Dumping Perfectionism for Wholehearted Living

Gifts of Imperfection and notebook

This article originally appeared in the Association for Talent Development (ATD) "Links" member newsletter. It is reposted with permission.

You’ve probably heard of Brené Brown. She’s a prolific author, popular keynote speaker, and TED Talk presenter. Feeling behind the ball, I purchased and set out to read her two most popular books, The Gifts of Imperfection and Daring Greatly. I’ve finished the former and am moving on to the latter, but thought I’d give you a synopsis of some of my key takeaways thus far. If you’ve read either book, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

What is wholehearted living?

In The Gifts of Imperfection, Brown introduces her concept of wholehearted living, which she says is “about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It means cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough. It’s going to bed at night thinking, Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn't change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging.”

She calls it a journey, not a onetime choice. Brown suggests we “DIG deep” by taking three types of actions for each of 10 guideposts:

  • Be deliberate through prayer, meditation, or intention setting.
  • Become inspired to make new and different choices.
  • Get going by taking action.

Brown’s 10 guideposts are to cultivate:

  • authenticity: letting go of what people think
  • self-compassion: letting go of perfectionism
  • a resilient spirit: letting go of numbing and powerlessness
  • gratitude and joy: letting go of scarcity and fear of the dark
  • intuition and trusting faith: letting go of the need for certainty
  • creativity: letting go of comparison
  • play and rest: letting go of exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self-worth
  • calm and stillness: letting go of anxiety as a lifestyle
  • meaningful work: letting go or self-doubt and “supposed to”
  • laughter, song, and dance: letting go of being cool and always in control.

My favorite lessons

Some of the guideposts resonated more than others, and I found myself highlighting lines and writing in the margins. Here are some of my favorite points or lessons from those pages:

Authenticity takes courage. I agree with Brown that it takes audacity to be authentic and not care so much about what other people think. She included this great quote from e. e. cummings that speaks volumes: “To be nobody-but-yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody but yourself, means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight, and never stop fighting.” So to be real, you have to be courageous. And I think it’s so worth it. But there are definitely some costs associated with this audacity and transparency, as I discussed in this previous ATD Links article.

Compassion requires self-compassion. I am not a fan of preaching selflessness. I believe that to be good to others, you have to also be good to yourself. You can be both good to yourself and to others. Life is about maximizing the win-win propositions {TWEET IT!}. So this concept of self-compassion is a big one. Brown suggests that self-compassion is comprised of self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness. Self-kindness equals being “warm and understanding toward ourselves” when things go wrong or when we feel bad. Common humanity means remembering that we are not alone and that all humans also struggle and suffer and feel inadequate sometimes. And mindfulness is about balancing how we experience negative emotions—we should avoid suppressing them but also not allow them to be exaggerated. The bottom line, she says, is to be kind to yourself and not make a big deal of negative experiences, failures, or slip-ups.

Hope is the antidote to powerlessness. According to Brown, the hope equation goes like this: Hope = setting goals + (tenacity + perseverance) + believing in our abilities. I love that! Also, she suggests that “hopeful self-talk sounds more like, This is tough, but I can do it.”

We are “hungry for more joy because we’re starving from a lack of gratitude.” We need to learn enoughness, otherwise known as sufficiency: there is enough, and we are enough. And, we need to mindfully experience gratitude for all of it, as it is, and do it often. We have to choose to think this way consciously, intentionally, to be able to experience joy.

Comparison is the enemy of creativity. I really like this insight. If we spend so much of our time trying to fit in and measure up to others’ expectations of us, we have very little time left to be creative. She says, “If creativity is seen as a luxury or something we do when we have spare time, it will never be cultivated.” We must carve out time to be creative.

“Work does not work without play.” Play is not optional. “The opposite of play is not work […] it’s depression.” We are biologically programmed to need play as a mechanism to offset difficulties, get perspective, master our craft, and experience joy and satisfaction in our work and in our life. Play more!

So there you have it—a summary of the key points and some of my highlighted key takeaways. What do you think? Have you read the book? Agree or disagree? Have a related story to share? Please use the comments and let’s have a conversation about it!

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