The Gifts of Imperfection – Brene Brown

“Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are”

Brene Brown in The Gifts of Imperfection

Brene Brown is not only an extraordinary story-teller, she has harnessed the power of story-telling to make her PHD research into shame, authenticity and belonging relatable, engaging and educational for us plebeans. I am only partway through the book so a follow-up post is a strong possibility. What I have read so far has been more than enough to switch on the lights in some dark dusty corners of myself that I had to share.

I have heard many quotes and references to being authentic before. What I had never really heard before was such a relatable explanation of authenticity and worthiness. Brene posits that we go through our lives in our families and our communities believing that we are not enough… we try to combat our feeling or shame of inadequacy with perfection, pleasing and performing. We cease to be our true selves and start to seek to appear to be the ideal of perfection that we imagine is worthy. In so doing, we say yes to things we should say no to and no to things we want to say yes to because we feel inadequate and unworthy as we are. It’s things like saying “I will do this or that when I lose 5kg.” It’s countering a compliment by highlighting an inadequacy: “Your skirt is beautiful” answered with “Oh this. I bought it at the discount store.” It’s sticking with friends or lovers who speak inadequacy into your life because you believe that you deserve it. That is shame is her everyday clothes. See, “when we stop believing in our worthiness, we start hustling for it.”

Combating shame with pleasing others and perfection comes at a cost. It means (1) we tie our self-worth to an unsustainable ideal and (2) “we trade in our authenticity for the approval of others.” And where the currency of our worth and value is difficult or impossible to sustain like the first part, we find that we feel that we are never enough. We feel that we are not worthy. We feel undeserving and we live inauthentic lives.

She took me to church with number (1). My personal struggle has always been with attaching my value to getting things right. Professionally, for example, I could close ten major transactions but if one falls by the wayside, I dissect its failure and my part in it and carry that failure for months. In those moments, the ten I have closed are completely overshadowed by the one that fell through. My therapist, while helping me process, once said, “some people climb to the top of their mountains. You carry your mountain all the way up the hill. ” When I couple it with Brene’s research, what I understand now is that I have tied my worth to a perfect score in life. A perfect score in life is unattainable and so whenever I score a 9 or a 7 or a 0 (motherhood anyone?) I am shaken to my core and I have to rebuild my confidence.

What may seem at odds is that I have always embraced and openly shared my successes, failures and weaknesses wholeheartedly. So I am authentic right? This is how Brene closes for the circle of understanding for me; Authenticity is one part of 3.

The courage to be all of the parts that make you who you are is part 2. The courage to be imperfect. The word courage originates from the Latin word “Cor” which means “to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart” or “To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.” I think we all need that courage because it turns out, authenticity within ourselves doesn’t allow us to cherrypick our demons. You can not numb pieces of yourself selectively without affecting the others. When you numb your pain or vulnerability, you also numb your joy, your gratitude and your happiness. Reading Brene’s book made me sound smarter 🙂 but reading this particular bit made my heart skip a beat because it is the essence of what Throwing Clay is about. The courage to tell own our stories, tell them as they are, tell of our whole selves and see just how worthy we are and our stories are.

But then I fail spectacularly and completely on the last part: self-compassion. Shame will challenge your worthiness but self-compassion will rebalance the scale. It’s the ability to remember that we are all going through this life thing together and we are each struggling in our own way. It’s ok be figuring it out. It’s recognising that you have failed at something without allowing that failure to overshadow what you have done well. It’s being kind to yourself. It’s wearing a discount store skirt and still feeling worthy of a compliment. It’s seeing how beautiful you are at 5kg+. It’s embracing the love of your tribe because you are worth loving as you are. This is not to say that there is nothing to do better in your life. No. It’s that you are worthy while you figure it out. It’s the answer to imposter syndrome. You are worthy right now.

I feel that in this book, Brene answered my therapist’s comment by telling me how to put the mountain down. An extraordinary bonus arises out of self-compassion too: the ability to be compassionate towards others as they too navigate their stories.

There is power in allowing yourself to be known and heard, in owning your unique story, in using your authentic voice. And there is grace in being willing to know and hear others.

Michelle Obama in Becoming

That grace, apparently, starts not just at home but inside our hearts and minds. It’s the psychology of embracing vulnerability.

Definitely to be continued…

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