Sunday, March 13, 2011

More reading: The Gifts of Imperfection

 I am "reading" Brené Brown's book, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are using's iPhone app. I was really struck by her definition of perfectionism.  I found it on her blog: 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 that simple. Perfection is not about healthy striving or being our best, it's how we protect ourselves. 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.
My first experience with rejecting perfectionism was when I was in my doctoral program. I was working full-time and going to school, so I adopted the motto, "Sometimes done is good enough." At the time it all felt a little like cheating. Aren't we supposed to always do our best? But I knew that if I tried to do everything perfect, I'd never finish. I credit my ability to put aside perfectionism with my successful completion of my degree. We always are told to do our best, but sometimes doing our overall best means setting priorities and giving each thing only the time and energy it really deserves.

I find myself struggling with perfectionism most when I'm feeling unsure of myself. If I have a big event one day, I will find myself trying on and rejecting half a dozen outfits, making a complete mess of my room and a bigger mess of my head.  Logically, I know that my choice of shoes is not going to have much of an effect of how the department meeting goes.  Perfectionism is pretty illogical, though, if you think about it.

I think the flip side of this might also be a problem. Maybe the book gets to this later, I'm only about halfway through. But I wondered if some of us might have a literal "twenty-pound shield" instead of a figurative one. Those pesky extra pounds can be such a convenient protection from the "Who Do You Think You Are" Police.   Except that they're not, really.

Perfectionism is just one of the topics in this very enlightening book.  I like it even better than I Thought it Was Just Me (But it Isn't).  The new book focuses more on the art of living a "wholehearted" life, one that is authentic and imperfect and happy. It's really a very practical look at the things that stand in the way of living a happier, more authentic life. I wholeheartedly recommend it (pun intended).


  1. Hmmmm very interesting thoughts re the literal 20 pound shield, I definitely argee with you there. I will have to check out this book! I didn't realise Audible had an iPhone app, that sounds dangerous :)

  2. "twenty-pound shield"

    Interesting it is 20lbs exactly. Because that was my last layer. And when I shed it, there was a big emotional adjustment. Went back to my therapist and had to work hard. I did not go back and look, but my writing probably changed dramatically. There was a lot of 'stuff' buried under those last pounds.


"Count your calories, work out when you can, and try to be good to yourself. All the rest is bulls**t." -- Jillian Michaels at BlogHer '07