The gifts of imperfection summary is a condensed version of the original book The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brené Brown PhD.
What the book is about: It is a guide to Wholehearted living, which is a way of connecting with the world from a place of worthiness. Brené Brown provides ten guideposts to help readers cultivate their gifts of imperfections: courage, compassion, and connections.
You will learn how to cultivate authenticity, self-compassion, a resilient spirit, gratitude, joy, intuition, creativity, play and rest, calm and stillness, meaningful work, and laughter, song, and dance. You will learn how to let go of what people think, perfectionism, feeling of powerlessness, scarcity, the need for certainty, comparison, anxiety as a lifestyle, using exhaustion as a status symbol, self-doubt, and being cool.
At the end of each guidepost, she provides a Dig Deep section where she shares her strategies to get deliberate and inspired about her choices. Using her examples, she encourages readers to come out with their own. She also provides suggestions on how and what action to take.
Is this book right for you? If you want to understand shame and build shame resilience, you will find this book helpful. If you want to know why the author says that courage, compassion, and connections are gifts, read the book. If you want to explore the power of love, belonging, and being enough, you will find what you need to know within the chapters.
Introduction – Wholehearted Living
“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 at night 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.”
Wholehearted living is a process and it is a journey of a lifetime. We need courage, compassion, and connection to work our way through the journey. When we do this, we are able to live and love from a place of worthiness, embrace imperfection, and let go of the things that are holding us back.
Courage, compassion, and connection are daily practices and, when exercised enough, are the gifts of imperfection. They are the tools for developing worthiness.
To gain courage, we need to let go of what other people think. Saying no is a critical component of compassion. Belonging is an essential component of Wholehearted living but we must first have to cultivate self-acceptance.
Thoughts and memories of shame keep us feeling afraid and small. Shame and fear are powerful and they are what keep us afraid to let or true selves be seen and known.
We cannot move forward if we feel that we are never good enough.
“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”
Courage, Compassion, and Connection: The Gifts of Imperfection
We cultivate worthiness by practicing courage, compassion, and connection in our daily lives. We learn courage by doing courageous acts. We practice compassion when we act compassionately toward ourselves and others. And we feel connected in our lives when we reach out and connect.
Shame shows physical symptoms. For the author, the warning signs include dry mouth, time slowing down, tunnel vision, hot face, and racing heart. When it happens, she practices courage and reach out.
“We have to own our story and share it with someone who has earned the right to hear it, someone whom we can count on to respond with compassion. We need courage, compassion, and connection. ASAP.”
She says that shame hates it when we reach out and tell our story because shame loves secrecy.
“The most dangerous thing to do after a shaming experience is hide or bury our story. When we bury our story, the shame metastasizes.”
But, we can’t tell our story to the wrong person. People we should avoid sharing our shame story include:
- The friend who feels shame for us after hearing our story, which only confirms how horrified we should be
- The friend who feels sorry for us rather than empathy
- The friend who feels disappointed in our imperfection because she needs us to be the pillar of worthiness and authenticity
- The friend who scolds us because she is uncomfortable with vulnerability
- The friend who refuses to acknowledge that we can make mistakes and try to make us feel better
- The friend who takes the opportunity to one-up, saying things like, “That’s nothing. Listen to what happened to me one time!”
We are also capable of being that friend, a person who finds it hard to practice compassion. This can happen when we are struggling with our authenticity or when we don’t feel worthy.
When we are looking for compassion, we need someone who embraces us for our strengths and struggles.
“We need to honor our struggle by sharing it with someone who has earned the right to hear it. When we’re looking for compassion, it’s about connecting with the right person at the right time about the right issue.”
Shame and fear cannot tolerate powerful connection between people.
“My willingness to let someone I care about see me as imperfect led to a strengthening of our relationship that continues today—that’s why I can call courage, compassion, and connection the gifts of imperfection. When we’re willing to be imperfect and real, these gifts just keep giving.”
The author defines courage as the ability to speak honestly and openly about who we are, about our feelings, and about our good and bad experiences.
Wholeheartedness required ordinary courage. And ordinary courage is about putting our vulnerability on the line. When people reach out for help, they are practicing ordinary courage. Asking for what you need is one of the bravest things to do. When we risk being vulnerable and disappointed, we are practicing courage.
Our courage can benefit others who may not dare to take the risk. It can make everyone around us a little better and kinder and the world a little braver.
“When we practice generating compassion, we can expect to experience the fear of our pain. Compassion practice is daring. It involves learning to relax and allow ourselves to move gently toward what scares us.” Pema Chödrön
Our first response to pain is self-protect. We do it by finding someone to blame or we shield ourselves by turning to judgment or immediately going into fix-it mode.
Referring to Pema Chödrön’s quote on cultivating compassion, the author says that the American Buddhist nun teach us that we must be honest and forgiving about when and how we shut down.
Understanding the connection between boundaries, accountability, acceptance, and compassion can make us kinder, and less judgmental and resentful.
One of the barriers to the practice of compassion is the fear of setting boundaries and holding people accountable. She says that if we really want to practice compassion, we have to start by setting boundaries and holding people accountable for their behaviors. Her study shows that many of the truly compassionate people are also the most boundary-conscious people.
“The heart of compassion is really acceptance. The better we are at accepting ourselves and others, the more compassionate we become.”
When people are hurting us, taking advantage of us, or walking all over us, it is difficult to accept them. We blame them and figure out ways to make them pay. But we don’t hold them accountable.
