Pursue What Matters
Episode 4: The Gifts of Imperfection Review
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Dr. Melissa Smith 0:00
Hello, and welcome back to Pursue What Matters. I’m your host, Dr. Melissa Smith. And today we’re doing the first of a monthly series of book reviews. I’m so excited about this. I love, love, love to read, so why not review some books? So today we’re going to review one of my personal favorites, and a book that I believe should be required reading for everyone. And that is Brené Brown, Gifts of Imperfection. So let’s jump in.
Dr. Melissa Smith 0:34
Hi, I’m Dr. Melissa Smith, welcome to the pursue what matters podcast where we focus on what it takes to thrive in love and work. Today, we’re going to talk about the book gifts of imperfection. So one thing you need to know about me is I am an avid reader. And I know people say they love to read. But seriously, I read all the time. I’m currently working on books 39, 40 and 41 of my goal to read 120 books this year. Like I really seriously love to read other people have hobbies I have like, maybe like two or three passions and reading is one of those.
Dr. Melissa Smith 1:41
So as as a young girl, I grew up reading books, my grandmother was the county librarian. And so it was always cool and fun to hang out at the library. But also my grandmother had a very cool attic that was full of books. And so every Saturday, we would go and visit my grandparents and I would always end up in the library or in the library in the attic, which was basically a library. And I would always stuff a canvas bag full of books, and then take them home for the week and read them and then bring them back the next week with you know, and trade out the bag for a new stack of books. And even into adulthood. When I would travel home to visit my grandmother, she always had a bag of books waiting for me that she had read that she thought that you know that I would enjoy it. So books that she would set aside that she thought I would enjoy. And so, you know, when I think about reading, it really connects me to love and nurturing. because it reminds me of my grandmother. And I just love her so much. And so I really love reading. And so I thought it would be really fun to do a book review once a month on this podcast. And so since I read so much, I thought man, I might as well be reviewing some of the books that I’m reading. And I read a lot of books from a lot of different genres. I do a lot of reading of business leadership and communication and psychology and self help. And so, you know, we’ll just kind of mix it up and do a little bit of everything. And so once a month, I’ll discuss a book that I love or that I just finished or a new release. And this is the fun thing, if you ever have any recommendations, or you don’t have to time to read and want me to do it and review it for you instead, I would love to have you send any book recommendations my way you can always email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. So anyway, I think this would be really fun to get your suggestions and your recommendations. And I would absolutely love to hear what you’re reading and what you’re enjoying. So make sure you find me on social media and let’s interact that way as well.
Dr. Melissa Smith 4:14
Okay, so if you recall from last week, we talked all about vulnerability and why it’s important and why we all dread it. And we also touched on the research of Brené Brown as she has done extensive research on vulnerability and shame, which are two of the concepts that really go hand in hand. So today we’re going to talk all about her book, the Gifts of Imperfection, which really outlines her research on shame and vulnerability. And you know, like I mentioned at the top of the show, I really think this should be required reading for everyone. It’s that good. And this is the other thing. It’s very accessible. It’s a pretty quick read, it’s you know, it’s not like really dense reading and the thing about Brené Brown is she’s an awesome storyteller. And so her reading is very engaging, there’s nothing dry about it. And so it’s, it’s really very approachable, great, great content.
Dr. Melissa Smith 5:16
So its title is about imperfection and it’s, you know, it’s definitely about imperfection. But I really think that they use that title because they figured it was an easier sell to people. Because her publisher probably knew that a book with the words vulnerability or shame in the title would not sell. So the reality is, this is a book about vulnerability and shame. So it’s important to kind of know that going in. And the thing that I really love about this book, is that it provides you with a path for embracing vulnerability and working with your shame through the 10 guideposts. So that’s kind of the format that she uses. But you know, oftentimes we’ll read a self help book and they will introduce you to concepts and, you know, theory and it can be, you know, very helpful. It’s like, okay, these are some nice things to think about. But then at the end of the book, it’s like, okay, where do I go from here, you know, like, it doesn’t really give you some good action items. And the real key to Brené Brown’s work and certainly gifts of imperfection, it’s really focused on taking action and daily practices. And so I think it’s incredibly useful in that way.
