The Gifts of Imperfection: Summary & Review

the gifts of imperfection book cover

The Gifts of Imperfection (2010) is a book in which author Brene Brown talks about self-acceptance of yourself over external and social standards of “what you should be”. A self-acceptance that includes your unique gifts and quirks, your imperfections, and your natural wants and needs.

Bullet Summary

  • Cultivate your unique gifts, even if you can’t monetize them it’ll make you happier
  • It takes courage to be yourself, but it will pay off: don’t conform to the masses
  • Make time for rest and play: chances are it will actually make you more productive

Full Summary

About The Author:
Brene Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston. She has been researching topics of shame, vulnerability, and emotional connections.
Brown has become very popular in the media and is also the author of “Daring Greatly“.

Live Wholeheartedly

A central theme of The Gifts of Imperfection is that of “wholehearted living”.

What does that mean?
Well, wholehearted living means accepting yourself, your emotional needs, and your imperfections, while also accepting and satisfying your wants and needs.
And to stop demanding perfection and adherance to social standards that make you worse off.

Here are a few DOs and DON’Ts.

DOs:

  • Feeling worthy (you have enough now)
  • Resting and playing
  • Be authentic
  • Love
  • Trust
  • Gratitude
  • Joy

DON’Ts

  • Perfectionism
  • Numbing
  • Exhaustion
  • Be cool
  • Fitting in
  • Judging
  • Scarcity
  • Self-sufficiency

Living A Life of Authenticity

Brene Brown says that most of us would love to live a life true to who we are.

What stands in the way is the pressure to conform.
But conforming means giving up who we really are, we feel inauthentic and too weak to live honestly.

The author says that authenticity is a choice, and on some days we’ll have more strength to be more authentic than others.

If you want to have more and more days in which you are authentic, you need courage and compassion.

Being authentic means writing your own story

Develop Courage & Compassion

Courage and compassion are the way to authenticity.

Courage to speak your mind and allow yourself to be vulnerable in front of others.

For example, if you really want something to happen, don’t pretend and say it’s really no big deal when it actually is a big deal for you.

Compassion means realizing that you are not alone, and that everyone struggles exactly the way you do.

By relating to the struggles of others, you also acknowledge your own, and it will become easier to open and find support.

Also read:

Drop Perfectionism

Brene Brown says that perfectionism is a shield revolving around the fear of shame.

Perfectionists strive for perfection behind the assumption that if they can only be perfect, then they will avoid any shame and criticism.

Perfectionism is addictive and can lead to paralysis. People are so afraid of criticism that they keep working -or telling themselves they’re working- behind the curtains, and never really showing up.

What’s the solution?

Brene has two suggestions:

  1. Be honest about your fear
  2. Remind yourself you do it for yourself, not for others

My Note:
It’s a generalization to say that perfectionism (always) revolves around shame.
Perfectionism can also happen when we are stuck in a child role and still trying to impress our parents to get the love we never had (also read “Will I Ever be Enough“).
Or it can be the natural consequence of simple genetic makeup, and of hyperdrive personalities.

Develop Resilience

The author says that hope underpins resilience.

You can learn hope by practicing it.

To move closer to your goals, make smaller goals that you can reach along the way, and take it little by little.

As you develop positive habits, it will then become natural.

For more on resilience, also read:

  • Grit by Angela Duckworth.

Develop Gratitude

Many think that gratitude is a feeling that follows a positive experience.

But Brene Brown says it’s the opposite. Gratitude is something we practice and that will make our life happier.

Gratitude gives us the power to choose joy and feel joyful whenever we want.

I particularly like how Brene defines gratitude in the daily small joys of life.

Practicing gratitude means feeling glad for a walk back home on a sunny day, sharing a meal with your partner or tucking your child into bed.

Embrace Intuition

Brene Brown says that intuition and rationality are not mutually exclusive.

Intuition is nothing but our brain scanning for past reference points and coming up with a quick response. It’s not a perfect response and leaves some room for doubt, but you should be comfortable embracing doubt.

Embracing intuition means taking action in the face of uncertainty

My note:
Intuition works best when you’re an expert in a given field. If you have an intuition about the next winning lottery ticket, now that might be irrational.

Also read:

  • Blink by Malcolm Gladwell

Stop Comparing Yourself to Others

Comparing is natural, but that doesn’t mean it’s good.

It’s often through comparison indeed that we conform to others, and in so doing, we lose all that makes us special.

Let go of comparison instead and embrace your individuality.

Find Play Time & Rest

Brene Brown says that western society ties self-worth to productivity.