Why don’t we set boundaries and hold people accountable, which is a more effective strategy?
It is because it is easier to shame and blame.
But shaming and blaming, without accountability, is toxic. When we shame and blame, we are actually moving the focus from the original behavior to our own behavior.
We should confront them about their behaviors. But, we must “separate people from their behaviors – to address what they’re doing, not who they are.” We shouldn’t make other people feel bad so that we can feel better.
We feel used and mistreated because we fail to set boundaries and hold people accountable. We feel self-righteous so we attack them instead of addressing the behavior. This act of shame and blame is dangerous to our relationships and well-being. We cannot practice compassion when we are in a place of resentment.
Brené Brown defines connection as “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 are wired for connection. It’s in our biology. From the time we are born, we need connection to thrive emotionally, physically, spiritually, and intellectually.”
Technology, such as Facebook, makes us believe that we are connected with other people. We are not. Connection is about communicating face-to-face with people we care about.
A barrier to connection is our belief that we can “go it alone”; that we are self-sufficient. We are willing to help others but we are reluctant to ask for help when we need it. We should do both – offer help and ask for help.
“Until we can receive with an open heart, we are never really giving with an open heart. When we attach judgment to receiving help, we knowingly or unknowingly attach judgment to giving help.”
“The willingness to tell our stories, feel the pain of others, and stay genuinely connected in this disconnected world is not something we can do halfheartedly.”
Exploring the Power of Love, Belonging, and Being Enough
“If we want to fully experience love and belonging, we must believe that we are worthy of love and belonging.”
Our worthiness is the feeling that we are enough just as we are and that we are worthy of love and belonging.
We gain access to our worthiness when we can let go of what other people think and when we own our story. It is when we don’t try to distance ourselves from the parts of our lives that don’t fit who we think we’re supposed to be. It is when we don’t have to hustle for our worthiness by performing, perfecting, pleasing, and proving.
Our greatest challenge is that we do not believe we are worthy, right now. We set prerequisites such as:
- I’ll be worthy when I lose twenty pounds.
- I’ll be worthy if I can get pregnant.
- I’ll be worthy if I get/stay sober
- I’ll be worthy if everyone thinks I’m a good parent.
- I’ll be worthy when I can make a living selling my art.
- I’ll be worthy if I can hold my marriage together.
- I’ll be worthy when I make partner.
- I’ll be worthy when my parents finally approve.
- I’ll be worthy if he calls back and asks me out.
- I’ll be worthy when I can do it all and look like I’m not even trying.
“Here’s what is truly at the heart of Wholeheartedness: Worthy now. Not if. Not when. We are worthy of love and belonging now. Right this minute. As is.”
We also need to cultivate a better understanding of love and belonging if we want to own our story and claim our worthiness.
Belonging is not fitting in. Belonging, unlike fitting in, doesn’t require us to change who we are. It requires us to be who we are.
Even though they are critical, we cannot measure love and belonging because they will always be uncertain.
Love belongs with belonging.
“A deep sense of love and belonging is an irreducible need of all women, men, and children. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong. When those needs are not met, we don’t function as we were meant to. We break. We fall apart. We numb. We ache. We hurt others. We get sick. There are certainly other causes of illness, numbing, and hurt, but the absence of love and belonging will always lead to suffering.”
Love is something we nurture and grow. It is a connection that can only be cultivated between two people when it exists within each other.
We can only love others as much as we love ourselves.
Shame, blame, disrespect, betrayal, and withholding affection damage love.
“We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honor the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness, and affection.”
It is a human desire to be part of something larger than us. We often try to acquire it by fitting in and by seeking approval.
Our sense of belonging can never be greater that our level of self-acceptance because true belonging happens only when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world.
“Practicing self-love means learning how to trust ourselves, to treat ourselves with respect, and to be kind and affectionate toward ourselves.”
Cultivating self-love and self-acceptance are priorities.
“Loving and accepting ourselves are the ultimate acts of courage.”
The Things that Get in the Way
“If we want to live and love with our whole hearts, and if we want to engage with the world from a place of worthiness, we have to talk about the things that get in the way—especially shame, fear, and vulnerability.”
Shame makes us feel small, flawed, and never good enough. Some examples of “never good enough” messages:
- “What will people think?”
- “You can’t really love yourself yet. You’re not ________________ enough.” (pretty, skinny, successful, rich, talented, happy, smart, feminine, masculine, productive, nice, strong, tough, caring, popular, creative, well-liked, admired, contributing)
- “No one can find out about _____________.”
- “I’m going to pretend that everything is okay.”
- “I can change to fit in if I have to!”
- “Who do you think you are to put your thoughts/art/ideas/ beliefs/writing out in the world?”
- “Taking care of them is more important than taking care of me.”
Shame Resilience 101
We can develop shame resilience. But first, we must be able to recognize shame and move through it while maintaining our worthiness and authenticity. We must also talk about why shame happens. We need to talk about shame because it can change the way we live, love, parent, work, and build relationships.
The three things we need to know about shame:
1.Shame is universal. All of us have it except people who lack the capacity for empathy and human connection.
2. We are afraid to talk about shame.
3. The less we talk about shame, the more control it has over our lives.
What is shame?
“Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.”
“Shame keeps worthiness away by convincing us that owning our stories will lead to people thinking less of us. Shame is all about fear. We’re 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’re struggling, or, believe it or not, how wonderful we are when soaring (sometimes it’s just as hard to own our strengths as our struggles).”
