Ditching unrealistic expectations for wholehearted living.

Many of us live our lives by a powerful but exhausting word — should. I should do this. You should do that. Someone should do something about (fill in the blank).

Should can be a powerful motivator, but it can also suck the life right out of us.

Over the years, I’ve had a lot of shoulds thrown at me. Some from people I care about, others from people who said they cared about me, and still others from the constantly chattering voices in my head. Live long enough in the shoulds and your life begins to unravel.

Author and sociology researcher Brené Brown says some people characterize what happens at midlife, or following a noteworthy event, as a “crisis,” but it’s not. “It’s an unraveling, a time when you feel a desperate pull to live the life you want to live, not the one you’re supposed to live,” she says. “It’s a challenge to let go who we think we are supposed to be and embrace who we really are.”

It’s a time to throw out the shoulds.

For me, the unraveling came with the realization that I had spent years striving to fulfill expectations that no one had of me (perfectionism), and trying to live up to expectations that others had no business having of me (co-dependence). The result? Shame. Lots and lots of shame.

That’s why I was delighted when a friend recommended Brown’s “The Gifts of Imperfection.” It was a call to let go of another layer of grief and shame and rekindle the joy in who I was created to be.

Brown’s writing showed me that shame loves perfectionists because it’s so easy to keep us quiet. She reminded me that being imperfect does not mean being inadequate. Her words gently, but boldly, instructed me that when we struggle to believe in our own worthiness, we start hustling for it. I began to realize that shame can corrode the part of me that believes I can change, and it’s always close by, lurking in all my familiar places.

“The Gifts of Imperfection” empowered me to combat that shame, live wholeheartedly, and engage my life from a place of worthiness. For me, that meant cultivating courage, compassion, and connection so I could wake up each morning knowing that, for whatever I accomplished and whatever I didn’t, I was enough.

In her playful and engaging style, Brown shares 10 guideposts for leaning into life with your whole heart — 10 traps to let go of and replace with something more life-giving, transformative ideas like cultivating authenticity, resilience, self-compassion, gratitude, play, and meaningful work.

Feeling a little unraveled these days? Pick up a copy of “The Gifts of Imperfection.” It might be the inspiration you need to release your shoulds and live boldly into your story. It was for me.

Editor’s Note: “The Gifts of Imperfection” was published in 2010, followed by “Daring Greatly,” “Rising Strong,” and Brené’s newest book, “Braving the Wilderness.”

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