The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brene Brown

These were my favorite passages from her book.


by Brené Brown

“fought for social justice, continued to uncover more blind spots and areas of unacknowledged privilege, moved houses, started businesses, shut down businesses, swam in several pools of low-grade depression, splashed around in my magic Lake Travis with the people I love the most, practiced gratitude for every single gift in my life, and pissed and moaned for so long about the smallest irritations that I actually got sick of hearing myself complain.”
“That we will become a country ready to own our history and do what it takes to put an end to the policies and practices that not only dehumanize the Black community but all of the communities that have suffered under white supremacy.”
“When you’re done, you have new information and a blueprint of how to integrate it into your life. For this book, I’m giving you pages and a list of suggested index ideas based on how I’ve seen thousands of people integrate this work into daily practices. I think there’s some poetry in the fact that the Latin root of the word integrate is integrare, which means “to make whole.” How do we use what we’re learning about wholeheartedness to actually make ourselves more whole?”
“Without awareness, work, and actionable change, we will continue to live in a world where we perceive some people as brave and strong for sharing their vulnerabilities, while for others, their sharing of struggles and fears becomes confirmation of the conscious or unconscious biases we hold.”
“The experiences that bring the most meaning to our lives are born of vulnerability—and that includes freedom. And, as Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. famously said, “No one is free until we are all free.” There is no wholeheartedness unless we do everything we can to dismantle the brokenheartedness of injustice.”
“One reason it’s impossible to un-see trends is that our minds are engineered to seek out patterns and to assign meaning to them. Humans are a meaning-making species. And, for better or worse, my mind is actually fine-tuned to do this. I spent years training for it, and now it’s how I make my living.”
“As I started analyzing the stories and looking for re-occurring themes, I realized that the patterns generally fell into one of two columns; for simplicity’s sake, I first labeled these Do and Don’t. The Do column was brimming with words like worthiness, rest, play, trust, faith, intuition, hope, authenticity, love, belonging, joy, gratitude, and creativity. The Don’t column was dripping with words like perfection, numbing, certainty, exhaustion, self-sufficiency, being cool, fitting in, judgment, and scarcity.”
“How much we know and understand ourselves is critically important, but there is something that is even more essential to living a wholehearted life: loving ourselves.”
“The universe is not short on wake-up calls. We’re just quick to hit the snooze button. As it turned out, the work I had to do was messy and deep. I slogged through it until one day, exhausted and with mud still wet and dripping off of my traveling shoes, I realized, “Oh, my God. I feel different. I feel joyful and real. I’m still afraid, but I also feel really brave. Something has changed—I can feel it in my bones.” I was healthier, more joyful, and more grateful than I had ever felt. I felt calmer and grounded, and significantly less anxious. I had rekindled my creative life, reconnected with my family and friends in a new way, and most important, felt truly comfortable in my own skin for the first time in my life. I learned how to worry more about how I felt and less about “what people might think.” I was setting new boundaries and began to let go of my need to please, perform, and perfect. I started saying no rather than sure (and being resentful and pissed off later).”
“Here’s what I found: People who live wholeheartedly do indeed DIG Deep. They just do it in a different way. When they’re exhausted and overwhelmed, they get DELIBERATE in their thoughts and behaviors through prayer, meditation, or simply setting their intentions; INSPIRED to make new and different choices; GOING. They take action.”
“Now I know why. It was what I needed—professionally and personally—to prepare for this work on wholeheartedness. We can talk about courage and love and compassion until we sound like a greeting card store, but unless we’re willing to have an honest conversation about what gets in the way of putting these into practice in our daily lives, we will never change. Never, ever.”
“I was sitting in the front row when the principal introduced me. This is always a very awkward experience for me. Someone is running through a list of my accomplishments while I’m secretly trying to stave off vomiting and talking myself out of running. Well, this introduction was beyond anything I had ever experienced. The principal was saying things like, “You might not like what you’re going to hear tonight, but we need to listen for the sake of our children. Dr. Brown is here to transform our school and our lives! She’s going to set us straight whether we like it or not!”