We think we are able to hide shame by making everything looks “just right” on the outside. But, shame shows up in our appearance and body image, parenting, money and work, health, addiction, sex, aging, family, parenting, and religion.
Shame is often referred to as “master emotion.”
Because of our need for love and belonging, we are afraid to tell our stories. We fear that we will disappoint people or push them away. Just the thought of being perceived as unworthy is enough to silence us from sharing our stories.
What is shame resilience?”
“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. The first thing we need to understand about shame resilience is that the less we talk about shame, the more we have it.”
“Shame needs three things to grow out of control in our lives: secrecy, silence, and judgment.”
1.Shame festers and grows when we lock it up.
2. Since shame happens between people, it heals between people.
3. Shame loses its power when we speak about it or share our experience with someone who has earned the right to hear our story.
When we experience shame, we feel disconnected and desperate for worthiness.
Shame is related to violence, aggression, depression, addiction, eating disorders, and bullying.
Shame is about fear, blame, and disconnection.
Her research shows that men and women with high levels of shame resilience share four elements:
1.They understand shame and recognize what messages and expectations trigger shame for them.
2. They practice critical awareness by reality-checking the messages and expectations that tell us that being imperfect means being inadequate.
3. They reach out and share their stories with people they trust.
4. They speak shame—they use the word shame, they talk about how they’re feeling, and they ask for what they need.
The difference between shame and guilt:
Guilt = I did something bad. It is about our behaviors.
Shame = I am bad. It is about who we are.
Guilt is as powerful as shame. But, its effect is often helpful and positive. We can apologize, make amends, and change our behavior.
Shame or the fear of shame is often destructive and may lead to self-destructive and hurtful behaviors. It corrodes the part of us that believes we can change and do better.
If we want to develop worthiness, we must learn to protect ourselves from shame. We must also respond to shame by recognizing when we are in shame so we can react with intention. The easiest way is to become aware of our physical shame symptoms.
“According to Dr. Hartling, in order to deal with shame, some of us move away by withdrawing, hiding, silencing ourselves, and keeping secrets. Some of us move toward by seeking to appease and please. And, some of us move against by trying to gain power over others, by being aggressive, and by using shame to fight shame (like sending really mean e-mails).”
To kick-start your shame resilience and story-claiming, the author suggest you ask yourself these questions and figure out the answers.
- Who do you become when you’re backed into that shame corner?
- How do you protect yourself?
- Who do you call to work through the mean-nasties or the cry-n-hides or the people-pleasing?
- What’s the most courageous thing you could do for yourself when you feel small and hurt?
Before we share our stories, we should ask ourselves, “Who has earned the right to hear my story?” We need at least one person.
Guidepost No. 1 – Cultivating Authenticity
Letting Go of What People Think.
“Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are.”
We are choosing and practicing authenticity when we:
1.Be and stay real: having the courage to be imperfect, to let our true selves be seen, and to set boundaries. In other words, allowing ourselves to be vulnerable.
2. Exercise compassion: knowing that we all are made of strength and struggle.
3. Nurture connection and sense of belonging; believing that we are enough.
Choosing authenticity demands that we live and love wholeheartedly even when we are wrestling with the shame and fear of not being good enough. It is hard to do when we live in a culture that dictates everything.
When we choose to be real and true to ourselves, people around us might try to make sense or worry about how our practice of authenticity will affect them and our relationships with them. We might receive negative reactions such as eye rolls, whispers, relationship struggles, feelings of isolation, and cruel and shaming responses. And we struggle with it because we don’t want to be perceived as self-indulgent, self-focused, selfish, or narcissistic.
We invite grace, joy, and gratitude into our lives when we mindfully practice authenticity during our most soul-searching struggles. But when we first start doing the practice, we might have to go through what the author refers to as “a gauntlet of gremlins”, which are the loud and unrelenting voices in our heads, like the ones below:
- “What if I think I’m enough, but others don’t?”
- “What if I let my imperfect self be seen and known, and nobody likes what they see?”
- “What if my friends/family/co-workers like the perfect me better … you know, the one who takes care of everything and everyone?”
“Speaking out is a major shame trigger for women. Here’s how the research participants described the struggle to be authentic:”
- Don’t make people feel uncomfortable but be honest.
- Don’t upset anyone or hurt anyone’s feelings but say what’s on your mind.
- Sound informed and educated but not like a know-it-all.
- Don’t say anything unpopular or controversial but have the courage to disagree with the crowd.
The author’s research shows that in our culture, women are expected to be thin, nice, and modest. So, if women want to be and feel safe, they must be willing to stay small, quiet, and attractive. As for men, the research shows that men are expected to have emotional control, primacy of work, control over women, and pursue status. In other words, for men to play it safe, they need to stop feeling, start earning, and give up meaningful connection.
When we choose authenticity, we are choosing to be real over being liked, which means playing it unsafe and stepping out of our comfort zone.
“When we go against the grain and put ourselves and our work out in the world, some people will feel threatened and they will go after what hurts the most—our appearance, our lovability, and even our parenting.”
We can’t help feeling hurt. If we don’t care and are immune to hurt, it means that we are not effective at connecting. So, courage is telling our story; being vulnerable and taking a risk. We need not be immune to criticism. We have to take it to experience connection.
Even though there is risk involved in practicing authenticity, it is even riskier to hide ourselves and our gifts from the world. When we don’t express our ideas, opinions, and contributions, they fester and eat away at our worthiness.
It is not worth it to sacrifice who we are for the sake of what other people think of us.
