Divided into ten “Guideposts,” The Gifts of Imperfection combines Brown’s research on wholehearted living with insights from her personal life as she tries to implement what she’s learned.
This book is somewhere between self-help and memoir, which makes it a bit tough to categorize. I appreciate that Brown avoids the rah-rah optimism of many self-help books. That kind of crap really annoys me, and I would have dropped this book with much haste had I detected that kind of thing in it.
But Brown is both real and realistic throughout. It was nice to read about her personal struggles. She really broke out of the self-help mold by admitting that this work is not easy work, and it’s not epiphany work (how I think of the type of self-help that relies on the utterly unrealistic, “Here’s the one moment in my life when everything changed for the better…an epiphany saved me, and it can save you, too!”).
Brown respects that we’re each on an individual journey. She meets us where we are and just offers suggestions for personal growth based on what’s worked for other people (and for herself). She makes no promises and exacts no commitments.
Most of her insights kind of fade into the background for me because they’re so intuitive, but I already see how her insights about shame and vulnerability have shaped my perspective on daily events. I’ve always made a habit out of pushing myself to the edge of my comfort zone (if I didn’t, I’d never leave my house), but until reading this book, I’d not really done so consciously. As a result, if I begin to feel uncomfortable or let myself be overcome by how stupid I appear, I give up and retreat. The worst thing in the world to me is looking silly or appearing to think I’m worthy…of what? I don’t know. Respect? Admiration? Love?
An example: In third grade, a guest came into our class and helped us act out some short, no-dialogue skits. In one, a couple of kids acted out Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” while the guest read the poem. Another was some story about a beautiful girl picking olives. I played the “beautiful girl” and acted like I was picking olives from an imaginary tree while the guest recited the words. Except that I couldn’t just let people think I thought I was beautiful, so every time that word came up in the story/poem/whatever, I would give a half smile and shrug to show that I didn’t have a clue why anyone would think I was beautiful.
This experience has always stuck out for me even though I didn’t exactly know why. Thinking about this event since reading The Gifts of Imperfection has given me a different perspective about the way that I handle (or don’t handle) feelings of vulnerability.
I’ve begun to reframe a number of experiences from my life since I watched Brown’s TED talks and began reading this book. If I could relive high school with Brown’s insights about shame and vulnerability, I’d likely have had a much different experience than I had. Not that I want to relive high school—not remotely—but if I had to, I think I’d be much better equipped to roll with it when someone called me Michael Bolton because I’d not learned how to manage my newly-wavy hair (it turned wavy one morning when I was thirteen, completely taking me by surprise). At the very least, I wouldn’t be experiencing a minor crisis because I found out that a woman who graduated with me (not Brené Brown) is now considered a kind of mommy-blogger guru. (But I’ll say more about that outside of this book review.)
With all I liked about the book, though, I did find it somewhat light. I think the insights could have been delivered in many fewer pages and relying less on personal experience and more on the stories she got from her research. The thing that makes Brown stand out in the “self-help” genre is, unlike most of the authors I’ve read, she actually has research to back up her claims, not just personal/anecdotal evidence. The book would have been stronger had she focussed more on that angle and less on the personal. In addition, the book isn’t particularly deep, and I’m not sure that most of it will stick with me. I’d considered buying it so I could read over the guideposts a few more times (since it’s about due back at the library), but I think I’ll just let this one go and try out something else by Brown in a little bit. A friend says Daring Greatly is really good, so maybe I’ll try that one.