The Road to Worthiness is Paved With Imperfection

“Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we will ever do.” – Brené Brown

Have you ever met someone who exudes confidence, someone who’s so comfortable in their own skin that you can’t help but feel empowered when you’re around them? They don’t always know the right thing to say and you can bet they’ve made errors in judgment before. But their perceived self-worth isn’t diminished by evidence of their imperfections.

Close your eyes and think about what you might say to yourself when you make a mistake. Perhaps you’d degrade yourself for falling short or ruminate on all the things you could have done differently. Maybe you’d convince yourself that you’re worthless, incompetent, or weak. You might even go as far as to say that you don’t deserve love and compassion, at least not from yourself.

In the moments when we most need a little tenderness we quickly become our own worst enemies. Instead of recognizing and acknowledging our inherent goodness, we turn our words into weapons with messages of failure and defeat.

Wouldn’t it be incredible if we could instead treat ourselves with the same kindness and understanding we so readily show others? In her book, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, leading researcher and storyteller Brené Brown examines what gets in the way of accepting ourselves as we are and living from a place of authenticity, gratitude, and whole-heartedness.

After years of studying our struggles with shame, the fear of being seen, and the desire to fit in, Brown discovered that among the trove of data there were men and women who had learned to embrace their imperfections and vulnerability. “These research participants trusted themselves,” she writes. “And they talked about authenticity and love and belonging in a way that was completely new to me.”

So what set these Wholehearted individuals apart from the rest? Their capacity to love themselves: not simply when they were having a good hair day or had just landed a promotion, but every day, including the bad and the ugly. “How much we know and understand ourselves is critically important, but there is something that is even more essential to living a Wholehearted life: loving ourselves,” Brown writes.

With her characteristic wit and wisdom, Brown candidly relays her own struggle to live authentically while harnessing the willingness and determination to see beyond the tales of unworthiness we so often tell ourselves. Setting forth ten guideposts illustrated with anecdotes, definitions, quotes, and daily practices, she captures what we must let go of in order to experience the courage, compassion, and connection of which we are all worthy.

Let’s take a look at some:

1. Cultivating Self-Compassion: Letting Go of Perfectionism

To overcome perfectionism, Brown argues, we need to practice self-compassion. She distinguishes perfectionism – a preoccupation with what others think rooted in a desire for approval and acceptance – from healthy striving – a desire for self-improvement. She further asserts, “Perfectionism is self-destructive simply because there is no such thing as perfect. Perfection is an unattainable goal.” By practicing self-compassion, we can begin to loosen our grip on our need for our lives to be free of blemishes. Instead, we can look upon our imperfections with a sense of openness and allowance rather than shame and judgement.

2. Cultivating a Resilient Spirit: Letting Go of Numbing and Powerlessness

Resilient individuals have several things in common: they’re resourceful and good problem-solvers; they’re more likely to seek help; they believe in their ability to do something to help manage their feelings and to cope; and they have available social support upon which they rely. In her research, Brown found that spirituality was a driving force behind the resilience of the Wholehearted individuals whom she interviewed. Here’s how she defines it: “Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion. Practicing spirituality brings a sense of perspective, meaning, and purpose to our lives.” She identifies three additional patterns as being critical to resilience including, cultivating hope; practicing critical awareness; and letting go of numbing vulnerability, discomfort, and pain.

3. Cultivating Gratitude and Joy: Letting Go of Scarcity and Fear of the Dark

You might be surprised to learn that gratitude is more than an attitude: it’s a practice. It might entail keeping a gratitude journal, doing a daily gratitude meditation, or giving back to your community. Regularly exercising your gratitude muscle is strongly linked to joy, Brown notes: “Without exception, every person I interviewed who described living a joyful life or who described themselves as joyful, actively practiced gratitude and attributed their joyfulness to their gratitude practice.” She also notes that happiness is linked to external circumstances while joyfulness is associated with spirit and gratitude, and neither is constant. We need both, Brown says.

4. Cultivating Calm and Stillness: Letting Go of Anxiety as a Lifestyle

Entering into calm and stillness in the midst of anxiety is not easy, but in so doing, we can learn to better navigate the stresses that arise in each of our lives. Rather than letting such events define our days, we can derive meaning from how we respond to them. Brown defines calm as, “creating perspective and mindfulness while managing emotional reactivity.” We have to commit to practicing it, in big and small matters she argues. Stillness she describes as “an emotionally clutter-free space” where we can “feel and think and dream and question.” Rather than giving into the busy nature of our existence, we can grow comfortable with creating more pockets of peacefulness and use them as an opportunity to get to know ourselves in deeper ways.

