Book Review: The Gifts of Imperfection

This entry is part 2 of 4 in the series Book Reviews


The attraction in reading this book for me, apart from Brené Brown’s reputation as an inspirational speaker, was the piece about authenticity.  As well as having a passion for the importance of being yourself, and its importance to influence and success, I am always on the look out for more ‘evidence’ that being truly you counts. Some people need the proof, and I like to be able to provide it when I can. Brené takes us through what she calls her ‘unravelling,’ a time “when you are challenged by the universe to let go of who you think you are supposed to be and to embrace who you are.”

But, as many of us have found out, in order to embrace who we are, we first have to know who we are. This book looks at some of our thinking patterns that help, and hinder, our willingness to even think it is worth knowing who we are. We are invited to consider what are the ingredients of ‘wholeheartedness’ based on Brené’s extensive research as a sociologist, and some of the findings are surprising.

What’s refreshing is Brené’s willingness to hold our feet to the fire of things we might not want to hear so that we can bring about real change. I like this – let’s face it we’ve all read books that over-simplify what we need to do to achieve nirvana. As she says, we need to look at the possibility that “constantly trying to maintain our footing on the shifting shore as we gaze across to the other side of the swamp – where are worthiness waits for us – is much harder work than trudging across.”

We are given 10 guideposts on the power of wholehearted living, defined by Brené as a “way of engaging with the world from a place of worthiness.” My guess is that for every person who reads this book there will be a different take on it, and that’s because, of course, we are all different from each other. Here’s what stood out for me, on the first reading anyway.


What Gets in the Way

  • Why does our constant need to fit in get in the way of  real belonging? This can take a little unpicking but in essence we are invited to look at the unwelcome consequences of constantly resisting the pull losing the power to relax as ourselves e.g. the energy drain of being something we are not.
  • How can we find the courage to persist when we feel something is right but are carrying shame or embarrassment based on how we may be judged? How can we prevent the question we all at times ask ourselves: ‘what if my co-workers like the perfect me (i.e. the me that is trying to fit in and get approval) better? Apparently ‘courage’ originally meant ‘to speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.’
  • How often are we deceiving ourselves that keeping busy and aiming for perfection is worth it, because others will benefit? This ‘only hurting ourselves’ mindset used to be used for secondhand smoking. We know now, years later that it can be deadly.


What We Can Cultivate

  • How about if we first look for the good in ourselves and show compassion? We are reminded of of the line in Leonard Cohen’s song ‘Anthem’ “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” Our imperfections are not inadequacies, but rather signs that we are all in this together.
  • How could an ‘attitude of gratitude’ help? I love the metaphor of twinkle lights Brené describes here. Joy can’t be constant but we can bring it to mind when we are feeling vulnerable. I like her tip – when we resist say out loud “I’m feeling vulnerable. That’s okay. I’m so grateful for (fill in the blank).”
  • What would happen if we really cultivated play (definitely a wake-up call for me), rest, laughter, song and dance? Are you feeling uncomfortable? Most people do because we are so worried about being ridiculed or made fun of. Making small changes here, in small things, would I think on its own help us to be more comfortable in the things that matter.


If you want to dig deeper and reflect more on how to approach releasing the real you – how to allow your so-called imperfections come into their own – I recommend you read this book.

I leave you with one of my favourite quotes from the book:

“The dark does not destroy the light; it defines it. It’s our fear of the dark that casts our joy into the shadows.”


Find out more about the work Clare McNamara does with leaders and their teams on influence and authenticity.

© Move Ahead Global 2016

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