When the author practiced authenticity, letting go of being everything to everyone, she had more time, attention, and love for the important people in her life. When she is in a vulnerable situation, she gets deliberate with her intentions. She repeats this mantra, “Don’t shrink. Don’t puff up. Stand on your sacred ground.” The mantra helps her remember not to get small and not to protect herself. She makes authenticity – not expecting acceptance and approval – her number one goal when she is feeling vulnerable.
Guidepost No. 2 – Cultivating Self-Compassion
Letting go of perfectionism.
“Where perfectionism exists, shame is always lurking. In fact, shame is the birthplace of perfectionism.”
“Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be your best. Perfectionism is not about healthy achievement and growth. Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgment, and shame. It’s a shield. Perfectionism is a twenty-ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from taking flight.”
“Perfectionism is not self-improvement. Perfectionism is, at its core, about trying to earn approval and acceptance. Most perfectionists were raised being praised for achievement and performance (grades, manners, rule-following, people-pleasing, appearance, sports). Somewhere along the way, we adopt this dangerous and debilitating belief system: I am what I accomplish and how well I accomplish it. Please. Perform. Perfect. Healthy striving is self-focused—How can I improve? Perfectionism is other-focused—What will they think?”
Research shows that perfectionism holds back success. It is often the path to depressions, anxiety, and addiction. We missed opportunities because we are afraid to take action for fear of being imperfect. We also abandon our dreams because we fear failing, making mistakes, and disappointing others.
A perfectionist believes that if she looks perfect, live perfectly, and do everything perfectly, she can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgment and blame.
No matter how much time and energy we spend trying to be seen as perfect, we will not attain that goal. This is because we cannot control perception and also because there is no such thing as perfect.
When we experience shame, judgment, and blame, we believe we are not perfect enough. Because perfectionism is addictive, we become more determined to make things perfect instead of questioning our faulty logic.
We should not try to run away from feeling shamed, judged, and blamed and the fear of these feelings. These are the realities of the human experience. Perfectionism increases the odds that we will experience the emotions.
Her data shows that all of us have some perfectionist tendencies. They may show up when we feel vulnerable. For some people, “perfectionism can be compulsive, chronic, and debilitating, similar to addiction.”
“To overcome perfectionism, we need to be able to acknowledge our vulnerabilities to the universal experiences of shame, judgment, and blame; develop shame resilience; and practice self-compassion. When we become more loving and compassionate with ourselves and we begin to practice shame resilience, we can embrace our imperfections. It is in the process of embracing our imperfections that we find our truest gifts: courage, compassion, and connection.”
Two critical steps to overcome perfectionism:
1.Explore our fears
2. Changing our self-talk. The authors cites an example of how she shifted her self-talk from perfectionism to healthy striving. And she applied the “fake it ’til you make it “strategy a few times to practice imperfection.
Her interviews with men and women who were engaged with the world from a place of authenticity and worthiness practiced self-compassion.
“Self-compassion is essential to practicing authenticity and embracing imperfection.”
The author refers to Dr. Kristin Neff’s work on self-compassion. “According to Dr. Kristin Neff self-compassion has three elements: self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness.”
We need to be warm and understanding toward ourselves when we feel inadequate instead of criticizing ourselves. We need to recognize that feelings of personal inadequacy are part of human experience. And we need to not over-identify or exaggerate our feelings.
“Perfectionism and lack of self-compassion could easily lead to judgment.”
Both perfectionism and compassion spread quickly and touch everyone around us.
Guidepost No. 3 – Cultivating a Resilient Spirit
Letting go of numbing and powerlessness.
This chapter talks about why and how some people are better at bouncing back from hardship than others. In other words, how these people can cope with stress and trauma in a way that allow them to move forward in their live compared to the people who appear to be more affected and stuck.
Resilience is the ability to overcome adversity. What makes up resilience?
Based on research, she lists the five most common factors of resilient people:
- They are resourceful and have good problem-solving skills.
- They are more likely to seek help.
- They hold the belief that they can do something that will help them to manage their feelings and to cope.
- They have social support available to them.
- They are connected with others, such as family or friends.
The result from the people she interviewed showed that the foundation of resilience was their spirituality. It is their protective factor and the thing that made them bounce back.
“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 – the belief in connection, a power greater than self, and interconnections grounded in love and compassion – emerged as a component of resilience.”
There are also three other significant patterns which are essential to resilience: cultivating hope, practicing critical awareness, and letting go of numbing and taking the edge off vulnerability, discomfort, and pain.
After studying C.R. Snyder’s work, she concludes:
“Hope is not an emotion; it’s a way of thinking or a cognitive process. Emotions play a supporting role, but hope is really a thought process made up of what Snyder calls a trilogy of goals, pathways, and agency.”
In other words, “Hope is a combination of setting goals, having the tenacity and perseverance to pursue them, and believing in our own abilities.
Practicing Critical Awareness
“Practicing critical awareness is about reality-checking the messages and expectations that drive the “never good enough” gremlins.”
Media messages bombard us every day during our waking hours. They tell us who we are and who we should be. The messages and expectations make us believe that we are not enough and it damages our soul.
To cultivate a resilient spirit, and to stop comparing our lives to those portrayed in the media messages, we need to ask and answer these questions.
- Is what I’m seeing real? Do these images convey real life or fantasy?
- Do these images reflect healthy, Wholehearted living, or do they turn my life, my body, my family, and my relationships into objects and commodities?
