Book Review: The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown

Over Christmas I received a book from a dear friend of mine, called The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown.

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

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

I love to read (and I read a lot of books), however there were some messages in this particular book which resonated deeply with me, so I wanted to share them with you.

Brené Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston, a world renowned researcher, and an expert on the subjects of shame, authenticity and vulnerability.

If you are yet to see her TED talks on vulnerability and shame, I can highly recommend them.

In her latest book, Brown shares ten guideposts for wholehearted living.

The essence of the book is about the constant barrage of messages, images, and ideas we receive externally (from society, the media, ourselves etc) telling us who we should be – we are led to believe perfection equals success, but ironically it’s the pursuit of perfection that fuels the message we are ‘never good enough.’

Far from the typical fluffy “self-help” book, The Gifts of Imperfection is founded upon concrete research.

At the same time however, it delivers academic findings with readability, making it a quick and easy read.

Here are four messages from The Gifts of Imperfection which stood out to me:

1.  Authenticity is a conscious choice.  Brown says it is not a trait one person has, and another does not have – “There are people who consciously practice to be authentic and those that don’t , and there are the rest of us who are authentic on some days and not so authentic on others.”

Like so many leadership qualities, I also believe we all have the ability to choose whether or not we wish to practice authenticity on a daily basis.

2. Shame* is universal and is one of the most primitive of human emotions.  We are often afraid to talk about shame, however the less we talk about it, the more control it has over our lives.

She is at pains to point out the difference between the words shame and guilt.

How many times have the following feelings applied to you?

Guilt = I did something bad.
Shame = I am bad.

Brown asserts guilt can be a useful (albeit uncomfortable) emotion as it can lead us to change our behaviour if, for example, we have done something to hurt another person, or is against our value set.

Shame, on the other hand, is not helpful and has been linked to violence, aggression, depression, addiction, eating disorders and bullying.

3.  Practicing critical awareness helps us to be more resilient.  This ‘observer’ or third party position gives a more rational thought to experiences that may be poisoned by our emotional overlay.

It increases our ability to see things as they really are, thereby helping to eliminate the messages and expectations which drive the “never good enough” gremlins inside our heads – and we all know how powerful they can be.

4.  Intuition is NOT independent of any reasoning process.  In fact psychologists believe that intuition is a rapid fire, unconscious associating process – like a mental puzzle.

Brown discovered throughout her research that our constant need for certainty is what silences intuition.

Many of the guideposts in the book cover concepts which are useful for anyone in a leadership role to consider, such as resilience, compassion, authenticity, creativity, and intuition.

The book is relevant for anyone who believes the constant pursuit of perfection is causing disharmony, discontent, feelings of unworthiness, or unhappiness in their lives.

The Quest for Perfection - The Leader's Digest

The quest for perfection can be the cause of unhappiness, and feelings of unworthiness.        Image source: Flickr Commons.

It is also for those who are “tackling the dark emotions that get in the way of leading a fuller life.”

Have you read The Gifts of Imperfection, and if so, what messages resonated with you the most?

*Shame is described by Brown as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging”.

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Suzi McAlpine

Suzi McAlpine is a Leadership Development Specialist and author of the award-winning leadership blog, The Leader’s Digest. She writes and teaches about accomplished leadership, what magic emerges when it’s present, and how to ignite better leadership in individuals, teams and organisations. Suzi has been a leader and senior executive herself, working alongside CEOs and executive teams in a variety of roles. Her experience has included being a head-hunter, an executive coach, and a practice leader for a division at the world’s largest HR consulting firm. Suzi provides a range of services as a Leadership Development Specialist, including executive coaching, leadership workshops and development programmes for CEOs, leadership teams and organisations throughout New Zealand.

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