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Sunday, December 20, 2015

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

by Dr. Brené Brown

Many of us tend to be our own harshest critics. We analyze and scrutinize our words and deeds (and, possibly, our appearance and demeanour) and deride ourselves for not measuring up to some esoteric standard we hold ideal. We focus on our flaws more readily than our strengths.

“If only I get that promotion; if only I own a beach house; if only I were five kilos lighter; I’d be happier.” We defer the sheer joy of being alive by focusing on external entities that we believe are the indicators of our state of being.

Dr. Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, has spent the past ten years studying vulnerability, courage, authenticity, and shame. One of the outcomes of her research is this book.

We are, in truth, vulnerable and imperfect. We make mistakes and we are not always in control. To project an image otherwise is, in essence, an attempt to not be true to oneself.

As a champion of Wholehearted living, Dr. Brown urges us to take a compassionate attitude towards living by learning to embrace our imperfections. She notes in the book,“Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be your best.” Rather than a self-focused approach of How can I improve?, perfectionism is other-focused, pressuring us to ask, What will they think? “Perfectionism is, at its core, about trying to earn approval and acceptance. Perfectionism is not self-improvement.”

The book offers 10 guideposts for introspection. With illustrative anecdotes from personal and professional life, the author focuses on one guidepost per chapter to encourage us to cultivate qualities like self-compassion, a resilient spirit, gratitude and joy, even creativity and meaningful work.

Practicing gratitude is a big part of being at peace with oneself no matter what hardships and disappointments we face. The book shares a few practical ways to consciously incorporate gratitude in everyday life, like: maintaining a gratitude journal by writing down the small everyday things we are thankful for; consciously thanking a service staff or a family member for their thoughtfulness; or even vowing not to criticize or complain for a week by only looking at the positives in any tough situation. This form of gratitude practice puts things in perspective where we look at the bad and the good from a place of calmness and composure, rather than with panic and desperation.

One of the startling insights shared in this book is about shame and guilt. While guilt is about our behavior, shame is about who we are. The effects of guilt is often positive, leading us to make amends and apologize. But shame tends to be self-destructive, leaving us feeling disconnected and desperate for worthiness. This insight has led to the modern practice of not shaming our children for their mistakes, instead, giving them a chance to recognize their error and engage in making it right.

One of the ways Dr. Brown suggests to handle this is by cultivating healthy relationships rather than placing importance on performance and achievement. Self-esteem thrives via healthy attachments/relationships/connections that are devoid of judgment.

The takeaway message of this book is that when we acknowledge our limitations, recognize our strengths, and stop trying to gain the fickle approval of others, we are being authentic, and incidentally, one step closer to leading a purposeful life that is free of self-imposed hurdles to equanimity.

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