- Who benefits by my seeing these images and feeling bad about myself?
Practicing critical awareness is essential because it is one of the four elements of shame resilience. By being aware, we see that, just like us, other people are also struggling with their worthiness. With that view in mind, we will be able to reality-check our shame triggers and the media messages that are trying to tell us that we are never good enough.
Numbing and Taking the Edge Off
The author’s research participants who struggled with worthiness dealt with their difficult emotions, such as shame, grief, fear, despair, disappointment, and sadness, by numbing them. They did it to avoid the feelings that cause vulnerability, discomfort, and pain. They engaged in behaviors that provide the quickest relief, such as alcohol, drugs, food, sex, relationships, money, work, caretaking, gambling, staying busy, affairs, chaos, shopping, planning, perfectionism, constant change, and the Internet.
The participants whom the author describes as living a Wholehearted life consistently talked about trying to feel and lean into the hard emotions and discomfort. They stayed mindful about numbing behaviors.
Even thought the author believes that genetics and neurobiology can play a critical role in addiction, she also believes that one of the consequences of numbing is addiction.
She says, “Addiction can be described as chronically and compulsively numbing and taking the edge off of feelings.”
The questions we should ask ourselves:
Does our _______________ (eating, drinking, spending, gambling, saving the world, incessant gossiping, perfectionism, sixty-hour workweek) get in the way of our authenticity?
Does it stop us from being emotionally honest and setting boundaries and feeling like we’re enough?
Does it keep us from staying out of judgment and from feeling connected?
Are we using _____________ to hide or escape from the reality of our lives?”
When We Numb the Dark, We Numb the Light
There is no such thing as selective numbing. When we numb negative emotions, we also unintentionally numb and dull the positive ones like joy, gratitude, and grace.
Because negative feelings sabotage resilience, we need to practice spirituality. Believing that we are connected and that there is something greater than us will help bring love and compassion into our lives to combat the feelings of hopelessness, fear, blame, pain, discomfort, vulnerability, and disconnection.
The heart of spirituality is connection. Spirituality brings healing and creates resilience. When our hearts feel connected, when we have a sense of purpose, meaning, and perspective in our lives, we won’t feel alone while we struggle to overcome adversity, surviving trauma, or dealing with stress or anxiety. Instead of losing hope, numbing our emotions, or becoming overwhelmed, we develop understanding and can move forward.
The author says that we all have to define spirituality in a way that inspires us. For her, spirituality is about connecting with God and thorough nature, community and music.
Guidepost No. 4 – Cultivating Gratitude and Joy
Letting go of scarcity and fear of the dark.
The people the author interviewed described living a joyful life or who described themselves as joyful practiced gratitude and attributed their joyfulness to their gratitude practice. They describe joy and gratitude as spiritual practices that were bound to a belief in human interconnectedness and a power greater than us.
What does a gratitude practice look like?
Gratitude is actually a practice of doing things. The people she interviewed explained gratitude by telling the author what they did, which include keeping gratitude journals, doing daily gratitude meditations or prayers, creating gratitude art, and stopping during their stressful busy days to say, “I am grateful for …”
“…gratitude without practice may be a little like faith without works—it’s not alive.”
The author quotes Adela Rogers St. Johns who said, “Joy seems to me 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 and faith and love.”
“What does it look like when you’re joyful and grateful, but not happy?” The answers were all similar: Happiness is tied to circumstance and joyfulness is tied to spirit and gratitude.”
The author learned that happiness and joy are different experiences. Her data showed that being grateful doesn’t mean that you are happy all the time. She also learned that nobody feels happy or joyful all the time. Those feelings and experiences come and go. This is because since happiness is attached to external situations and events and they ebb and flow, so do our feelings. However our actual experiences of joy, or the deep spiritual connection and pleasure, seizes in a very vulnerable way.
We need both happiness and joy and should figure out how to create and recognize the experiences that make us happy.
We also need to cultivate the spiritual practices that lead to joyfulness, especially gratitude. To be able to this, we have to look at what gets in the way of gratitude and joy, and even happiness.
Scarcity and Fear of the Dark
Joy comes to us in ordinary moments. When we are too busy chasing down extraordinary moments, we can miss the experience. Another reason for missing out on it is because we are afraid of the dark. Because we fear the dark, we dare not let ourselves enjoy the light.
“I believe a joyful life is made up of joyful moments gracefully strung together by trust, gratitude, inspiration, and faith.”
Some of us don’t allow ourselves to feel joy. We are afraid of what bad things might happen if we acknowledge our feelings of gratefulness and joy, knowing that they don’t last. Maybe it is because we have experienced joy only to be overcome by the fear of loss. So we rather not feel joyful or grateful.
Here is an example of what she means.
“For years, my fear of something terrible happening to my children actually prevented me from fully embracing joy and gratitude. Every time I came too close to softening into sheer joyfulness about my children and how much I love them, I’d picture something terrible happening; I’d picture losing everything in a flash.”
She adds, “I realized that “my too good to be true” was totally related to fear, scarcity, and vulnerability.”
“If I had to sum up what I’ve learned about fear and joy, this is what I would say: The dark does not destroy the light; it defines it. It’s our fear of the dark that casts our joy into the shadows.”
Because we’re afraid to lose what we love the most and we hate that there are no guarantees, we make ourselves believe that if we are not being grateful and feeling joy, we might hurt and suffer less. Those thoughts are all in our imagination because we think of scarcity and uncertainty.
She says we are wrong to think this way.
