept dating me even after the tenth grade haircut disaster, after all. What I was really scared of was that he would see me being vulnerable. Trying something I might not be good at. Having to admit that I wasn’t already good at something.

I see it with my husband now, too. That slight bit of hesitation before I open up and admit that I don’t know something, or might be subpar at some skill. He knows I’m not perfect. I know I’m not perfect. But there’s still this intrinsic shame that tries to take hold, every time I have to admit that I’m not perfect.

So, I had a nice powerful realization, sparked by one small anecdote in this book. It’s that powerful, the concepts she talks about.

I can imagine a lot of the people in my life reading this book and taking different things from it. To someone who doesn’t value human connections as the be all end all of our existence here, it might not carry the same weight. As a writer and someone who values compassion and empathy and connectedness, though, every bit of it was impactful. It’s the kind of knowledge that you know would just completely fix the whole world, if everyone would just open their hearts enough to let it in.

I’m hoping to read Daring Greatly next, because I suspect it might have some good pointers on how to parent wholeheartedly. Thank the gods for Brene Brown and her research, and that she can share it so effectively in her writing with the rest of us.

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