Applying the Gifts of Imperfection to Law Libraries

By Jenny Silbiger (Follow us on LinkedIn)

Happy Holidays NBU colleagues and friends!

Jenny standing next to her new Snoopy. Snoopy is sitting on top of her red house. All has a festive and Christmas feeling.
Jenny with Snoopy 2.0

Last year at this time, I talked about making space for the complicated experiences, nuances, and emotions that the holiday season can bring.  The same person who feels enormous gratitude and generosity for the world can also hold inexpressible grief and sorrow, all in the same minute, hour or day. That coming together in meaningful connection and meeting each other where we’re at, complications, mood swings, challenges and strengths, and all, is the true gift of the holiday.

The same holds true this year, in 2022, with the pandemic still affecting the world around us.  I hear the words “post-pandemic,” or “post-COVID” thrown around. I take that to mean the world we live in ‘post’ COVID-19 coming in and shutting us down, and our subsequent strategies–some great, some not-so-great—that we used to deal with and live with.  We’re far from ‘over’ or ‘finished’ with the impacts of COVID, and we’re definitely nestled into this working environment that has been irreversibly altered by it. This leads me back to last year’s holiday conversation and how those lessons still apply.  

Dr. Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection

In this spirit, I share Dr. Brené Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection, 10th anniversary edition, which describes concepts that I’ve applied in almost all of my NBU writing and aim to bring into my workplace and personal life. One of the major tenets of her research, based on over half a million pieces of data, is how she discovered common threads for folks who showed incredible resilience who met nearly insurmountable challenges. She wanted to learn how it is that some folks shared this resilience, what was it that set them apart, and could these common threads be cultivated with others?  She ultimately defined this as a wholehearted way of living and identified three ‘gifts of imperfection.’ She also describes ten guideposts on wholehearted living that come from a place of humility, vulnerability, acceptance, courage, and love (Yes, I said it, the L-word, love!). 

Here is one of many of her master quotes: “Wholehearted living is about 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.”  

Sunset over Waikiki during Winter solstice. Photo taken by author
Sunset over Waikiki during Winter solstice. Photo taken by author

I find that engaging in this place of self-worthiness and acceptance can pave the way to what she talks about when fostering empathy, story stewardship, and meaningful connection to others in our professional and personal spheres. We make space to sit with and witness others’ experiences, at work or at home, in public or in private—and like anything human it can be difficult and can sometimes get uncomfortable, so then we can pause and be authentic when asking for a pause (vs. inserting ourselves as the center of someone else’s story) and then making space to return. It is true that we can never walk in another’s shoes, because we’re already walking in our own. Instead, we can offer empathy and connection. Connection, one of the three ‘gifts’ that Dr. Brown uncovered in her research, is about cultivating the energy “that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment…” and where we can “derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”  

Dr. Brown’s Guidepost #2

Further, Dr. Brown’s guidepost #2 (honestly all guideposts) can be applied to our workspaces, around cultivation of self-compassion and dismantling perfectionism—the idea that “if I look perfect and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of blame, judgment, and shame.”  Perfectionism is an unattainable goal, because it is based on what you think others perceive you or your internal perception—which is always a moving target, no matter how much time and energy is spent in the attempt.  Further, perfectionism sets us up for feelings of shame and judgment—the I am not good enough, if only I could do better, or I am what I accomplish, therefore, if I do not accomplish it perfectly, then I have failed.

We can absolutely take part in healthy striving and growth in our working spheres, not because we want to be perceived as ‘perfect,’ but to develop ourselves, our professional learning, and career goals.  This means moving from centering the ideas of “what will they think” to “how can I improve”?  Also, moving the emphasis from people-pleasing to self-acceptance, from self-criticism to self-kindness, to cultivating connection, and further, separating ourselves from internal voices and/or critical thoughts/judgments and focusing on what we’re doing, are capable of, or can accomplish.

The Other Two Gifts of Imperfection: Courage and Compassion

Like I said, all ten guideposts can be applied to our working spheres (along with our personal ones), and if you haven’t already, I invite you to explore Dr. Brown’s Gifts hub. I’d love to talk story about every one of these, so feel free to reach out. In the meantime, I’ll close with the other two gifts of imperfection that she identified through her research: courage and compassion.  

On Courage: The root of the word courage is cor—the Latin word for heart…and originally meant…to speak one’s mind by telling one’s heart…Over time, this definition has changed, and, today, courage is more synonymous with being heroic. Heroics is important and we certainly need heroes, but…we’ve lost touch with the idea that speaking honestly and openly about who we are, about what we’re feeling, and our experiences (good and bad) is the definition of courage. Heroics is often about putting our life on the line.  Ordinary courage is about putting our vulnerability on the line. In today’s world, that’s pretty extraordinary.

…There is no courage without vulnerability—true courage comes when we decide to take a risk without knowing the outcome.  It means showing up and letting yourself be seen, despite the risk.  When you show up in this way, you open yourself up to joy and connection, but you can only do it by accepting that there could be pain.  

On Compassion: Courage gives us a voice and compassion gives us an ear. When we practice generating compassion, we can expect to experience our fear or pain. No one reaches out to you for compassion or empathy so you can teach them how to behave better. They reach out to us because they believe in our capacity to know our darkness well enough to sit in the dark with them. Compassion is not a virtue – it is a commitment. It’s not something we have or don’t have—it’s something we choose to practice.

Please remember that living a wholehearted life is a journey, not an end goal, and when we practice courage, compassion, and connection along the way, we’ll discover they are literally the gifts that keep on giving.

p.s. Quotes are mostly from Gifts, some from her other research; you can also take an inventory on the ten guideposts here. Dr. Brown has two podcasts, Unlocking Us and Dare to Lead.


Notes Between Us (NBU) is a blog about conversations and topics of interest to the writers. The writers are expressing their personal opinions solely. The essays represent their personal beliefs and not that of their workplaces or any organization they are associated with.