“There is one guarantee: If we’re not practicing gratitude and allowing ourselves to know joy, we are missing out on the two things that will actually sustain us during the inevitable hard times.”
The author quotes Lynne Twist, the author of The Soul of Money, who says that for most of us, our first waking though is about not having enough sleep. It usually follows by thinking that we don’t have enough time. And throughout the day, we will be “hearing, explaining, complaining, or worrying about what we don’t have enough of.” Then we go to sleep burdened by the “not enough” and lack thoughts. And the cycle continues.
“We each have the choice in any setting to step back and let go of the mindset of scarcity. Once we let go of scarcity, we discover the surprising truth of sufficiency. By sufficiency, I don’t mean a quantity of anything. Sufficiency isn’t two steps up from poverty or one step short of abundance. It isn’t a measure of barely enough or more than enough. Sufficiency isn’t an amount at all. It is an experience, a context we generate, a declaration, a knowing that there is enough, and that we are enough…Sufficiency resides inside of each of us, and we can call it forward. It is a consciousness, an attention, an intentional choosing of the way we think about our circumstances.” Lynne Twist, The Soul of Money
Brene Brown says that her research shows that many of us think that something has to be extraordinary to bring us joy. At times, we equate ordinary with boring or meaningless. We measure worthiness based on fame and fortune and we dismiss the quiet, hardworking, and ordinary people. One of the reasons is because scarcity fuels our gremlins.
From her interviews, she learned that men and women who have experienced loss of a child, violence, genocide, and trauma, cherished memories of the ordinary everyday moments the most.
When the author is flooded with fear and scarcity, she acknowledges the fear and transforms it into gratitude and joy by saying this sentence out loud, “I’m feeling vulnerable. That’s okay. I’m so grateful for ____________.”
Guidepost No. 5 – Cultivating Intuition and Trusting Faith
Letting go of the need for certainty.
“Intuition is not a single way of knowing—it’s our ability to hold space for uncertainty and our willingness to trust the many ways we’ve developed knowledge and insight, including instinct, experience, faith, and reason.”
Sometimes our intuition or gut tells us what we need to know. Other times it guides us to look for facts and reasons. Our intuition may be a quiet voice that whispers to us telling us to follow our instincts. Or it could be a loud one shouting to us to check things out first because we don’t have enough information.
We silence our intuition because of our need for certainty. When we are not sure of something, when we are fearful, or when there is no guarantee, we ignore our strong internal instinct. Instead we look out for assurance from others by asking questions such as:
- “What do you think?”
- “Should I do it?
- “Do you think it’s a good idea, or do you think I’ll regret it?”
- “What would you do?”
- The typical response for any of the questions above is, “What does your gut say?”
We ask other people’s opinions not only because we need assurance and don’t trust our intuition. We might do it because we may want them to share the blame if things don’t work out.
Because of our need for certainty, we sabotage our intuition when it tries to tell or warn us to slow down before making hasty decisions. We might also choose not to trust it because we are afraid of what it might lead to.
If we do trust it, we might find that we don’t know the answers or don’t have enough information to decide on something, and we need to find more data or tap our inner wisdom.
“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.”
Our fear of the unknown and our fear of being wrong are the reasons that create our conflict and anxiety. We need faith to live and love in a world where most of us want assurance before we risk being vulnerable and getting hurt.
One of the author’s biggest challenges is letting go of certainty. When she senses anxiety, fear, and vulnerability to “not knowing”, she finds a quite place to hear what her gut is trying to tell her. She reclaimed her spiritual and faith through reading books written by Anne Lamott, Sue Monk Kidd, Pema Chödrön, and Paulo Coelho. And when she is really scared and unsure, she reads the Serenity Prayer.
Guidepost No. 6 – Cultivating Creativity
Letting go of comparison.
“Comparison is all about conformity and competition. At first it seems like conforming and competing are mutually exclusive, but they’re not. When we compare, we want to see who or what is best out of a specific collection of “alike things.” We may compare things like how we parent with parents who have totally different values or traditions than us, but the comparisons that get us really riled up are the ones we make with the folks living next door, or on our child’s soccer team, or at our school. We don’t compare our houses to the mansions across town; we compare our yard to the yards on our block. When we compare, we want to be the best or have the best of our group.”
When we compare, we not only want to fit in and stand out, we want to be better. But by comparing, we are not cultivating self-acceptance, belonging, and authenticity. And because we put so much time and energy trying to conform and compete, we can’t make time for creativity, gratitude, joy, and authenticity.
Quoting her friend Laura Williams who says, “Comparison is the thief of happiness” she recalls how many times the good feelings she had were gone when she consciously or subconsciously compared herself to other people.
And when it comes to creativity, she thought that “creating for the sake of creating as self-indulgent at best and flaky at worst.” Her belief about creativity changed when she started her research on the Wholehearted living and loving. Here are the things she discovered:
There’s 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’s expressed, neglected to death, or suffocated by resentment and fear.
The only unique contribution that we will ever make in this world will be born of our creativity.
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’re creating, we’re cultivating meaning.
The discovery led her to learning gourd-painting and taking up photography. And she realized that the work she does, writing and making connection, is creative work.
We need to be in constant awareness of our tendency to compare if we want to let it go. When we stop comparing, the concepts like ahead, behind, best, and worst, lose its meaning.
By being creative, we are expressing our originality and cannot be compared. And it helps us stay mindful.
