Book Club Discussion: The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown

woman wearing a white shirt holding a gift with a red bow

The Living Upp Book Club met for the very first time last night to discuss Brené Brown’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are.* Brené does a great job convincing us that imperfection is perfectly okay. And I have to say, that realization was quite liberating.

I think it’s safe to say that all of us have aspired to be perfect at something at some point during the course of our lives. Life is competitive that way, and we compete with ourselves as much as we compete with others. Likewise, we pursue our personal and professional goals while concurrently working to meet the expectations of our families, friends, employers and communities. But at some point, we realize that the pursuit of perfection is futile–and quite exhausting really.

We learned from Brene’s writings that being enough and embracing our imperfections are the keys to wholehearted living.

Throughout the evening, each of us revealed our own experiences and vulnerabilities, along with some of the aspects of the book that spoke to us personally. Below, I’ve done my best to capture some of the prominent themes that surfaced.

Self-Love & Self-Care

We began our discussion agreeing that even though we’ve all been taught to care for others first, we can’t do it as effectively if we aren’t caring for ourselves. One analogy, which has admittedly be used ad nauseam to promote self-care, was that even airline safety protocols instruct us to first put on our own oxygen masks before assisting others. Practicing self-care and self-love allows us to not only be more physically able to serve others, but it also enables us to be good role models for our children.

The concept of resiliency came up several times when discussing the importance of being able to bounce back from negative feedback and experiences. That is most certainly a form of survival self-care. One attendee shared that she believes challenges come to her to balance her. Embracing difficult experiences has helped her accept that life is filled with evidence of imperfection. Another member described her approach to resiliency as a mind-set of being “excited to see what happens next” rather than being tied to outcomes. In addition, forgiving ourselves when we fall short of expectations–whether internal or external–is also an example of practicing self-care.

Authenticity & Personal Brands

We discussed the notion that we all have an inner and outer self, which we express differently depending on the circumstances. Admittedly, this can be difficult, especially if our inner selves don’t match what the situation allows. For example, if you felt like wearing pajamas to dinner (expressing your inner self), you may not be able to dine in certain restaurants. Similarly, we discussed how others perceive us versus how we would like others to perceive us. Having the courage to live in alignment with our personal brand can sometimes be tricky, but giving ourselves permission to be who we are is a great first step toward living wholeheartedly.

External Pressures & Imperfection

We spent a lot of time talking about external pressures.

In many ways, societal norms have established a multitude of shoulds for us. I once heard someone refer to this as “shoulding on yourself.” I mean, that’s what it feels like, right? One example Brené presented in her book was the expectation that good parents should pick up their children on time without exception. The reality is that we all mess up sometimes. External standards bleed into other areas of life as well, including how clean our homes should be. We talked about the difference between meeting the accepted standard of “clean” and being okay with saying, “My house is as clean as I want it to be.” It’s ironic that we often compare ourselves to the Jones’ even though we know they are just as flawed as we are. Since perfection doesn’t exist, the Jones’ are simply living a façade of perfection. And that means we’re pursuing the same façade.

Religion can be a source of high expectations too. The Christian faith, for instance, holds Christ to be the standard of perfection, so emulating Christ-like qualities often leads to the pursuit of near-perfection.

If you consider Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs model, it might seem that our pursuit of perfection is related to our innate need to feel safe. Maybe we believe, wrongly or not, that if we do all the right things with no sign of imperfection, then we’ll avoid pain and suffering. (If only that were true.) We agreed that even if perfection was attainable, it wouldn’t guarantee that we would escape life’s disappointments.

Finally, we explored how external pressures differ among cultures. In the book Blue Zone*, the author points out that in areas where life expectancies are longest, there seem to be fewer societal expectations around perfection. Interesting to say the least.

Living Up to Our Potential

The concept of being enough was definitely a central theme of our discussion. How does one define enough anyway? And how exactly do you achieve enough? Those of us who are goal-driven have a tendency to want to measure or quantify many aspects of our lives. For example, if we view our progress as being at only 80% of our full potential, are we merely self-imposing unnecessary pressures? Is 80% sufficient? Is it enough? One member explained that she reaches her enough when she feels tired. That is her measure of satisfaction that she has done enough.

But how exactly do we define our potential? That question prompted a great deal of discussion. We finally decided that potential is ultimately an inside job. We can cheer and encourage those we love to use their gifts and achieve milestones, but we cannot define their enough. We can only decide for ourselves how we want to live–and what enough looks and feels like for us as individuals. We did acknowledge, though, that sometimes it’s frustrating or disappointing to see others not realizing what we see as their full potential.

False Peaks

But what happens when we do happen to successfully reach those near-perfect milestones or goals? More often than not, we raise the bar higher. Once again, we push perfection just beyond our reach while we continue to pursue the next false peak. Each summit reveals another and the pursuit never ends. But we can find satisfaction by defining what our “enough” looks like to put an end to that game.

Play

Brené also described her discovery of the importance of play–that intentional process of letting go and tapping into the creative side of our brain is therapeutic and necessary to live wholeheartedly.

As a group, these were our takeaways:

  • “I want to have more honest conversations.”
  • “I’ve learned how to say ‘it’s okay’ to my kids and that pain is okay.”
  • “I understand that it’s okay to be wrong sometimes.”
  • “I’ve learned to let go of anxiety and embrace fun.”
  • “Breathe. Relax. Enjoy.”

What were your impressions of the book? What are your thoughts on imperfection? Please share your thoughts in the comments below or on the Living Upp Facebook page…we’d love to hear your perspective as well.

*Living Upp is a participant in the Amazon Associates Program, which means we earn a commission from qualifying purchases. 

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