From its title, The Gifts of Imperfection sounds like a book for perfectionists. And it is, but also so much more. The titular gifts are courage, compassion and connection. If you're ready for some deep digging on the way to having more of those qualities in your life, read on.
Who This Book Is For
The Gifts of Imperfection is for you if you are any of the following: Anxious, a perfectionist, worried about what other people think of you, overstressed, overworked, disconnected, lonely, unhappy. That's a long list, but it's also a lot of us.
This book is also for people who are ready to grapple. There are no quick fixes or Band-Aids here - there are very few to-dos at all. But the book will guide you through thinking through the way you live your life, and the ways you can change.
What You'll Get
Brené Brown describes herself as a researcher/writer/storyteller (she's also a social worker and professor with a PhD), and all of that comes through in this book. It opens with the story of Brown's own "Breakdown Spiritual Awakening", a year-long (and ongoing) soul-searching process that was sparked by her own research.
After years studying and writing about shame, Brown noticed a pattern - people who she called "Wholehearted".
[I]n 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... These research participants trusted themselves, and they talked about authenticity and love and belonging in a way that was completely new to me.
Being a researcher, Brown wanted to know what made these Wholehearted people tick. So she gathered a ton of data, analysed it, and was aghast to find: Wholehearted people lived their lives quite the opposite of how she did. So, she set out to change that.
The Gifts of Imperfection is not a memoir, though. Brown's personal stories are interwoven with analysis and the work of other researchers, writers and thinkers. It's a slim book - weighing in at just 126 pages - but, unlike most self-help books, there is practically zero filler.
Once we're introduced to the idea of Wholeheartnedness and Brown's personal journey, we get a crash course in the nature of Wholeheartedness. It rests on two triads: Courage, compassion and connection; love, belonging and worthiness. And Brown identifies 10 common factors in Wholehearted people's lives. She calls them guideposts, and each gets a brief chapter:
- Resilient Spirit
- Gratitude and Joy
- Intuition and Trusting Faith
- Play and Rest
- Calm and Stillness
- Meaningful Work
- Laughter, Song and Dance
Just as illuminating as the guideposts are the subtitles to each chapter - the harmful habits and attachments that Brown wants to help us let go of, which include: Worrying about what people think, perfectionism, the need for numbing, powerlessness, scarcity, comparing ourselves to others, exhaustion as a status symbol, anxiety as a lifestyle, self-doubt, "supposed-to", and the need to be cool and in control.
All in 126 pages. I said this book was densely packed. What isn't in those 126 pages is much hand-holding. In that way, this is hardly a self-help book at all. There are very few exercises, prompts or directives. You get Brown's own model, and a lot to think about, but you're not told much of what to do. Sure, the latter guideposts such as creativity and rest are pretty concrete - I can figure out how to get more of those in my life. But authenticity? Resilience? How?
That's what I meant when I said this book is for people who are ready to grapple. The book leaves you with a lot of work to do yourself, not only in trying to change, but in figuring out how. I found it helpful to read with a notebook - I underlined key passages in the book as I read, but it was more helpful to jot down the relationships I saw between Brown's guideposts and principles. (There were a lot of little flow-charts.)
However, while the prompts and exercises of your standard self-help book can be really helpful, they're also one-size-fits-all. The absence of that material here means you get to decide how you want to approach Wholeheartedness. The tangibility of the last few guideposts is really helpful in this regard, and, in a way, the guideposts work backwards: As you build more creativity, calm and silliness into your life, Brown says, you'll find your way toward more joy and authenticity. After all, how can you know what true self you want to uncover until you do some work to stop caring what the rest of the world thinks?
This is a smart, sensitive and challenging book. It offers you big changes to your life, and leaves the nitty gritty of getting there to you. But big changes are worth the effort, and The Gifts of Imperfection gives you plenty to get started with. Even if you just take away a few small lessons, you'll probably see meaningful results. And if you want to embark on your own Breakdown Spiritual Awakening, The Gifts of Imperfection may not be your complete toolbox and step-by-step instructions, but it will at least help you find the path.
This is part of Lifehacker's book review series. Not every life hack can be summed up in a blog post, so we've decided to review some of our favourite life-changing books for deeper dives into life's most important topics.