5. Cultivating Laughter, Song, and Dance: Letting Go of Being Cool and “Always in Control”

Laughter, song, and dance are irreplaceable outlets for self-expression, communication, celebration, and community. They also serve another purpose: they remind us that we’re not alone. When we laugh until tears are streaming down our cheeks or belt out our favorite song at the top of our lungs, we confront our fear of vulnerability in a direct way. “The gremlins are constantly there to make sure that self-expression takes a backseat to self-protection and self-consciousness,” Brown writes. When we become laser-focused on being perceived as hip or cool, we deprive ourselves of the opportunity to honor the unique facets of ourselves that unite us with those around us.

While it can be difficult to release the shame and fear that characterize so many of our exchanges, it’s also intrinsically rewarding. It is only through acknowledging and accepting our life’s imperfections that we can encounter the gifts they yield along the way.

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An Ode to Nature

This article originally appeared on Baltimore STYLE.

As a child, shoes were always optional. I wandered barefoot as often as I could get away with, splashing through welcoming post-rainfall puddles in the driveway and feeling the crisp grass between my toes in the front yard. Covering my feet felt unnaturally restrictive. They longed to be free, exploring the earth beneath them in all its temperatures and textures: cool pavement, warm sand, rough bark, lush moss.

I developed an intimate connection with nature early on, marveling at its tiniest insects and tallest tress. I took comfort in spotting the moon each night and befriended caterpillars each summer as they morphed into butterflies. I was nearly inconsolable when the ant in “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” died.

There was no distinction in my mind between play clothes and dress clothes. Whatever I was wearing risked weathering the impact of grass, dirt, wind and rain, sometimes all at once. Nature and I were constant allies, I admiring her handiwork, she replenishing my curiosity.

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Redefining Our Relationship with Technology

The Cost of Convenience

Our relationship with technology is continuously evolving. How we engage with our smart speakers and our smartphones, our fitness trackers and our thermostats looks different now than it did 10 years ago, and different still from how it will look 10 years from now. An increasing number of Americans own mobile phones and a quarter of adults report they go online “almost constantly.” You don’t have to look hard to find studies on how smartphone use impacts our mental health and well-being, particularly among younger demographics.

With newly advanced capabilities, smartphones bring ease and convenience to our lives. There’s little that can’t be done with a swipe, tap, or click. From navigation and weather reports to camera filters and endless emojis, it can feel as though we’re growing ever more captive to our pocket devices.

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Calling All Bookworms: Summer Edition

Ive always been a voracious reader. From the time I was young, books have been among my steadiest comrades accompanying me through all seasons of life. Nowadays you’ll find my nose buried in a page-turner in checkout lines, waiting rooms, park benches, and comfortable couches. As a writer, I get a rush from finding the perfect word to describe the day’s unfoldings and swoon over syntax. In short, I’m what you might call a word nerd. It should come as no surprise that I start every day with a crossword and have fallen prey to biting off more books than I can chew too many times to count. This summer I’ll be sharing what’s on my reading list, so find a cozy corner, settle in, and stay tuned!

“Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.” — Groucho Marx

The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are — Brené Brown

If you haven’t heard of Brené Brown, it’s time you were acquainted. A self-described “storyteller”, Brown lives up to the name. She’s a leading researcher on shame, authenticity, and belonging, and recently landed her own Netflix special. This is my second time reading this gem and I’m so glad I picked it up again. For the perfectionists and people-pleasers among us, you’ll find yourself relating to Brown’s candid portrayal of her struggle to live authentically while harnessing the courage to see beyond the tales of unworthiness we so often tell ourselves. Drawing on years of research around our desire to fit in, Brown reminds us with her characteristic wit and wisdom what it means to live wholeheartedly and how we can come to better embrace our messy, imperfect selves.

A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table — Molly Wizenberg

Meet Molly: food blogger, podcast producer, New York Times bestselling author, and all-around inspiring human. In her first book, Molly seamlessly weaves together memories of her family (her father, affectionately known as “Burg”, and her mother, “Like those impossibly tiny lamps and teacups you find in dollhouses, she inspires a lot of cooing, and though she’s very assertive, people often want to pat her on the head.”) and her journey into adulthood with the recipes that complement each person, period, and place she’s encountered. Another repeat read, this book will leave you simultaneously salivating and wishing the author would invite you to dinner (as much for the delightful conversation as for the famously good food.) At once lyrical and relatable, this is an ideal book to carry along on your commute or curl up with under the shade of a tall tree.

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