Book Review: The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown

The-Gifts-of-ImperfectionIf you’ve been following me on Goodreads this year (or stalking; don’t think I can’t see you hiding behind that squirrel), you have probably noticed that I’ve been reading a lot of self-help and life-improvement books this year. Part of that is due to a renewed effort to help myself (see what I did there?) improve my life (I did it again! +25 XP), break out of a decades-long depression, and just in general makes things better for myself and the people who put up with love me.

To some extent, despite a constant string of disasters and setbacks, I have done that. The latest book from which I sought to extract knowledge by means of dental pliers learn is The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown. The idea is to learn to accept yourself for who you are, faults and all, and show that same compassion to those around you. So, did it work, or did these Gifts of Imperfection turn out to be full of so much coal with much nicer, more personable hair than I’ll ever have?

Here we go.

There Is Still Hope

Why do you linger here here when there is no hope?
There is still hope.

When you struggle with the constant threat of self-shame and the depression that follows it around like an evil little puppy, it can be hard to remember that things can, and probably will, get better. One of the points made over and over is that perfectionism, along with much of the negativity we direct at ourselves and others, is the result of shame, and that shame’s kyptonite is compassion.

This gives you a weapon that you can deploy (or have Green Arrow shoot, if you have Justice League connections) when the shame kraken rises up out of the sea and tries to eat the Andromeda of your happiness.

No, that didn’t make any sense to me, either, although Andromeda of Happiness would be a great name for a Jefferson Starship cover band.

Basically, the idea is that you’re going to screw up, I’m going to screw up, and that’s okay. Forgiveness all around, and then we get on with our day. Things can’t suck forever. Just learn from your mistakes and try to not be a jerk.

A Roadmap to Compassion

The Gifts of Imperfection is divided up into what Brown refers to as guideposts. Each one is focused on a particular aspect of perfectionism. Think of them as minions of the shame kraken. Each one attacks you from a different angle in order to break down your self-esteem and make you put up all sorts of barriers that prevent you from seeing things objectively.

I thought that breaking things down this way made it easier to isolate and identify each of those little minions and attack them one at a time, rather than going after the shame kraken and its army all at once. Everyone stacks up differently when faced with those aspects of imperfection (which totally sounds like an Enigma album name). One person may be particularly weak against the fear of scarcity, while another might have a problem where they constantly compare themselves to others.

And if you have to face a Charmander, I recommend using Squirtle. Water Gun is super effective!

A Little to the Left

While I did learn a few things from this book and feel that, overall, I am better off for having read it, I couldn’t help shaking the feeling that I am not the target demographic. Most of the stories, anecdotes, and advice cover people and situations more in line with mothers, many of them single, and almost all of them of a strong financial background. As I have not (to my knowledge, at least) given birth to a baby human or become financially independent from my workplace, I felt a little left out.

This is not a mark against the book or anyone more suited to its material. It just would have been nice for it to be more inclusive for people in differing situations or less affluent monetary conditions.

I still want a Scrooge McDuck money bin. Ah well; maybe next year.

I’ll Have One With Everyone

As someone who has flirted with Buddhism (but never closed the deal; I’m not easy, you know), I couldn’t help but notice quite a few similarities between Buddhist teachings and many of the recommendations on the book. The central theme revolves around letting go of the fixations and obsessions that make you unhappy and color your perspective with excrement-colored glasses.

That’s some old-school sutra right there.

Spirituality is a fairly constant theme throughout the book, but it doesn’t seem to point the reader toward any particular faith. Maybe the idea is that happiness depends on having some sort of connection with something larger and more powerful than yourself, whether it’s God, Jesus, the universe, or Andre the Giant.

Have fun storming the castle.

So, the book. Definitely some good lessons, though many people may find themselves on the other side of the shop window, looking in and trying to gleam whatever knowledge they can from how the other half lives. The focus on spirituality may come across as new-age-ey, but I can understand why it was included. Like any self-help book, you’re free to take what you find helpful and ignore the rest.

Overall, I would have to say that while there are some good lessons to be had, the book isn’t perfect, and that’s okay. I forgive.

Flash Fiction Fridays: One Star's Honor

Flash Fiction Friday: One Star’s Honor

So, here we are, about to set out on another excursion into the delightful, terrifying, and occasionally frustrating world of Flash Fiction Friday. After a few weeks of downtime brought on by famine, disease, and a powerful bout of laziness, I’m back with a new story inspired by a roll of the Story Dice and fueled by coffee.

<Announcer>Coffee: Because drinking creamer and sugar alone would just be silly.</Announcer>

Actually, I’m doing something a bit different this week. I’ve been on something of a self-improvement kick the last few weeks, reading The Nerdist Way and Your Money Or Your Life, both of which I intend to review in the future, and getting back into exercise.