Dr. Melissa Smith 6:34
So let’s, let’s get into the details and talk a bit more about this great book. So Brown’s book is a call to wholehearted living, which she describes as engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. So she says that it requires us to cultivate three things which are courage, compassion, and connection. So what this really requires, is for us to accept that despite what we accomplish, or fail to accomplish, knowing that at the end of the day, we are enough. So it’s, it’s approaching our lives from a place of feeling like we are enough, so accepting that we are imperfect, vulnerable, and sometimes afraid. But this doesn’t change the truth that we are also brave, and worthy of love, and belonging. And so this is really the premise of her book. And this is based on extensive research that she has done. So she’s not just, you know, talking about theory in the cloud. This is, this is based on extensive research that she’s conducted over many years. So key to Browns research, like I mentioned before, is that these are daily practices, not just nice thoughts, or beliefs. And that it’s, it’s in the daily practices that make all the difference. So for example, when it comes to courage, you know, it means letting go of what others think of us. So, you know, I think for most of us, when we think about that, it’s like, yeah, we should let go of what others think of us. But if you really think about the details of that, that’s really hard to do in practice, you know, think about that, for instance, on social media, you know, what courage would look like on social media to be real, rather than polished? You know, that is an act of courage. So in practice, compassion looks like setting boundaries with others, and learning to say no, rather than saying yes, and feeling resentful about it. Think about that, especially for women. For women, saying no can be a really hard thing. So Brown teaches that the heart of compassion is acceptance, which of course, is the opposite of approval, so we’re not looking for approval. And so many of us hustle for approval, which results in us never actually feeling accepted. And so she talks about the focus of compassion is learning, learning to turn towards our own experience, and accept our own experience, accepting our own needs, which sometimes means that we need to say no to others, right. So in order to meet your own needs, it will sometimes require you to say no to others, and that can that can be a hard reality for some of us, especially if we’re people pleasers. So when it comes to connection, it is involves cultivating compassion for yourself, and learning to be gentle rather than a harsh critic with yourself. But this can also be really hard to do. And it also means, you know, in relationships, we want people to be seen and heard and valued without judgment. So being able to have difficult conversations without the fear of judgment, that’s a big ask for a lot of people, being honest in conversations and having difficult conversations where you know, the other person is not going to like what you have to say, is really scary. And so in many respects, we tend to avoid those types of conversations. And so she’s really talking about the value of leaning into those conversations and having those conversations with care and with gentleness, right, but being willing to stand up for yourself and say, what needs to be said. So the other really big point with this research is that the only thing that separated men and women who felt a deep sense of love and belonging from the people who seem to be struggling for a sense of love and belonging is a belief in their worthiness.
Dr. Melissa Smith 11:33
So if you want to experience love and belonging, you must believe you are worthy of love and belonging. So I think that’s a actually a really important finding. So these people didn’t have easier lives. They didn’t have less trauma, they didn’t have more money, they didn’t have more talent, they, you know, like they didn’t have more blessed or fortunate lives. The only difference was that they believed they were worthy of love and belonging, and therefore, they were able to cultivate wholehearted living. And because they had a belief that they were worthy of love and belonging, they implemented daily practices that helped them to create wholehearted living. So that’s where the 10 guideposts come in. Because Brown found that those individuals who lived wholehearted lives, cultivated daily practices along those 10 guideposts that helped them know and believe that they were worthy of love and belongingness. So again, this really highlights the importance of daily practices to shift beliefs and experiences. So it is not enough to think about things differently. It’s not enough to feel things differently, never ever enough is it to think and feel things differently, you must take action. And that is really a core principle of change. And many of us get it exactly backwards. We think like I will make the change once I feel differently. And the reality is, you will never change if that’s what you’re waiting for.
Dr. Melissa Smith 13:23
Let’s take a closer look at the 10 guideposts and these are really some wonderful take home points from the book and from the research. So guideposts, number one is cultivating authenticity, and letting go of what people think. Right? We’ve already talked about this, that is really hard to do in practice. But when we have other courageous people in our lives, who can show an example of what living an authentic life looks like, it’s it’s really empowering and freeing. The second guidepost is cultivating self compassion, and letting go of perfectionism. And I think like really letting go of the false persona of perfectionism recognizing that perfectionism is all about ego. Like that. It’s just, you know, it’s it’s a, it’s a brutal form of self esteem. That is, that has no depth to it, guideposts. Number three is cultivating a resilient spirit and letting go of numbing and powerlessness. So this is a big one, Brené Brown talks about this idea of numbing and that we all numb our emotional pain to some extent, when this goes to extremes right this runs the risk of becoming an addictive process, but the reality is, we are all prone to emotional numbing So I’ve recently written a blog post on this topic for my psychological specialty clinic. So in the show notes, we’ll have a link to that. So you can check that out and see what you think about that.
