You might have noticed that I’ve been pretty inactive on my blog for the past few weeks. That’s because for most of May, I’ve been working on reading books by Brené Brown, a shame researcher who has written a number of best-selling self-help books. A teacher of mine who’s been helping me work on my mental and emotional wellbeing recently recommended that I read her work. I figured that a blog post about how these books are helping me would be a good way for me to reflect on my progress so far.
What surprised me most about reading Brown’s books is that her writing has actually helped me be a better writer. I’d been struggling with how to rewrite (re-re-re-rewrite) a novel that I first started in January 2015, a story that initially began as a “short” story that I turned into a fiction writing workshop (eternal, undying gratitude to my classmates and creative writing prof who read all 14,000 words, 29 pages double-spaced). Anyway, reading Brown’s claim that shame occurs in people when they believe that they don’t think they’re worthy of love and belonging—the two things that Brown asserts we all desperately need to have meaningful, healthy lives—helped me rework my main character, who was giving me the most trouble out of anything in the story. Who would have known that I just needed to read a few self-help books to come up with a more compellingly flawed, nuanced protagonist?
I started with Brown’s book The Gifts of Imperfection, not having super high expectations for what I would get out of it but trying to stay open minded. I was quickly surprised by how much her words resonated with me, sometimes in painfully opening ways as Brown revealed difficult truths about the way I and so many other people try to make it through life—being afraid of being vulnerable, worrying about how other people might perceive me, feeling unworthy of love and belonging, and not always coping with feelings of shame in a healthy way. I honestly teared up a few times as her words washed over me, and I had to take my time reading this book so I could let it sink in.
This book isn’t just about pointing out these unhealthy ways of living, of course. Brown offers solutions in guideposts designed to make the reader aware of their self-harming behaviors and beliefs, and these guideposts also offer tools and tactics that can help the reader live what she calls a Wholehearted life. What I find so great about Brown’s writing is that all of her insight is based on qualitative research, and she present her findings to her readers with clarity, insight, and empathy. She shares her own personal struggles with following the map she has drawn out for living a Wholehearted life, and she’s the first person to admit how difficult, scary, and absolutely necessary it is to put yourself out there.
I recently finished The Gifts of Imperfection and have just started reading Daring Greatly, her book on having the courage to live vulnerably. Her writing is helping me find the courage to have difficult conversations that I previously shied away from, and I can feel myself opening up already.
I’m still at a point in my life where everything feels messy, uncertain, and scary. I’m a year out of college, and I still don’t have a clear idea of what I want to pursue next career-wise, or if I’m ready to get my MFA in creative writing. It all sounds scary, and I won’t lie, I’m afraid of putting in all the hard work and finding out that I don’t actually want what I thought I wanted, or finding out that I’m just not good enough, that I don’t have what it takes.
But you know what? The Gifts of Imperfection taught me that at the end of the day, that doesn’t really matter, because I’m worthy of love and belonging even with my flaws, my fears, and my hesitancy. Just as I am. Messes and all.
Writer, reviewer, bookseller, book nerd extraordinaire. Fiction reader at Waxwing Magazine.