Book review: The Gifts of Imperfection

Annie Murphy
Annie Murphy

Have you ever picked up a book and felt like underlining every single sentence in the preface? I mean not even the introduction, but the part before the introduction! Sometimes a book comes along at exactly the right time in our lives, and for me that book was Brené Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection – Letting Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embracing Who You Are.”  Brown is a Ph.D and LMSW who has spent her career studying our difficult emotions like shame, fear and vulnerability.

In The Gifts of Imperfection, which is described on the book cover as “Your Guide to a Wholehearted Life,” Brown suggests the journey to living a wholehearted life may or may not begin for each of us with a “crisis,” a moment that forces us to ask ourselves – is this really how it’s supposed to be? Is this the life I want to live or the life I think I was supposed to live? Brown reminds us “the universe is not short on wake-up calls. We’re just quick to hit the snooze button.”

I love that. How many times have I hit the snooze button on that inner voice of mine?

For each of us, what seems like that “crisis” moment, or as Brown proposes a “midlife unraveling,” may be different (marriage, divorce, parenthood, recovery, moving, loss, career change), but we’ve all had a moment when our inner voice has stopped us dead in our tracks and asked “is this really what I want for my life?”  If you’re willing to stop and listen, The Gifts of Imperfection can provide a gentle path for you to take, to learn to LET GO, to turn off those voices that say you “should have…could have…” and just BE.

For me that “unraveling” began when I was laid off while five months pregnant. (Yes, it was legal for them to do that. Trust me, I looked into it…)  I had been wavering on whether or not to return to work after the birth of my first child, but suddenly that decision had been made for me and I was uncomfortable.  I had heard so many women say that being a “Stay-At-Home-Mom” is the most isolating and difficult time in a woman’s life. Thankfully, this was not the case for me.  Maybe it’s because I’m a social and extroverted Libra, or what Malcolm Gladwell, in his book The Tipping Point, calls a “connector” (people with a special gift for bringing the world together), but once I was able to truly embrace being a SAHM, I learned how to feel more connected to others in way I never had been before; making new friends, creating a deeper sense of intimacy, particularly with other women who are on a similar journey as I. But trust me, it didn’t come easy at first.

There’s no denying that becoming a parent for the first time forces you to evaluate who you really are, and challenges you to let go of who you think you’re supposed to be.  At first the thought of trading in my Ivy League degree and expanding resume for playgroups and music class seemed like a difficult decision to make.  I must have spent the first year of my daughter’s life wondering if I was making a big mistake. When should I go back to work? What else should I be doing? Why can so many other women in my industry take a few months off and go back with no problem? Ha ha! That’s our first mistake. We’re constantly trying to compare our insides to other people’s outsides. That gets us nowhere.

With the help of The Gifts of Imperfection, I was forced to ask myself not just who do I want to be as a SAHM, but as a wife, a daughter, a friend.  In her book, Brown suggests that the key to living a wholehearted life begins with embracing our vulnerabilities and imperfections in order to present our true, authentic selves.  Once we can understand, embrace and truly love our selves, we can better connect with others on a deeper, more intimate level.  Brown points out the difference between fitting in and belonging.  “Fitting in,” Brown writes “is about assessing a situation and becoming who you need to be to be accepted.  Belonging, on the other hand, doesn’t require us to change who we are, it requires us to be who we are.”

As I’ve struggled with letting go of some of the binds of my co-dependency (we can save that topic for a whole other day and post), this book reminded me that it’s only when I present my true self, and not who I think everyone else would want me to be, do I truly connect with others. As a result, by sharing my insecurities, my fears, ways in which my self, my marriage, my child, my family, are not prefect, I find a whole new deeper level of connection. When I present my true, wholehearted self, others can feel safe enough to present their true, wholehearted selves.  And a connection is made!

The Gifts of Imperfection is broken down into 10 “guideposts” that Brown explains are not meant to be used as a “to-do list,”  like if you do these 10 things, you will be happier and be living a wholehearted life. Instead she reminds us that this is “life’s work; soul work” and it’s like “walking toward a star in the sky. We never really arrive, but we certainly know we’re heading in the right direction.”

The guideposts include “Cultivating: Authenticity, Self-Compassion, Resilient Spirit, Gratitude and Joy, Intuition and Trusting Faith, Creativity, Play and Rest, Calm and Stillness, Meaningful Work, and Laughter, Song and Dance.”

At the heart of Brown’s book lies the argument that “Wholehearted living is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It means cultivating 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.”

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been through enough in the past 2½ years that this book came to me at just the right time to remind me I don’t need to be (fill in the blank) enough to feel like I’m a good mom, a good wife, a good sister, a good friend, etc. I just need these “guideposts” as a gentle reminder that I am ENOUGH just as I am.

Thank you Brené Brown!

Annie Murphy lives in Mill Valley, CA with her husband, Taylor, and daughter, Ava.

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