The courage to be imperfect

I am buzzing this week because I’ve just discovered the work of an amazing woman, Brené Brown, a professor at the University of Houston. Years of research has led Brown, who has a PhD in social work, to a powerful theory that validates everything I have always known deep in my heart about why our girls are struggling and hurting, and what we need to do to help them.

Everyone who has been to one of Enlighten’s workshops has felt the electricity in the room. They’ve seen the profound changes the girls undergo as they experience the joy of being their authentic selves, and as they shed the need to be someone else’s idea of “perfect.” The girls are transformed when they learn that we are all imperfect—and beautiful and worthy of love.

I loved how today the true piece of everyone came out . . . because it means a lot to me to know I am not alone. You taught me to be my true self and to be happy and to love.—Kim, Enlighten workshop participant

Brown’s decade of research—interviewing a huge number of people, holding focus groups and poring over people’s innermost feelings in their journals—reveal that coming to these understandings is the very key to feeling connected and loved. And that a feeling of connection and being loved is what we need to live a life of meaning and purpose.

This strikes such a chord with me, because at Enlighten we’ve always instinctively known that making a connection with girls is crucial, and that (even more importantly) we must help them reconnect with each other. That’s why at the beginning of each workshop, we always tell our personal story, revealing our imperfections. We show them what vulnerability looks like and that we are lovable in our imperfect state. They then feel brave enough to follow suit—after all, girls cannot be what they cannot see.

I thought it would be a boring lecture where the whole time all you are thinking about is ‘When will this finally end?’ BUT Danni really connected with everyone.—Courtney, Enlighten workshop participant

I loved hearing how Danni remained strong and wore her scars instead of letting them wear her . . . Being a girl is tough but every one of us is beautiful in our own way.—Caitlin, Enlighten workshop participant

That is why we also introduce the girls to the old-fashioned notion of “The Sisterhood” and show them that they are in fact more alike than they are different; they share the same fears, doubts, hopes…

Every day when I do workshops, I see girls just begin to shine as they allow themselves to trust and be vulnerable, and as they deeply connect with the other girls and with their own selves. So when I watched Brown speak, I was overjoyed, because never before have I so clearly heard an echo of Enlighten’s philosophy. She makes me feel even more revved up to get out and make a difference to the lives of girls. Brené Brown admits that her research has changed her life. I think it will change many people’s lives, so I’m sharing this TEDx talk she gave with everyone important to me. (TEDx is a nonprofit movement devoted to “Ideas Worth Spreading”.)

Towards the end, you may feel a deep thud of recognition of the reasons why girls in greater numbers than ever before are numbing themselves by binge drinking and self-harm, taking risks and “perfecting” themselves by dieting to oblivion. They’re doing it for the same reasons many adults are—to numb pain and the fear that they’re just not good enough.

My hope is that  Brown’s presentation gets a conversation going in our schools and homes, so here are a few questions that you might like to think about or put out to your colleagues and family. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

  • What signs are there that girls are numbing the feeling that they aren’t good enough?
  • Are we doing some of the same things to block out those same feelings?
  • What steps can we start taking today to make the girls in our lives feel confident they are loved and worthy?
  • What do we need to do so that we can be more comfortable with our own imperfections?

8 thoughts on “The courage to be imperfect

  1. Ophelia Chambers says:

    This is such an important post, Danni and Enlighten. We need to be having these conversations more often and more publicly. The increasing levels of masochism among girls and women are an international crisis. This is why work like Enlighten’s is vital. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Jackie says:

    Dissociation does not have a filter – when my mind became numb to the pain of my abuse, it became numb to everything. I could not feel the pain, the shame, the fear – but i could not feel joy, or love, or peace, or gratitude either.
    I mentioned earlier this evening in a status update, about feeling alive – about how, after 24 years, i am finally ‘living’. I FEEL so much now.
    I feel joy, & i feel love, i feel peace, & i feel such an incredible sense of gratitude, but i also feel fear, & sadness, & shame, & grief, & anger….. I feel vulnerable. But without this vulnerablity my ‘life’ would not exist, & so i relish my vulnerability, i am grateful for it, for now i can live a life wholehearted 🙂

    I loved it when she said “You’re imprefect….but you are worthy of love & belonging.” I really do believe, that that is the most important message we can ever come to know. To hear that, to know that, to feel it deeply within our hearts, is what will open us up to that vulnerability, to embrace it rather than fear it, & to live our lives knowing that whatever we are is okay, & that we don’t need to be perfect to be happy or to be loved.

    Thanks for sharing this 🙂

  3. Francesca says:

    This post Danni will be one of the most memorable for me. It has moved me so deeply. I found myself practically ‘nodding my head off’ as Brown spoke! The importance of compassion, courage, authenticity,vulnerability, to feel worthy of love and to belong, to embrace imperfections as they are what make us each unique, to see the positive in the challenges we are faced with as they remind us we are alive. To have the courage to show our TRUE selves and to say I see ALL you are and that is okay, that is LOVEABLE. For so many years I have had conversations with teenage girls through my work with Enlighten and I have an immense sense of peace and joy knowing I have had those conversations ‘wholeheartedly’. Brene Brown, what an ‘enlightened’ woman she is. This is one TEDx talk worth watching twice.

  4. Jane Higgins says:

    I just spent an Enlighten day with 90 girls. Their little faces staring up at me when I share my stories with them, their giggles of embarrassment for me when I act like a nutter, their hanging their heads in shame when I tell them how beautiful they are – all shows me how desperately they / we need to be seen – truly seen! For me this year has been a huge risk – new partner, new job, new beginnings but I know that I must live this – even knowing that it may all crash and burn one day. There are no guarantees but I also know that if I don’t risk it I will not live my authentic self – the BIG life I want and am worthy of living. Wonderful Post Danni and Brene nails it.

  5. Jane says:

    Brilliant post Danni. I did not mean to watch 20 mins at this time of night but that was a beautiful authentic talk

  6. Rachel Hansen says:

    Wonderful post Danni. Brene Brown, what an amazing woman. I had to sit in silence for a few minutes after watching this, to let it all soak in. And then I had to watch it again. I want everyone in the world to watch this! She speaks with such wisdom and truth. I love the message that it is our vulnerability that makes us beautiful – so much of what is admired and valued in our society are qualities that show absolutely no vulnerability.
    I have summarised her final words, and these are now on my wall, right by my desk:
    To let myself be seen.
    To love with my whole heart.
    To practice joy and gratitude.
    To know I am enough.
    The essence of the Enlighten programmes is that last line: “To know that I am enough”. I want every child in the world to grow up knowing that they are enough, because they are.

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