And that’s not healthy.

It’s not healthy because in order to be productive we will sacrifice rest, play time and our general well-being.

But work and play time are not opposites!
The opposite of playtime, says Brene, is actually depression.

Playtime for Brene, is time spent without a strongly defined goal, and we are biologically programmed to have it.

If we forcefully remove it, we pay the price with our happiness and general well-being.

Identify Your Talents

Brene Brown says we all have unique talents and gifts and we should embrace it.

Our gifts will not always be easy to monetize, but the author encourages us to use them anyway.

It will make our lives so much more joyful and meaningful.

Laugh, Sing & Dance

The best way to connect with others is with laughing, singing and dancing.

And to do so, you have to learn to let yourself go.

And again, that requires vulnerability.

As a matter of fact, we have probably felt a bit self-conscious sometimes when we laughed a bit too hard (or when we were the first on the dance floor).

Don’t be afraid and let yourself go: it’s OK to be uncool.

the gifts of imperfection book cover

Real-Life Applications

Some real-life tips from The Gifts of Imperfections include:

  • Drop Being Cool

Brene Brown says there’s much pressure in our social media society to look cool.
Here at TPM of course we don’t necessarily agree because “being cool” also has life advantages, so it really depends on what your goals are.

  • Don’t Trade Authenticity for Safety

Fitting in and might feel safer.
But you pay a psychological price if you’re forcing yourself to be someone else, and you may lose the opportunity to “find your own voice”, as we say here on TPM.

It takes courage to find your own path, but it’s often worth it.

CONS

I find a few common issues in Brene Brown’s work.

Some of them are:

Misses The Root Causes: Ignores Evolutionary Psychology, Confuses “Socialization” With Inborn Human Drives

Brene seems to “blame” many ills to socialization.

And, often, to “Wester society”.

However, kids don’t want to be cool just because of socialization, or culture.
Kids want to be cool because cool kids are popular, successful with others, and in dating.

Also, productivity isn’t so much a Western curse.

Productivity is how you succeed in life.
So any driven man or woman who wants to succeed is bound to seek productivity.

And the will to advance is inborn and inherent to human nature, it’s not about “socialization”.

Also read:

Short-Term Feel-Good Effect Rather Than Solution

Because Brene misreads the causes of her own selected ills, she also misses on the “cures” (provided, of course, that one should even necessarily “cure” those ills, which is not always the case).

That Brene wakes up one day and feels drained and finds her own personal success telling everyone else to “stop seeking productivity” isn’t going to “cure” that.

So, to me, The Gifts of Imperfection offers more a short-lived feel-good effect, than a true solution.

Felt Unscientific, With Several Unsubstuntiated And Dubious Claims

Brene introduces herself as a researcher.

Yet, I haven’t seen many references and several of her claims feel like personal opinions.

For example, who says that perfectionism is driven by shame, or that resilience is driven by hope?

Because I would have really liked to see the research that backs those claims.
In the absence of that, I personally don’t think that’s necessarily the case.
One can willpower himself into resilience even while he knows that the odds of success are not that high.

Audience of Non-Achievers? It’s Possible To Both Be Grateful AND Pursue Big Goals

Brene’s writing seems to condense to:

Chill a bit more, accept yourself more instead of pushing yourself, and prioritize social relationships and emotional needs over “results”.

And to a lot of people, that can make sense.

On the other hand, Brene’s advice seems to reject the “achiever” approach, and that’s an issue because there is really no one-size-fits-all in life and what’s best for you really all depends on what you want.
Brene’s approach does not work for those who want to achieve big, and who prioritize their life mission.
Or for those who are a bit less “touchy-feely”.

But there can be a happy middle ground, too.

I believe you can do both: being grateful and happy with what you have while still wanting to achieve a lot more.
And that was missing in Brene’s work.

Also read:

Review

The Gifts of Imperfection is a good book for a very specific audience.

Brene Brown writes books that appeal a lot to women, and less to driven men and goal-oriented folks.

It’s not a coincidence, since Brene’s work sometimes feels like looking down on personal achievement while prioritizing emotional needs, contentment, inner peace, and “happiness”.

Nothing wrong with that, of course, albeit I prefer an approach that provides an overview and the pros and cons of any approach to life, rather than a one-size-fits-all prescription of “what’s better for you”.

When it comes to Brene’s beloved “vulnerability”, I highly recommend this article:

Still a good book, though.
I would probably pick The Gifts of Imperfection over Daring Greatly, albeit the latter has a better overview and more psychological depth.

Read more summaries or get the book on Amazon

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