A (delightfully) lazy Sunday so far, I spent this morning finally finishing a book I started earlier this year:

The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by BrenĂ© Brown, Ph.D., L.M.S.W.

They say don’t judge a book by its cover, but I loved it before I cracked it because the title alone points to a reality that so pervades our culture but is, in my opinion, so largely ignored: we work hard to assure that the people we encounter will perceive us a certain way, and in the process, we forfeit authenticity. And we do it so hard, with such passion, that over time, the line between “who I think I’m supposed to be” and “who I am” gets blurry. We learn to believe “I only can be comfortable if I achieve a certain image.” and we live in denial of the truth: I can never be comfortable when I don’t accept who I am.

Brown’s book is based on a study she conducted in which she came to the following conclusion: One trait marks the difference between adults who feel like they’re loved and belong and adults who struggle to feel like they’re loved and belong: “the belief in their worthiness.” Throughout the book, she makes great points. See below for some of my favorites.

From page 25: “One of the biggest surprises in this research was learning that fitting in and belonging are not the same thing, and, in fact, fitting in gets in the way of belonging. Fitting in is about assessing a situation and becoming who you need to be to be accepted. Belonging, on the other hand, doesn’t require us to change who we are; it requires us to be who we are.”

From page 106: “I used my research to formulate a plan to lessen my anxiety. The men and women I interviewed weren’t anxiety-free or even anxiety-averse; they were anxiety-aware. They were committed to a way of living where anxiety was a reality but not a lifestyle … (in normally anxiety-inducing situations,) I try to be slow to respond and quick to think Do we even have all the information we need to make a decision or form a response?

From page 121: “There are many ways in which men and women hustle for worthiness … the two that keep us the most quiet and still are hustling to be perceived as ‘cool’ and ‘in control.’ … Being ‘in control’ isn’t always about the desire to manipulate situations, but often it’s about the need to manage perception. We want to be able to control what other people think about us …”

And what Brown points out in the book, overall, is that life is far more whole when we drop our efforts to control what other people think — which, as my all my therapist and psychologist professors would tell you, is both fruitless and impossible. 

For more about Brown’s book, click here. And for a great video of a short talk Brown gave based on the book, click here.