I decided that I didn’t want to write just another steampunk flash fiction with a few cool concepts but not a lot of depth, but instead something more challenging, something with subtext and romance and other cool stuff that’s hard to do well.

While there is always room for improvement, I’m pleased with the results and hope you enjoy this week’s story.

One Star’s Honor

Dania tipped the silvery visor down the tip of her nose and peered with an arched eyebrow across the café table at her companion. The iridescent reflection of the midday glare off her eyewear danced across his face, and he bent forward to dodge the light. From where Dania sat, it looked almost as if Wuln were trying to squirm his way down into the book just to avoid talking to her. Really, who still read paper books nowadays?

“I know what you’re doing, Dani, and I don’t appreciate it,” Wuln muttered with a bare glance in her direction over the top of the book.

Typical. Leave it to Wuln to sulk when any sane human would be bouncing with glee. “Sweets,” she rumbled as she pushed down the book so she could see his face. “It’s an honor. Why can’t you see that?”

His gaze met hers, and he gave her the look he reserved for battles he knew couldn’t win, but was determined to fight anyway. “I don’t care if they’re going to make the whole empire stop what they’re doing and spend an hour chanting about what I did and how handsome I am. I’m not going.”

A smile flashed Dania’s lips as she trailed the back of a claw along one of his fingers. “They don’t give out medals for being handsome.”

Though he was, and if the company ever started giving out medals for the most human sentients, Dania felt certain that Wuln would be the first recipient. Of course, she was a bit biased, but a wife deserved a few pardons when it came to such things.

Wuln scrunched up his nose at her, but did not pull his hand away. In fact, his cheeks pinkened a touch and his scent grew more acute, causing her to shiver. “No, but you know what I mean. It’s not a big deal. Really.”

That claw trailed up his palm, and she savored the warmth of his bare skin against the short hairs on the back of her hand. “I could make it an order.”

“You wouldn’t.”

By Sage, he could be stubborn. Dania laid her palm against his and caressed one of his fingertips with the edge of a claw as she rested a foot against his beneath the table. “No. I suppose I wouldn’t, but there’s no reason to be so swine-headed about this. Two hours. That’s all. Just be embarrassed for two hours, and then you’ll come home and we can pretend it never happened.”

Fingertips slid back against her claws as Wuln sighed. “They’re going to make me wear the whites. I hate wearing the whites.”

A soft chuckle bubbled up from deep in her belly. “I know you do, but you look so good in them. And it’s just for one night.”

“If I spill something, it’s going to stain.”

“When have you ever spilled anything?”

A temporary reprieve arrived in the form of lunch, delivered by a stick-thin human waitress with an altogether too-long mane for her tiny frame. Dania beamed inwardly that the excessive amount of bare skin displayed by the server did nothing to draw Wuln’s attention, though it grated that he took the opportunity to shield himself once more with that book.

She would need to take another approach. The near-intoxicating aroma of her mate’s desire indicated that her physical teasing had certainly had an effect, if not the intended result. Still, Wuln had given so much to the company in his years of service, and if they finally saw fit to show him even a fraction of the respect he deserved, she would not let that opportunity pass. Loving her had already cost him too much.

Neither spoke until their platters were nearly empty. Then he murmured, almost too softly to hear, “It’s not right. If I can’t take you with me, I don’t want to go. You’re not just my chef, you’re my wife. If anyone deserves to be there with me, it’s you.”

Dania whispered a soft sigh and stretched across the table to caress his cheek. “You sweet, stubborn, stupid man. Right now, it doesn’t matter what’s right or wrong. We’re together, and nothing they do or say can change that. Times will change, and things will get better, but for now, we take whatever victories we can, and it that means I have to stay home and make dinner while you listen to a dozen boring speeches about how good your béarnaise is while they give you your first Michelin, I’ll take it.”

Wuln kissed and nuzzled her palm before taking her hand in his and sliding it down to cover his heart. “What did I ever do to deserve you?”

She could almost feel his heart chanting her name as she fell into his gaze. Slowly, she smiled. “Well, I have to admit that your béarnaise is pretty good.”

He snorted, but the tiny smile curling at the edges of his lips signaled her victory. “Fine. You win. I’ll go, but I’m not going to enjoy a moment of it.”

Dania felt her whole face brighten, and saw it reflected in Wuln’s own smile. “Just don’t eat too much of the slop they serve at the head table. I’ll have a feast waiting when you get home.”

“Yes, Chef.”

So, how do you think it turned out? Admittedly, I don’t have a lot of experience writing romance, but it was an interesting challenge and I plan to do more of it in the future.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments below, and make sure to share this story though your favorite flavor of social media (I like strawberry cheesecake Twitter; it’s a lot of calories, but it’s full of Gundams and Sailor Scouts).