“I didn’t get a head nod or a slight grin or anything. I just managed to freak out the other 250 already-pissy parents. It was a disaster. Trying to co-opt or win over someone like that guy is always a mistake, because it means trading in your authenticity for approval. You stop believing in your worthiness and start hustling for it. And, oh man, was I hustling.”
“Let’s make this go away • minimizing/avoiding We minimize and avoid when we want hard feelings to go away. Out of their own discomfort, this person refuses to acknowledge that you’re in pain and/or that you’re hurting: “You’re exaggerating. It wasn’t that bad. You rock. You’re perfect. Everyone loves you.”
“Ashley was amazing. She listened and responded with total compassion. She had the courage to tap into her own struggles with worthiness so that she could genuinely connect to what I was experiencing. She said wonderfully honest and empathic things like, “Oh, man. That’s so hard. I’ve done that dance. I hate that feeling!” That may not be what someone else would need to hear, but for me it was the best. Ashley wasn’t uprooted and thrown into the storm created by my experience. She also wasn’t so rigid that she snapped with judgment and blame. She didn’t try to fix me or make me feel better; she just listened and had the courage to share some of her own vulnerabilities with me.”
“When we pay attention, we see courage every day. We see it when people reach out for help, like I did with Ashley. I see it in my classroom when a student raises their hand and says, “I’m completely lost. I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Do you know how incredibly brave it is to say “I don’t know” when you’re pretty sure everyone around you gets it? Of course, from my decades of teaching, I know that if one person can find the courage to say, “You’ve lost me,” there are probably at least ten more students who feel the exact same way. They may not take the risk, but they certainly benefit from that one person’s courage.”
“It’s only been in the last few years that I’ve learned that playing down the exciting stuff doesn’t take the pain away when it doesn’t happen. It does, however, minimize the joy when it does happen. It also creates a lot of isolation. Once you’ve diminished the importance of something, your friends are not likely to call and say, “I’m sorry that didn’t work out. I know you were excited about it.”
“Now when someone asks me about a potential opportunity that I’m excited about, I’m more likely to practice courage and say, “I’m so excited about the possibility. I’m trying to stay realistic, but I really hope it happens.” When things haven’t panned out, it’s been comforting to be able to call a supportive friend and say, “Remember that event I told you about? It’s not going to happen, and I’m so disappointed.”
I stood up, took a deep breath, and tried to reason with the part of me that wanted to chase after the better-than-you eye-rolling mom and kick her perfectly punctual ass. Just then two more moms walked up to this now tearful mother and smiled. One of the mothers put her hand on top of the woman’s shoulder and said, “We’ve all been there. I missed the last one. I wasn’t just late. I completely forgot.” I watched as the woman’s face softened, and she wiped away a tear. The second woman looked at her and said, “My son was the only one who wasn’t wearing pajamas on PJ Day—he still tells me it was the most rotten day ever. It will be okay. We’re all in the same boat.”
BOUNDARIES AND COMPASSION One of the greatest (and least discussed) barriers to compassion practice is the fear of setting boundaries and holding people accountable. I know it sounds strange, but I believe that understanding the connection between boundaries, accountability, acceptance, and compassion has made me a kinder person. Before the breakdown, I was sweeter—judgmental, resentful, and angry on the inside, but sweeter on the outside. Today, I think I’m genuinely more compassionate, less judgmental and resentful, and way more serious about boundaries. I have no idea what this combination looks like on the outside, but it feels pretty powerful on the inside. Before this research, I knew a lot about each one of these concepts, but I didn’t understand how they fit together. During the interviews, it blew my mind when I realized that many of the truly committed compassion practitioners were also the most boundary-conscious people in the study. Compassionate people are boundaried people. I was stunned.
CONNECTION I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.
