A Book I’ve Been Reading: The Gifts of Imperfection, by Brenè Brown

I’ve become a bit addicted to using the Overdrive app on my new smartphone to check out eBooks from my local public library.  This book was one of my recent downloads which I devoured in short order.

I was introduced to Brown’s work through the Sunshine State Library Leadership Institute (SSLLI) which I participated in back in 2014-15. Her books had been on my to-read list for an embarrassing amount of time, but, like many bibliophiles, my book bag is bigger than my time to read.

Earlier this summer, I bought Daring Greatly by Brown while waiting for the next session to start at ALA Orlando.  I loved it so much that I immediately placed holds on The Gifts of Imperfection, which I finally got to read.

The book focuses on the ways that perfectionism hinders us from actual joy and connection, and further develops the concept of “wholehearted people” that have been her research focus for years. It is designed as an interactive book challenging you to examine the foundational concepts Brown talks about in the context of her own life.

One of the greatest strengths of the book is the conversational style and honest perspective that Brown offers on her own attempts, failures, and successes to integrate what her research has uncovered into her own life. Brown’s voice is like a wonderful friend sharing her own struggles while inviting you to be vulnerable as well.

One of the principles that I’ve been struggling with in the past few weeks since I finished the book is being intentional with one’s time. This is not exactly new advice, but Brown grounds it thoroughly in the mental trap of perfectionism, and points out how  this can manifest not only as a urge to never say “no”, but also how overcommitting leads to one approaching even the work one is passionate about with less attention and presence.

To say that I have been struggling with this recently would be an understatement. I, in a moment of weakness and a desire to be helpful, agreed to teach not one but TWO classes on top of my usual work as a college librarian.  As the first week of classes hit, I realized just how over committed I was. As I wrote to one of my dear friends, “August hit like a sack of concrete: the first powdery impact solidifying in a rush of obligations, deadlines, and tasks that had to be done.”

I’m slowly finding my balance as the rush of library instruction dies down to something a bit more sustainable, but I did decline to teach two classes next semester. I will admit that this required some moral support from my partner with a solid dose of “You said that you were never going to teach a Flex A class again!” I’m still counting turning down the one class as an overall win.

As I start to look at next semester, I’m avoiding volunteering for new committees or initiatives for a while. My goal is to see how the lighter schedule plays out, and to see if it gives me more time for the other things I love doing.  I finally have a working sewing machine and a project, but my current schedule does not allow much time to work on it.  I’m also working on finding more time for downtime: one of the things I enjoy about my summer break is that I will often have days when nothing has to be accomplished. This is an amazing and slightly scary feeling for the borderline workaholic part of me; I’m attempting to increase my comfort with NOT getting things done by main force.

I’m not sure if Brown’s book is changing my life, or if I’m finding it a helpful framework for making changes that I need and want to make, but in either case, I can recommend The Gifts of Imperfection as both a tool for change, and a great read.

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