I thought I did.  Apparently, not!

I’m currently half-way through an online course based on a book called “The Gifts of Imperfection” by Brené Brown.  Nowgifts of imperfection, as someone who prides herself on perfectionism, and, having had proof through profiling that it is my go-to mode when under stress and/or in conflict, the title of this book alone was enough to make me want to scamper off in the opposite direction.  So you can only imagine what thoughts and feelings started running through me when I read the subtitle on the front cover: “Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are”.  What?!  Two earth-shattering concepts that I needed to digest separately to have any hope in grasping their true value.

Let go of who I think I’m supposed to be?  You mean I don’t have to worry any more about how others perceive me?  How do I undo 30-plus years of defining myself through the eyes and opinions of others??  Embrace who I am?  Well, how do I know what that is?? I’ve been too busy being the person I think I should be to know who I am – so how in the world am I going to embrace her?

Wow!  One sentence had me simultaneously breathe the biggest sigh of relief that had ever passed through my body, and the biggest gasp of anticipation for what might appear as the “real” me.  This one subtitle, 15 words, had become THE most important sentence ever.  It gave me permission to let go and learn and understand who I am.

A New Vocabulary

A good place for me to start is to explain some of the terminology and concepts that Brené introduces in her book.  Why?  Because they are words we use every day, and she needs us to attach a specific meaning and context to them so we can fully follow and understand her work.  How often do we walk away from conversations, emails, text messages and voice mails only to learn that what we understood was not the message that was intended?  Telling the listener exactly what we mean when we say this word or that word lays the foundation for clear communication and true understanding.

And for this reason, there are four concepts to introduce you to in this post:  wholehearted living, courage, compassion, and connection.

Wholehearted Living

Wholehearted living is the term that Brené has given to a lifestyle that embraces imperfection and takes full advantage of the vulnerability we have as human beings that encourages us to use our gifts of courage, compassion, and connection to reach a feeling of worthiness in ourselves.  She defines wholehearted living as:

“Engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness.  It means cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, ‘No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough’.  It’s going to bed at night thinking, ‘Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging’.”

If I did nothing else but repeat that sentence every morning, and the other sentence every evening, my day, and my life, could take on a whole new meaning that fundamentally changes how I experience it.  I am enough.  I am worthy of love and belonging.  We say this to our children, but when do we stop believing it?  Why do we choose to let others tell us this but not value our own opinion of our worthiness?  Living our lives from this space is both powerful and vulnerable.


Easy to say, not so easy to truly practice.  There are times in my life when I’ve needed to practice courage and I’ve shied away for one reason or another.  Now I understand that the most likely reason was that I wasn’t ready to be quite so vulnerable in front of the person or people I was dealing with.  When Brené talks about courage, she shares that the original meaning of courage is “to speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart”.  It was a revelation to me – I guess I’ve come to equate courage with some form of bravery associated with heroism, or audacity.

In this world, at the pace we live, and with the kind of friendships and connections we build, we’ve lost touch with the idea of speaking honestly and openly about who we are, about what we’re feeling, and about our experiences, both good and bad.  Ever noticed a theme to status updates?  Happy?  Sarcastic?  Angry?  Evocative?  Do you share your true feelings, or just what you think others want to hear?  When we have the courage to speak from our hearts, it starts a ripple effect – “every time we choose courage, we make everyone around us a little better and the world a little braver”.


Brené’s definition of compassion came as a bit of a surprise for me.  Compassion equates to words and concepts such as empathy, understanding, sympathy, and kindness in my head.  Here, I was reading words like boundaries, accountability, acceptance and self.  Confused as I was, I read on to find out how I could be so wrong in my understanding of what true compassion is.  Here’s what I learned:

  • The greatest barrier to compassion is the fear of setting boundaries and holding people accountable.
  • Compassionate people are boundaried people.
  • The heart of compassion is really acceptance – the better we are at accepting ourselves and others, the more compassionate we become.

When we understand that there is a connection between boundaries, accountability, acceptance, and compassion, we become much kinder people.  When this happens, we automatically become less judgemental and resentful at the same time.  We stop judging others because we are more accepting of what is, and we become less resentful because we have put boundaries in place that set the expectations and consequences which hold people accountable for their own behaviour.

The tricky thing with compassion is that setting boundaries and holding people accountable is a lot more work than shaming and blaming, the symptoms of judgement and resentment.  Holding accountability is a much more effective and healthier place to live your life from.  When we choose to shame and blame over holding accountability, we quickly see the breakdown and break-up of couples, families, organisations and communities.  On a personal level, we hate shame and we loathe blame when it comes towards us, yet we can be quick to dish it out to others when we have not learned how to set boundaries and follow through with consequences.


“The energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgement; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”

This is what we long for, what every living species needs to be able to grow and thrive.  Connection fosters connection.  When we reach out, there has to be something to grasp.  As humans, we are wired for connection – it’s in our biology.  From the moment of conception, we are connected to other humans.  From birth we need connection to thrive emotionally, physically, spiritually, and intellectually.  Every day we are understanding more about the importance of this due to the relatively new world of neuroscience.

The challenge we face is that technology has become a seductive imposter for connection.  Gadgets and websites lead us into a false sense of security that we are connected when we’re really not – at least not in the ways we need to be for us to thrive.  In our technology-crazed world, we’ve pretty much confused being communicative with feeling connected.  Just how many of your “friends” on FaceBook would you share the real inner workings of your life with? How many of them would you truly turn to in a crisis knowing that they would do anything and drop everything to help you?  How many of them would notice if you disappeared?  It’s when times get tough that we find out who our true friends are – the ones we have a deep connection with because we had the courage to be vulnerable and showed compassion when they needed it.  We built a connection that runs so deep that it doesn’t matter how much time passes, they will always be a best friend.  They are the ones you will pick up the phone to and call when there is something important, before the news hits FaceBook.

A New Outlook

Courage, compassion and connection trip off the tongue so very easily, yet when you stop and think about what they really, truly mean, and how they influence so much of how we experience our own lives, they take on a whole new aspect that will enrich you and everyone around you.  And so I will leave you with one final quote from Brené’s book:

“Until we can receive with an open heart, we are never really giving with an open heart.  When we attach judgement to receiving help, we knowingly or unknowingly attach judgement to giving help.”

Share Your Insights

Where do you find yourself having courage, compassion, and connection?  Where do you find it hard to use them?  Share your thoughts below.

Your First Stepping Stone

If you are interested in pursuing this journey for yourself, you can sign up for the same course here (I don’t get any revenue from referring you).  Or if you want to explore some coaching with me and take a different path, then contact me for a free 1-hour session to get you started.