Thursday, April 14, 2011

Practically (Im)Perfect

If the prospect of being seen reading a book with the "Self-Help" bookstore category label on the back makes you squirm, The Gifts of Imperfection is probably a book you need to read.  As I read this book, I was completely aware of the irony of feeling the need to hide what I was reading - a book from shame researcher Brene Brown, Ph.D., LMSW.  I was thankful to read in the "Final Thoughts" a disclaimer of sorts, "Despite where this book will be shelved in your local bookstore, I'm not at all sure that this work is about self-help." 

You see, those of us who struggle with perfectionism (when we are in a healthy enough place to admit it), dislike the idea of "self-help."  Certain images and associations come to mind.  Better label this "critical and reflective introspection," or something along those lines, and it will be easier to swallow.  As the title suggests, however, this book encourages the perfectionist in each of us to let go of caring about what others think, so however you label this book, and where ever you might find it, I would definitely recommend reading it.

This book has two subtitles: "Let God of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are," and "Your Guide to a Wholehearted Life."  I think the second subtitle is more descriptive of the contents.  The first sounds like a simple, "I'm ok, you're ok" book, which this is not.  Brown collected nearly 10,000 stories from individuals that she considers to be "wholehearted," and from those stories, draws connections to highlight 10 guideposts for wholehearted living.  Before one can get to those guideposts, however, one must look at "The Things That Get in the Way" of wholehearted living, including shame, anxiety, and the voices inside our heads that say, "I will be enough when..."  Between recognizing the things that get in the way of wholehearted living and incorporating practices to cultivate the guideposts of wholeheartedness, there are plenty of challenges to tackle.  Thankfully, if you're a perfectionist, you just might be determined enough to give it a go.

The "Gifts of Imperfection" Brown identifies as courage (speaking one's heart), compassion (recognizing shared humanity), and connection (energy that exists between people when they are seen, heard, and valued).  A key ingredient to wholeheartedness is having the courage to be vulnerable, to speak one's fears, shame, anxieties, and deep emotions with individuals who have earned the right to hear us.  I won't be baring all on my blog, facebook, or Twitter feed, but I have been discovering the gift of real vulnerability with individuals who have earned the right to hear me.  The road to true connection has to bypass self-sufficiency, which is something that I have prided in myself for a long time.  Brown importantly notes that true compassion is also accompanied by appropriate boundaries - setting them and holding others accountable to them.  Being vulnerable and compassionate, sharing our shame, embarrassment, and failures, is a very scary step to take, but when done in the appropriate contexts, with the appropriate people, it is the only path to true connection.

I found myself really resonating with the author, and I bet that I am not alone in that.  For anyone who finds themselves veering towards the lone wolf, self-sufficient, able to do it all mode of being, this is a must-read.  Though there are spiritual pieces to the work, it is not religiously based.  However, I think it would be an important read for most pastors - or at least those like me who feel intense internal and external pressure to be perfect (in the myriad of definitions of perfection that are thrust upon us).

I still have some processing to do, and I just might need to keep the book handy for a while as a reference.  While I work to let go of who I think I am supposed to be, does anyone know where I can buy some book covers?

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