She gets inspiration by getting together with her group of artists, writers and photographer friends. She says that it is important to find and be a part of a community of like-spirited people who share our beliefs about creativity. She suggests that we try something that scares us or do something we have dreamt of trying.
Guidepost No. 7 – Cultivating Play and Rest
Letting go of exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self-worth.
Play and rest are essential to our health and functioning.
“Play shapes our brain, helps us foster empathy, helps us navigate complex social groups, and is at the core of creativity and innovation.”
Brene Brown refers to the work of Dr. Stuart Brown in this chapter where she talks about the importance of play, a critical component of Wholehearted living. When we play, it should be because we want to and because it is fun. And this means, we will spend our time on purposeless activities, things that are unrelated to our to-do list. We should convince ourselves that playing is not a waste of our precious time.
She says that in today’s culture we tie our self-worth to our net worth. We base our worthiness on our level of productivity. And we convince ourselves that sleep is a terrible use of our time.
“Respecting our biologically programmed need for play can transform work. It can bring back excitement and newness to our job. Play helps us deal with difficulties, provides a sense of expansiveness, promotes mastery of our craft, and is an essential part of the creative process. Most important, true play that comes from our own inner needs and desires is the only path to finding lasting joy and satisfaction in our work. In the long run, work does not work without play.” Dr. Stuart Brown
Rest includes sleep. Our body needs rest and renewal and we should respect it. According to the Centers for Disease Control, diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and depression are associated with lack of sleep.
“Many of us still believe that exhaustion is a status symbol of hard work and that sleep is a luxury. The result is that we are so very tired. Dangerously tired.”
In our pursuit for accomplishments and acquisitions, and our stress of raising overscheduled children, we feel exhausted. But we are afraid to slow down.
We must let go of the thought that exhaustion is a status symbol and productivity is a measure of our self-worth. We have to become intentional about cultivating sleep and play if we want to live a Wholehearted life.
The author encourages us to make an “ingredients for joy and meaning” list. The list should contain a list of specific conditions that are in place when everything feels good in our lives. We then check that list against our to-do list.
When the author compared hers, she realized that by letting go of the things in the list of things she wanted to accomplish and acquire, she was living life in the moment; not striving to make it happen in the future.
She recommends reading Stuart Brown’s Play and Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind if we want to learn more about the importance of play and rest.
Guidepost No. 8 – Cultivating Calm and Stillness
Letting go of anxiety as a lifestyle.
“I define calm as creating perspective and mindfulness while managing emotional reactivity. When I think about calm people, I think about people who can bring perspective to complicated situations and feel their feelings without reacting to heightened emotions like fear and anger.”
“Stillness is not about focusing on nothingness; it’s about creating a clearing. It’s opening up an emotionally clutter-free space and allowing ourselves to feel and think and dream and question.”
She tells readers that the people she interviewed were not anxiety-free or anxiety-averse; they were anxiety-aware. They were committed to a way of living where anxiety was a reality but not a lifestyle.
Calm and stillness are not the same things. We need both.
To remain calm, she practices to be slow in her response and quick to think. She asks herself, “Do we even have all the information we need to make a decision or form a response?”
And she stays mindful about the effect of her calmness on an anxious person or situation.
Anxiety and calm are contagious. How we respond affect the people around us. A panicked response produces more panic and fear. We can heal ourselves and the people around us with calm.
We must commit to practice calm. Breathing is the best thing to calm us before we respond. We can also respond by counting to ten or by saying that we need time to think about the situation.
People she spoke to quiet their bodies and minds through the practice of meditation, prayer, and regular periods of quiet reflection and alone time. It is also their way to feel less anxious and overwhelmed.
The barrier to stillness is fear.
By practicing stillness, we create a quiet emotional clearing and will discover the truth of our lives; about how tired, scared, confused and overwhelmed we sometimes feel.
Another barrier to stillness, and also calm, is the way we were raised to think about them. We were brought up with confusing messages and instead of cultivating calm and stillness, we felt anxious and jumpy.
When we begin to cultivate calm and stillness, we may find it difficult because of we are living in a complicated and anxious world and stress and anxiety are part of our lives. But as our practice becomes stronger, we will feel less anxious and gain clarity about what we are doing, where we are going, and what holds true meaning for us.
In addition to practicing calm and stillness, the author included more exercise and less caffeine. Calm and stillness are potent medicine for general sleeplessness and a lack of energy.
She refers to Harriet Lerner’s book The Dance of Connection in which the author explains that all of us have a patterned ways of managing anxiety. Some of us over-function while some under-function.
“Overfunctioners tend to move quickly to advise, rescue, take over, micromanage, and get in other people’s business rather than look inward. Underfunctioners tend to get less competent under stress. They invite others to take over and often become the focus of family gossip, worry, or concern. They can get labeled as the “irresponsible one” or the “the problem child” or the “fragile one.”
When we see our behaviors as patterned responses to anxiety instead of taking them as truths about who we are, we can change. She suggests we experiment with different forms of still and quiet, something that works for us.
Guidepost No. 9 – Cultivating Meaningful Work
Letting go of self-doubt and “supposed to.”
“Self-doubt undermines the process of finding our gifts and sharing them with the world. Moreover, if developing and sharing our gifts is how we honor spirit and connect with God, self-doubt is letting our fear undermine our faith.”
When we share our gifts and talents with the world, we create a sense of meaning and purpose in our lives. It takes a lot of commitment to do it because in many cases, the work doesn’t pay the bills.
