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Book Review: The Gifts of Imperfections

Hello, Friends.

Greetings to you from the depths of discomfort. Once a fierce fighter in a frenzy of frustration, I now sit down silently beside you as an unfinished puzzle with all the pieces under the microscope. Not a masterpiece in the making, but learning to master the making, unmaking, and remaking. Perhaps, the quest for perfection is really about embracing all the imperfections. I’m stretching in the tension of letting go and cultivating the wholehearted life.

I just got done reading: The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Dr. Brene Brown. I’ve been reflecting on this book for a while, and I’m sharing my thoughts in case there’s anyone else out there who might want to rumble through the arena with me.

“The Guide to a Wholehearted Life,” as it’s further subtitled, this book explores these core gifts of imperfection: courage, compassion, and connection, and then applies, interweaves, and extends them throughout 10 Guideposts for Wholehearted Living, as illustrated in this poster from Brene Brown’s site:

A few years ago, a friend recommended this book to me. Looking back, I don’t think I was really in a place to receive it at the time. I was going way too fast in the moment to even notice. Nothing wrong with a little passion and a lot of hard work, that is, unless you’re constantly reacting on the surface and not living out your core, being, and purpose. You can’t get to where you’re going if you don’t know where you’re coming from. You can’t live the fullness of life if you don’t know who you are, and, more importantly, if you’re not willing to constantly revisit your core, if you’re not willing to learn, grow, and be open to change.

Growing older, parenting, time, other people, and a global pandemic have a way of slowing one down and humbling one in the big picture. So, I put the phone down and picked up the book.

While I can’t add any words or value to what she has already composed, here are a few personal takeaways that have genuinely impacted me:

Inner Work Before Outer Work

Before any plant grows or blossoms into fruition, a single seed is planted. The seed is dependent upon its environment. Basic needs must be met before, during, and after the journey of growth. How beautiful might it become? That depends on how well it’s cared for, how frequently and how thoroughly its conditions are monitored, and the very ground in which it was planted.

Before you can grow others, you have to examine your own growth conditions. Before you can realize the fullness of your potential, you have to know you. Before you look outward, look inward…

What do you see? What do you notice? What do you wonder?

I noticed this theme throughout the book, and it’s still speaking volumes to me. In a matter of moments, I analogized it with a few recent learning experiences. Here was my progression of thought:

“Wow… This Inner Work Before Outer Work theme reminds me of when…

  • Mike Parker West shared this Problem-Solving Wheel image (developed by the Racial Equity Institute) with me. It’s about how people tend to want to rush from Awareness to Action without first investing in Information Gathering, Analysis, and Vision/Planning steps. Can’t do genuine, outer work until inner work is experienced.
  • Jen Hawkins asked Phil Echols: ‘What are some of the hardest crucial conversations teachers need to have in those first few years?’ In this Beginning Teacher Wednesdays podcast episode at 16:10, Phil replied: ‘One of the biggest conversations is with yourself. You need to be a reflective practitioner…”
  • When Jen Hawkins asked: ‘What do you think is the biggest misstep that people make when they start their journey into becoming anti-biased and anti-racist?’ Dr. Natalie Odom Pough says in another Beginning Teacher Wednesdays podcast episode at 53:25: ‘I don’t think they look into the mirror long enough. They don’t work on themselves long enough to understand what needs to be changed… You can’t help anyone else if you’re not true to yourself.’
  • Yaba Blay tells Brene Brown in this Unlocking Us podcast episode at 66:10, that she would not help companies construct Anti-Racist statements because it was just for them to stay out of trouble. She said: ‘If you’re just looking for a checklist of things to do so that you don’t get into trouble, then there’s no critical thinking in that.’
  • Phil Echols challenges you to think about: ‘Who do you need to be in the spaces you’re entering?‘ That requires you to look inward before interacting outward.”

Which examples might you add?

Detaching Worth from Work

An extremely hard work ethic was instilled in me at a very young age. I’m very grateful for that kind of upbringing and culture, as a hard work ethic (and faith) have sustained me in persevering times throughout my life. And while I continue to work hard and invest my whole heart into every thing, person, and opportunity in my life, I’ve actually never detached my work performance from my self worth. Is it possible that I might be enough if I…

  • Didn’t finish my to-do list?
  • Feel like someone is better than me?
  • Feel insecure?
  • Feel like I should have done better?
  • Feel inadequate because __________?

Wholehearted Living

Not only did I want to do all the things, I wanted others to notice.

Go back and look at the 10 Guideposts for Wholehearted Living again. I wanted to rush to the Cultivating column. But you can’t rush to the Cultivating column before you address the Letting Go Of column. To me, this also jives with the Inner Work Before Outer Work theme. For example, you can’t exude Authenticity until you let go of What People Think. You can’t be Calm and Still until you give up Anxiety As A Lifestyle. You can’t actually feel Self-Compassion until you let go of Perfectionism.

The 10 Guideposts for Wholehearted Living is the kind of poster you print and hang on the wall as a constant reminder.

Blogger’s Note: When analyzing things like our very being, purpose, and belief systems, it’s conceivable that religion might be in the conversation. Axiology guides billions of people worldwide. This book toed the line of religion, yet never really went there. For example, Christians know they are imperfect (sinful) and need God to save them to receive the gift of salvation and eternal life. The author touched on higher powers being responsible for the existence of genuine joy, for example, yet never extended beyond. Baptized Episcopalian, raised Roman Catholic, Brene Brown left the Catholic church and returned to the Episcopalian Church. Though she often speaks of her religious upbringing and experiences on her podcasts, she doesn’t necessarily champion them. She does say that faith is the organizing principle in her life. End Blogger’s Note.

Final Thoughts

The beauty of a book like this is that it’s a gift that keeps on giving. The Gifts of Imperfection is not a one-and-done event. It’s a now-and-later journey. I will be reading this book again, and, when I do, it will take on different meaning.

And that’s exactly the experience I need–especially because it isn’t perfect.

Here are my “@KyleHamstra #thegiftsofimperfection” tweets of quotes that especially spoke to me.

What spoke to you?

What are your thoughts? Comment here!

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