Dr. Melissa Smith 15:18
And now let’s think about guidepost number four, which is cultivating gratitude and joy, letting go of scarcity and fear of the dark. So the research around gratitude is really powerful, that those individuals who cultivate a daily and consistent gratitude practice are happier, right, they have more joy in their life, they have more peace in their life, and that it really is around a daily consistent practice. So whether that is a gratitude journal, where they’re identifying things that they’re grateful for, whether it is taking time to savor moments, whether that is a sunset, whether that is a meal with a family member, whether that is holding hands with a partner, there are so many activities that help us to cultivate gratitude. And that consistent gratitude practices can make all of the difference in terms of our happiness and peace in life. And I love I love this idea around letting go of scarcity. So thinking about how we approach life, do we approach life from a scarcity mindset, with this underlying belief of never enough? There’s never enough money, never enough time, never enough energy, never enough sleep? I mean, if I’m honest with myself, I often approach my life that way, and I hate that I do that, like, does not sit well with me. And and, you know, a shift in perspective might be an abundance perspective. You know, I sometimes talk about that other people talk about that. Brené Brown talks about enoughness. So she doesn’t talk necessarily about abundance. But she talks about a perspective of being enough that you have enough of what you need, right? And that at the end of the day, you have this trust and this security within yourself, that you have what you need to do well and to take on life’s challenges.
Dr. Melissa Smith 17:32
Guidepost number five is cultivating intuition and trusting faith, and letting go of the need for certainty. So one of the findings that she found in her research is that those individuals who live wholehearted lives have faith, right. So this might not necessarily be religion. And it’s really important to distinguish between spirituality, and religion, but they all have faith. So a belief in a power greater than themselves. It’s around interconnectedness. And that the foundation of that interconnectedness is around compassion and love. And that was a very clear finding, in her research. And an important part of this finding is tied to resilience. That one of the core features of resilience is faith, and spirituality. And so being able to believe in a power greater than yourself, brings hope and resilience in the face of life’s challenges.
Dr. Melissa Smith 18:40
So the sixth guidepost is cultivating creativity, and letting go of comparison. So let me tell you, this historically has been a really hard one. For me, I would say, there are ways that it is still challenging for me, but you know, growing up, so I was always super perfectionistic. And, you know, very self conscious. And so, I very early in life, I threw the label on myself that I wasn’t creative, and that I wasn’t artistic, you know, and I had a very narrow conception of what it meant to be creative. So basically, my belief was, if I’m not good at art, then I must not be creative. And I was, I was a little left handed girl in a right handed world. And so my first problem was that I could not cut out things well with scissors. And I think mostly it’s because I was trying to cut out things with right handed scissors and so I could never get the line straight. And so I was always feeling frustrated, and self conscious. And so like, in my mind, I really came to believe like, okay, like, I can’t get any of the lines straight. I’m not really good at art. I can’t do anything. More than a stick figure, therefore, I’m not creative. And I really carried that belief, and that stigma around with me Well, well into adulthood. And anytime there was any sort of activity that even broached what I thought, bordered on creativity, I became really self conscious. And I would absolutely compare myself except that there, I didn’t even feel like there was anything to compare, because I was just like, I have absolutely zero skills in this department. And so, you know, as a result, like I never, ever would try to develop any of those skills, because I just felt like, I’m kind of missing that gene, like, I just, it’s, it’s not there. And so I wouldn’t ever try or make any effort. But you know, then as I was, you know, growing and evolving, and started to broaden my conception of creativity, and recognizing that creativity can can show up in lots of domains. And it’s not just about doing an art project in your fourth grade language arts class that, you know, creativity can be in writing, creativity can be in, in pattern development, it can be in all sorts of areas, I started kind of loosening some of my definitions, but still felt pretty self conscious about that.