If we don’t use our gifts and talents to cultivate meaningful work, we will feel disconnected and weight down by feelings of emptiness, frustration, resentment, shame, disappointment, fear, and grief.
Sharing our gifts and talents with the world is the most powerful source of connection with God.
Our self-doubt and “supposed to” can get in the way of cultivating meaningful work. Meaning is unique to each one of us.
Our doubt may begin with:
- “Maybe everyone has special gifts … except for you. Maybe that’s why you haven’t found them yet.”
- “Yes, you do that well, but that’s not really a gift. It’s not big enough or important enough to be a real talent.”
And the “supposed to” self-talk, which tries to tell us to fit in, be perfect, please others, and proof ourselves, might tell us:
- “You’re supposed to care about making money, not meaning.”
- “You’re supposed to grow up and be a ____________. Everyone’s counting on it.”
- “You’re supposed to hate your work; that’s the definition of work.”
- “If you’re brave, you’re supposed to quit your job and follow your bliss. Don’t worry about money!”
- “You’re supposed to choose: Work you love or work that supports the people you love.”
“To overcome self-doubt and “supposed to,” we have to start owning the messages. What makes us afraid? What’s on our “supposed to” list? Who says? Why?”
If we ignore the self-doubt and “supposed to” thoughts, they get louder. So it is best that we acknowledge the messages. We write them down. By writing them down and owning the thoughts or gremlins, we gain power of them. We get the opportunity to say, “I get it. I see that I’m afraid of this, but I’m going to do it anyway.”
Another thing that gets in the way of meaningful work, is our struggler to define who we are and what we do in an honest way.
The most common question people ask or get is, “What do you do?” Most of us don’t know how to answer this question because we doubt who we are.
“For example, I’m a mom, partner, researcher, writer, storyteller, sister, friend, daughter, and teacher. All of these things make up who I am, so I never know how to answer that question.”
To overcome self-doubt, we must believe we’re enough and let go of what the world says we are supposed to be and supposed to call ourselves.
She recommends that we read Marci Alboher’s One Person/ Multiple Careers for inspiration on how to define ourselves since most of us pursue more than one career simultaneously and have multiple passions, talents, and interests that a single career cannot accommodated.
Another book she recommends we read is Malcom Gladwell’s Outliers, which proposes three criteria for meaningful work: complexity, autonomy, and a relationship between effort and reward.
The third book is The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. In this book the author lets us see the connections between our gifts, our spirituality, and our work and how they come together to create meaning in our lives.
She also suggests that we make a list of the work that inspires us, one that we love to do or bring meaning to us.
Guidepost No. 10 – Cultivating Laughter, Song, and Dance
Letting go of cool and always “being in control.”
“Throughout human history, we’ve relied on laughter, song, and dance to express ourselves, to communicate our stories and emotions, to celebrate and mourn, and to nurture community. While most people would tell you that a life without laughter, music, and dance would be unbearable, it’s easy to take these experiences for granted.”
In this chapter about cultivating laughter, song, and dance, the author asks and answers these two questions.
1.Why are laughter, song, and dance so important to us?
2. Is there some transformational element that they have in common?
What she learned include:
“Laughter, song, and dance create 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. Laugher helps us heals. “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 when we laugh with each other, not at each other.
Songs can stir memories and provoke emotions. They reach out and offer us connection.
“It didn’t take me long to learn that dance is a tough issue for many people. Laughing hysterically can make us feel a little out of control, and singing out loud can make some of us feel self-conscious. But for many of us, there is no form of self-expression that makes us feel more vulnerable than dancing. It’s literally full-body vulnerability.”
Many people avoid dancing in front of people to avoid feeling shame. We are afraid of how we look and what other people think of us. We fear being perceived as awkward, goofy, silly, spastic, uncool, out of control, immature, stupid, and foolish.
“The gremlins are constantly there to make sure that self-expression takes a backseat to self-protection and self-consciousness.”
1.“What will people think?”
2. “Everyone is watching—calm down!”
3. “You look ridiculous! Get a hold of yourself.”
Women don’t want to be perceived as “getting too loud” or “out of hand.” Men don’t want to be perceived as “out of control.” So we choose to say “cool” to be able to control what other people think about us so that we can feel good enough.
But it is uncool when we don’t allow ourselves the freedom to unleash our passionate, goofy, heartfelt, and soulful expressions of who we are. We betray ourselves. When we constantly betray ourselves, when we don’t give ourselves permission to be free, we will treat and do the same to the people we love. Consciously or unconsciously, we will put them down, make fun of them, ridicule their behaviors, and sometimes shame them.
She tells us to dare to be goofy, to dance every day for five minutes, make a song list to sing along, and watch dumb YouTube videos that make us laugh.
“Meaningful change is a process. It can be uncomfortable and is often risky, especially when we’re talking about embracing our imperfections, cultivating authenticity, and looking the world in the eye and saying, I am enough.”
“However afraid we are of change, the question that we must ultimately answer is this: What’s the greater risk? Letting go of what people think or letting go of how I feel, what I believe, and who I am?”
“Wholehearted living is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It’s about 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 at night 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.”
“In this world, choosing authenticity and worthiness is an absolute act of resistance. Choosing to live and love with our whole hearts is an act of defiance. You’re going to confuse, piss off, and terrify lots of people—including yourself. One minute you’ll pray that the transformation stops, and the next minute you’ll pray that it never ends. You’ll also wonder how you can feel so brave and so afraid at the same time. At least that’s how I feel most of the time … brave, afraid, and very, very alive.”
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