Our innate need for connection makes the consequences of disconnection that much more real and dangerous. Sometimes we only think we’re connected. Technology, for instance, has become a kind of imposter for connection, making us believe we’re connected when we’re really not—at least not in the ways we need to be. In our technology-crazed world, we’ve confused being communicative with feeling connected. Just because we’re plugged in doesn’t mean we feel seen and heard. In fact, hyper-communication can mean we spend more time on Facebook than we do face-to-face with the people we care about. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked into a restaurant and seen two parents on their cell phones while their kids are busy texting or playing video games. What’s the point of even sitting together?
conducted my interviews, I realized that only one thing separated the research participants who felt a deep sense of love and belonging from the people who seem to be struggling for it. That one thing is the belief in their worthiness. It’s as simple and complicated as this: If we want to fully experience love and belonging, we must believe that we are worthy of love and belonging.
When we can let go of what other people think and own our story, we gain access to our worthiness—the feeling that we are enough just as we are and that we are worthy of love and belonging. When we spend a lifetime trying to distance ourselves from the parts of our lives that don’t fit with who we think we’re supposed to be, we stand outside of our story and hustle for our worthiness by constantly performing, perfecting, pleasing, and proving. Our sense of worthiness—that critically important piece that gives us access to love and belonging—lives inside of our story.
Love and belonging will always be uncertain. Even though connection and relationship are the most critical components of life, we simply cannot accurately measure them. Relational concepts don’t translate into bubbled answer sheets. Relationship and connection happen in an indefinable space between people, a space that will never be fully known or understood by us. Everyone who risks explaining love and belonging is hopefully doing the best they can to answer an unanswerable question. Myself included.
Love: We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honor the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness, and affection.
Belonging: Belonging is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us. Because this yearning is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and by seeking approval, which are not only hollow substitutes for belonging, but often barriers to it. Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.
If you look at the definition of love and think about what it means in terms of self-love, it’s very specific. Practicing self-love means learning how to trust ourselves, to treat ourselves with respect, and to be kind and affectionate toward ourselves. This is a tall order given how hard most of us are on ourselves. I know I can talk to myself in ways that I would never consider talking to another person.
CAN WE LOVE OTHERS MORE THAN WE LOVE OURSELVES? The idea of self-love and self-acceptance was, and still is, revolutionary thinking for me. So in early 2009, I asked my blog readers what they thought about the importance of self-love and the idea that we can’t love others more than we love ourselves. Well, there was quite the emotional debate in the comments section.
Several folks passionately disagreed with the notion of self-love being a requirement for loving others. Others argued that we can actually learn how to love ourselves more by loving others. Some folks just left comments like, “Thanks for ruining my day—I don’t want to think about this.”
“Through my children I have learned to really love unconditionally, to be compassionate at times when I am feeling horrible, and to be so much more giving. When I look at my one daughter who looks so much like me, I can see myself as a little girl. This reminds me to be kinder to the little girl that lives inside me and to love and accept her as my own. It is the love for my girls that makes me want to be a better person and to work on loving and accepting myself. However, with that being said, it is still so much easier to love my daughters.…”
“On top of trying to manage feeling like a complete imposter, I was terrified about the format. The event was modeled after the TED talks (, and each speaker would have only twenty minutes to share their most innovative ideas with what they were calling a C-suite audience—an audience of mostly CEOs, CFOs, COOs, and CIOs who were paying $1,000 for the day-long event. Seconds after I saw the list of speakers, I called my friend Jen and read the list of names to her. After the last name, I took a deep breath and said, “I’m not so sure about this.” Even though we were on the phone and she was thousands of miles away, I could see her shaking her head. “Put your measuring stick away, Brené.” I bristled. “What do you mean?” Jen said, “I know you. You’re already thinking about how to make your twenty-minute talk super ‘researchy’ and complicated.” I still didn’t get it. “Well, yes. Of course I’m going to be researchy. Do you see this list of people? They’re… they’re… grown-ups.” Jen chuckled. “Do you need an age-check?” Dead silence on my end. Jen explained, “Here’s the thing. You are a researcher, but your best work isn’t from the head; it’s talking from the heart.”