Dr. Melissa Smith 21:40
I remember in graduate school, so this was when I was on an internship at University of Michigan, and it was towards the end of that academic year. And as a counseling center, we were going to have, you know, basically just a retreat day where we were going to go to lunch, and we were going to go to one of the local art studios and do some ceramics for fun. Except this was not fun. For me, I was like, dreading I was like, Oh my gosh, this is torture. Like I like these people, I respect them, I think they respect me. And now I have to go do art with them. And it like kicked up all of my all of my art fears, and perfectionism and comparison and all that garbage from when I was young. And I remember sitting there, and we were just doing these little square tiles. So it wasn’t like anything super fancy or anything like that. But really, to that point in my life, I had actively kept myself from any of those sorts of activities, because I was like, I am just not even gonna go there. Because I don’t have that I don’t have that gene, I don’t have that skill. I’m not willing, I’m not even open to developing anything. And I felt like any time I tried to do anything like that, it just brought me face to face with my shame, and my sense of failure in that area, which is like so ridiculous now when I think about it, but that is absolutely how I felt about it, because I was totally comparing myself to other people and was absolutely my harshest critic. And so I never really opened myself up to these sorts of opportunities. But here I was in this art studio, and I could not get out of it. Because we were here for the whole afternoon. And so I remember sitting there, everyone was there. Everyone was like getting their colors. And I just remember sitting there staring at this tile, thinking, What on earth am I going to do and people had like, all of these awesome designs that they were talking about doing? Like someone was going to do a Sun Stone and someone was gonna do a mountain and, and like it was, you know, the pressure was mounting. I was like, how on earth am I gonna compare with this? Which of course, like, I wasn’t, there was no way I was going to. And I remember having a little talk with myself and just saying, first of all, this is ridiculous. You know, like, you are here with friends and colleagues that you really, really like and this is supposed to be about fun. This is supposed to be about connection. This is supposed to be about celebrating the academic year, that you’re just finishing this should not be about perfection. This should not be about comparison. This should not be about shame. This should not be about not being good enough. And so you know what I did in that moment was I just said, You know what, I’m, I’m just gonna do whatever I want with this style, I’m not like, I’m not even gonna try and do a design, I’m just gonna, I’m just gonna paint, I’m just gonna choose like one color. And I’m just gonna paint one color. And then maybe if I feel like it, I’m going to add a couple other colors. But I’m just a, basically, I used it as a coping strategy of like, I’m just going to do brush strokes in one direction. And that’s how I’m going to get through this afternoon, because I had a lot of anxiety. And it was going to be a challenging experience for me. But I just kind of took the pressure off of myself. And so I, so I got my paint, and I got my paint brushes, and I sat down, and I started working on it. And it was really interesting, because what I found is once I gave myself permission, to not try and compete with everyone else with all of their, you know, beautiful designs, is that I actually relaxed and was able to engage in conversation and just have a good time. And what I also found was that these brush strokes, just back and forth in one direction with a couple of different colors, was actually quite soothing. And so at the end of the afternoon, I have this nice little tile. And, you know, I thought it was kind of pretty. And for me that represented a little bit of a victory, or maybe even kind of a big victory for me, because I really was able to let go of some of that need to compare and perfectionism. And also just the harsh criticism. And this belief that I didn’t have any creativity, because at that point, like, I actually knew that I did have some creativity, and maybe I didn’t have the creativity in some of the traditional forms that we think about that, like visual arts, like that will never be my thing. But I am very creative in other respects. And so that became that did become a victory for me. And then what I found is that after that, you know, I was more open to those sorts of activities. So, you know, as my family, as my kiddos got a little bit older, they would, you know, they would want to go to those sorts of places. And you know, where before, I would be like, no, we’re not going there, there’s no way we’re going there, I was open to it. And I did the same thing, every time I went, I venture out from the tile, but I’m like, no pressure, I’m just gonna do like one color. So, you know, at home, I have a bowl, and it’s just this one color. And then I have like, a nice candy dish. And it’s just this one color. And I have these dishes and these bowls and this tile around, you know, my home and my office and they are very vivid reminders to me of first of all, not taking myself too seriously. And really letting go of this need to be perfect. And this need to compare, and really learning to embrace creativity, and letting go of that harsh critic. And so you know, as I sit here recording this podcast, I have this tile, which I use to hold my I use it as a rest for my drinks at my side table. And so it is a daily constant reminder to me to let go of comparison and criticism. So there you go. There is an example of guideposts number six.