“In a very powerful way, owning this story allowed me to claim who I am as a researcher and to establish my voice. I looked at Steve and smiled. “I don’t do how-to.” For the first time in years, I realized that the country club woman wasn’t out to get me and sabotage my talk. If that were the case, her ridiculous parameters wouldn’t have been so devastating to me. Her list was symptomatic of our cultural fears. We don’t want to be uncomfortable. We want a quick and dirty “how-to” list for happiness.”
“You can’t really love yourself yet. You’re not ________________ enough.” (pretty, skinny, successful, rich, talented, happy, smart, feminine, masculine, productive, nice, strong, tough, caring, popular, creative, well-liked, admired, contributing) “No one can find out about _____________.” “I’m going to pretend that everything is okay.” “I can change to fit in if I have to!” “Who do you think you are to put your thoughts/art/ideas/beliefs/writing out in the world?” “Taking care of them is more important than taking care of me.” “Don’t take a stand on this issue—the vitriol will take you down. You’re not strong enough.” Shame is that warm feeling that washes over us, making us feel small, flawed, and never good enough. If we want to develop shame resilience—the ability to recognize shame and move through it while maintaining our worthiness and authenticity—then we have to talk about why shame happens.”
“After what’s now been two decades of research, I found that people with high levels of shame resilience share these four elements: 1. They understand shame and recognize what messages and expectations trigger shame for them. 2. They practice critical awareness by reality-checking the messages and expectations that tell us that being imperfect means being inadequate. 3. They reach out and share their stories with people they trust. 4. They speak shame—they use the word shame, they talk about how they’re feeling, and they ask for what they need.”
“What’s the difference between shame and guilt? The majority of shame researchers and clinicians agree that the difference between shame and guilt is best understood as the differences between “I am bad” and “I did something bad.” Guilt = I did something bad. Shame = I am bad. Shame is about who we are, and guilt is about our behaviors. We feel guilty when we hold up something we’ve done or failed to do against the kind of person we want to be. It’s an uncomfortable feeling, but one that’s helpful. When we apologize for something we’ve done, make amends to others, or change a behavior that we don’t feel good about, guilt is most often the motivator. Guilt is just as powerful as shame, but its effect is often positive while shame often is destructive. When we see people apologize, make amends, or replace negative behaviors with more positive ones, guilt is often the motivator, not shame. In fact, in my research, I found that shame corrodes the part of us that believes we can change and do better.”
“Draft #1 included this line: “Egads! I would never put down someone’s photography, but I’m the shame researcher here.” Draft #2 included this line: “I checked out your photography online. If you’re concerned about posting bad photos, I’d rethink posting your photos.” Draft #3 included this line: “If you’re going to send a shitty email, the least you can do is spell-check it. ‘Their’ does not mean ‘they are.’ ” Mean. Nasty. I didn’t care. But I also didn’t send it. Something in my body stopped me. I read over my attack emails, took a deep breath, and then raced into the bedroom. I threw on my running shoes and a baseball cap and hit the pavement. I needed to get out of the house and discharge the weird energy coursing through my veins.”
“If you want to kick-start your shame resilience and story-claiming, start with these questions. Figuring out the answers can change your life: 1. Who do you become when you’re backed into that shame corner? 2. How do you protect yourself? 3. Who do you call to work through the mean-nasties or the cry ’n’ hides or the people-pleasing? 4. What’s the most courageous thing you could do for yourself when you feel small and hurt?”
“Cultivating Authenticity: Letting Go of What People Think Often people attempt to live their lives backwards: they try to have more things, or more money, in order to do more of what they want so that they will be happier. The way it actually works is the reverse. You must first be who you really are, then do what you really need to do, in order to have what you want.” —MARGARET YOUNG
“What if my friends/family/co-workers like the perfect me better… you know, the one who takes care of everything and everyone?” Sometimes, when we push the system, it pushes back. The pushback can be everything from eye rolls and whispers to relationship struggles and feelings of isolation. There can also be cruel and shaming responses to our authentic voices. In my research on authenticity and shame, I found that speaking out is a major shame trigger for women and people who are striving to meet cultural norms around femininity. Here’s how the research participants described the struggle to be authentic: Don’t make people feel uncomfortable but be honest. Don’t upset anyone or hurt anyone’s feelings but say what’s on your mind. Sound informed and educated but not like a know-it-all. Don’t say anything unpopular or controversial but have the courage to disagree with the crowd.”
“The thing is… authenticity isn’t always the safe option. Sometimes choosing being real over being liked is all about playing it unsafe. It means stepping out of our comfort zone. And trust me, as someone who has stepped out on many occasions, it’s easy to get knocked around when you’re wandering through new territory.”
“When we go against the grain and put ourselves and our work out in the world, some people will feel threatened and they will go after what hurts the most—our appearance, our lovability, and even our parenting.”
“Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be your best. Perfectionism is not about healthy achievement and growth. Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgment, and shame. It’s a shield. Perfectionism is a twenty-ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from taking flight. It’s stopping us from being seen. Perfectionism is not self-improvement. Perfectionism is, at its core, about trying to earn approval and acceptance.”
Like many people, I struggle with body image, self-confidence, and the always-complicated relationship between food and emotions. Here’s the difference between perfectionism diets and healthy goals. Perfectionism self-talk: “Ugh. Nothing fits. I’m fat and I look like shit. I’m ashamed of how I look. I need to be different than I am right now to be worthy of love and belonging.” Healthy-striving self-talk: “I want this for me. I want to feel better and be healthier. The scale doesn’t dictate if I’m loved and accepted. If I believe that I’m worthy of love and respect now, I will invite courage, compassion, and connection into my life. I want to figure this out for me. I can do this.”
“First, they spoke about their imperfections in a tender and honest way, and without shame and fear. Second, they were slow to judge themselves and others. They appeared to operate from a place of “We’re all doing the best we can.” Their courage, compassion, and connection seemed rooted in the way they treated themselves. I wasn’t quite sure how to capture these attributes, but I assumed that they were separate qualities. That is until I found Dr. Kristin Neff’s work on self-compassion.”
“WHAT MAKES UP RESILIENCE? If you look at the research, here are five of the most common factors of resilient people: 1. They are resourceful and have good problem-solving skills. 2. They are more likely to seek help. 3. They hold the belief that they can do something that will help them to manage their feelings and to cope. 4. They have social support available to them.”
5. They are connected with others, such as family or friends.”
“Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion. Practicing spirituality brings a sense of perspective, meaning, and purpose to our lives.”
“Trying to avoid media messages is like holding your breath to avoid air pollution—it’s not going to happen.”
“It’s in our biology to trust what we see with our eyes. This makes living in a carefully edited, overproduced, and Photoshopped world very dangerous. If we want to cultivate a resilient spirit and stop falling prey to comparing our ordinary lives with manufactured images, we need to know how to reality-check what we see. We need to be able to ask and answer these questions: 1. Is what I’m seeing real? Do these images convey real life or fantasy? 2. Do these images reflect healthy, wholehearted living, or do they turn my life, my body, my family, and my relationships into objects and commodities?”
“Again, after years of research, I’m convinced that we all numb and take the edge off. The question is, does our _______________ (eating, drinking, spending, gambling, saving the world, incessant gossiping, perfectionism, sixty-hour workweek) get in the way of our authenticity? Does it stop us from being emotionally honest and setting boundaries and feeling like we’re enough? Does it keep us from staying out of judgment and from feeling connected? Are we using _____________ to hide or escape from the reality of our lives?”
“Understanding my behaviors and feelings through a vulnerability lens rather than strictly through an addiction lens changed my entire life. It also strengthened my commitment to sobriety, abstinence, health, and spirituality. I can definitely say, “Hi. My name is Brené, and today I’d like to deal with vulnerability and uncertainty with an apple fritter, a beer and cigarette, and spending seven hours on Instagram.” That feels uncomfortably honest.”
“A good example of this is the way that love and belonging go together. Now I understand that in order to feel a true sense of belonging, I need to bring the real me to the table and that I can only do that if I’m practicing self-love. For years I thought it was the other way around: I’ll do whatever it takes to fit in, I’ll feel accepted, and that will make me like myself better. (Just typing those words and thinking about how many years I spent living that way makes me weary. No wonder I was tired for so long!)”
“I always thought that joyful people were grateful people. I mean, why wouldn’t they be? They have all of that goodness to be grateful for. But after spending countless hours collecting stories about joy and gratitude, three powerful patterns emerged: Without exception, every person I interviewed who described living a joyful life or who described themselves as joyful actively practiced gratitude and attributed their joyfulness to their gratitude practice. Both joy and gratitude were described as spiritual practices that were bound to a belief in human interconnectedness and a power greater than us. People were quick to point out the difference between happiness and joy as the difference between a human emotion that’s connected to circumstances and a spiritual way of engaging with the world that’s connected to practicing gratitude.”
WHAT IS JOY? Joy seems to me a step beyond happiness. Happiness is a sort of atmosphere you can live in sometimes when you’re lucky. Joy is a light that fills you with hope and faith and love. —ADELA ROGERS ST. JOHNS
“I also learned that neither joy nor happiness is constant; no one feels happy all of the time or joyful all of the time. Both experiences come and go. Happiness is attached to external situations and events and seems to ebb and flow as those circumstances come and go. Joy seems to be constantly tethered to our hearts by spirit and gratitude. But our actual experiences of joy—these intense feelings of deep spiritual connection and pleasure—seize us in a very vulnerable way.”
“Twinkle lights are the perfect metaphor for joy. Joy is not a constant. It comes to us in moments—often ordinary moments. Sometimes we miss out on the bursts of joy because we’re too busy chasing down extraordinary moments. Other times we’re so afraid of the dark that we don’t dare let ourselves enjoy the light. A joyful life is not a floodlight of joy. That would eventually become unbearable. I believe a joyful life is made up of joyful moments gracefully strung together by trust, gratitude, inspiration, and faith.”
“For me, and for many of us, our first waking thought of the day is “I didn’t get enough sleep.” The next one is “I don’t have enough time.” Whether true or not, that thought of not enough occurs to us automatically before we even think to question or examine it. We spend most of the hours and the days of our lives hearing, explaining, complaining, or worrying about what we don’t have enough of.… We don’t have enough exercise. We don’t have enough work. We don’t have enough profits. We don’t have enough power. We don’t have enough wilderness. We don’t have enough weekends. Of course, we don’t have enough money—ever. We’re not thin enough, we’re not smart enough, we’re not pretty enough or fit enough or educated or successful enough, or rich enough—ever. Before we even sit up in bed, before our feet touch the floor, we’re already inadequate, already behind, already losing, already lacking something. And by the time we go to bed at night, our minds race with a litany of what we didn’t get, or didn’t get done, that day. We go to sleep burdened by those thoughts and wake up to the reverie of lack.… What begins as a simple expression of the hurried life, or even the challenged life, grows into the great justification for an unfulfilled life.”
“Scarcity is also great fuel for the gremlins. In my earlier shame research and in this more recent research, I realized how many of us have bought into the idea that something has to be extraordinary if it’s going to bring us joy. In I Thought It Was Just Me, I write, “We seem to measure the value of people’s contributions (and sometimes their entire lives) by their level of public recognition. In other words, worth is measured by fame and fortune. Our culture is quick to dismiss quiet, ordinary, hardworking people. In many instances, we equate ordinary with boring or, even more dangerous, ordinary has become synonymous with meaningless.”
“Author and spiritual leader Marianne Williamson says, “Joy is what happens to us when we allow ourselves to recognize how good things really are.”



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Davidson Hang is currently in Sales at Cheetah Digital which is a Marketing technology company located in NYC.

Davidson is an avid networker, personal growth- life and business coach.

He loves spreading the love and regularly helps people create and design the life they want for themselves.

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