Dr. Melissa Smith 29:16
So let’s talk about guidepost number seven, which is cultivating play and rest and letting go of exhaustion as a status symbol, and productivity as self worth. Oh my goodness, I’m guilty of this one too. But you know, this is actually a really common one. How many of us talk about how hard we’re working or how exhausted we are or how late we went to bed or how early we got up? I’m guilty of that because I’m an early bird and like I take too much pride in like yeah, I got up really early this morning. Like what is that about? And so, really learning to let go of exhaustion as a status symbol and I love that.
Dr. Melissa Smith 30:00
Post number eight cultivating calm and stillness and letting go of anxiety as a lifestyle. So a few weeks ago, I talked about presence and the role of meditation practice, and mindfulness practice. And I have a feeling that we might be talking about mindfulness before too long. And this is exactly what Brené Brown is talking about with cultivating calm and stillness. So letting there be some stillness and some quietness in our lives.
Dr. Melissa Smith 30:35
Guidepost number nine is cultivating meaningful work, and letting go of self doubt, and supposed to, this is a big one, for those of us who struggle with perfectionism. Right? Like, we have this trajectory of like, this is what my life is supposed to look like, I had this conversation with someone the other day, we were talking about kind of career plans. And this individual was talking about a loved one and saying, like, yeah, this, this pressure of what is, you know, what is expected in terms of career if you graduate from a specific school, right. And so we think about the kinds of pressure that, you know, we impose on ourselves, but also the others impose on us, and how that really can get in the way of connecting with purpose, and connecting with meaningful work that you feel called to do. And, you know, the courage that it really takes to let go of what you’re supposed to do. And also letting go of self doubt. And that’s a big one. I mean, that’s something that I continue to struggle with in terms of like, Is this right? Is it going to be okay? And it’s like, gosh, like, who knows, who really knows. But you’ve got to, you’ve got to connect with purpose. And that’s really got to be your North Star as you move forward.
Dr. Melissa Smith 32:08
So, guidepost number 10. This is the last one. It’s a great one though, cultivating laughter, song and dance, and letting go of being cool and always in control. I love this one. I talked about this a little while ago with vulnerability and this idea that we cannot in vulnerability and we connect around our quirks. And I talked to you a little bit about one of my great friends, Lisa, and that, like when I think about her, and all of the, all of the things that I love about her, what comes to mind are like not all the ways that like she’s so high achieving, and so incredibly competent, which she is like she’s all of those things, and those are lovely things about her. But when I really I’m gonna get a little teary eyed because I just love her so much. But when I think about Lisa, the things that are most endearing to me are her quirks. Like the fact that she loves fish tacos from Del Taco. I mean, that is so, so quirky, like, there’s nothing cool about that. Per middle aged woman. I love fish tacos from from Del Taco. But I love that about her. And so recognizing that we connect with laughter with song and with dance and it really is, you know, do you think about those activities, they’re authentic, they’re vulnerable. And so making sure that you have those things in your life.
Dr. Melissa Smith 33:52
So Brené brown talks about when they are with her family, one of the things that they instituted is after dinner, I think it’s after dinner, when they’re cleaning up, they turn on the iPod, so they turn on like a playlist, and they dance while they’re cleaning up dinner. And I thought that was like such a lovely thing. It’s like a simple thing. But it’s like a fun, daily way that they’re cultivating laughter, song, and dance in their life. And you know, one of the things that my family does, like we, we love to listen to comedians, like if we’re in the car together, or, you know, like on YouTube, that sort of thing. And so, thinking about the ways that you have laughter and song and dance in your life, and are challenging this need to always be in control.
Dr. Melissa Smith 34:47
Okay, see, I told you this is a book everyone needs to read at least once in their lifetime. But honestly, like you should read this every year. I tend to read it every year. Brown really touches on so many important pieces of connection. And it really has helped me in so many ways in my life. It’s very practical. I also use this just about every day in my clinical practice. It’s just so helpful. So thank you for tuning in today. And I hope you enjoyed this little book review. I’m really excited to do the book review every month and I really hope you will consider making some recommendations for books you’d like to hear about. I think that would be really fun and I’d love to hear what you’re reading as well. Make sure you head to our website, check out the show notes with all the great resources I mentioned in this episode, especially since Brené Brown has so much good stuff at www.drmelissasmith.com/episode-4 one more time, that’s www.drmelissasmith.com/episode-4 as in the number four. And as always, please head on over to iTunes and give us a review if you enjoyed today’s show. I’m Dr. Melissa Smith. Remember love and work, work and love. That’s all there is. Until next time, take good care.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai