Book Review: The Gifts of Imperfection

The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brené Brown

Even the most successful and self-assured of us is guilty of self-doubt. That’s why Brené Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection resonates so well with readers.

Dr Brown is a leading expert on shame, authenticity and belonging. She has done a decade of research on Wholehearted living. Wholehearted living means putting our best foot forward to lead a meaningful and productive life, and retiring to bed at the end 0f the day feeling satisfied and worthy, even if the day’s work isn’t up to your expectations. Learning to accept and live with imperfection, in a nut shell. For many of us, this is easier said than done. But Dr Brown effectively changes readers’ perspectives by relabeling attitudes and experiences that are often the culprit of us sabotaging an otherwise satisfactory lifestyle.

The book is divided into ten guideposts, aimed at helping readers to identify and hopefully let go of unhealthy ideas, and instead, replace them with encouraging, motivating ones. Each guidepost is different; t ere is one about cultivating self-compassion, one on cultivating play and rest, another on cultivating meaningful work, and so on. How relevant each one is to the reader would depend on the individual, but the issues addressed are universal and could be relevant in helping readers to empathise with others.

Dr Brown backs her words with scientific research, which makes the reading material reassuring and credible. She also puts herself in the book, describing the vulnerabilities that she struggles with as a person, and a woman, allowing readers to relate. One reader suffers from Dermatillomania, a skin-picking disorder that was damaging on her emotional health and physical appearance. Despite making substantial progress in her treatment, she would blame herself after each relapse. The constant pressure caused her to keep picking her skin and make the condition worse. She revealed that this book has helped her to feel worthy and take pride in the progress she is making, and to be less hard on herself. She has been recommending it to the patients in her support group.

This book is slim and makes an easy and efficient read. In a high-pressure society, it is important to learn to be compassionate to oneself, and in turn, others around you, and this book hits just the right spot.

– This book review first appeared in a lifestyle magazine.

Year-End in Colourful Europe

Flamboyant lights, bustling Christmas markets, creamy hot chocolate, powdery white snow and gorgeous landscape photography… Christmas in Europe is something entirely different for those of us who have been accustomed to tropical weather. With the strong Singapore dollar, a Christmas retreat in Europe can be within most budgets.

Photo buffs can never go wrong with castles in mountains, and the Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria. Germany is said to be one of the most picturesque in the world, surrounded by the Alps and acres of Bavarian forests. If architecture is more to your taste, Estonia’s capital Tallin is home to Old Town, one of the best preserved medieval cities in Europe and a UNESCO World Heritage site.

For snowy mountain landscapes without having to climb mountains, Aiguille du Midi, in the French Alps is accessible via cable car from Chamonix-Mont-Blanc, a commune in France. The commune itself is a Charming ski resort and one of the oldest in the country. If you love wide spaces and vast flat lands, the endless pastures of Yorkshire Dales in England are blanketed in snow, dotted with glowing dots of lights from cozy pubs,and you might see ponies and sheep wandering around covered in warmer garb by their farmer masters.

However, you would want to take some precautions with your cameras. Batteries run out of power very quickly in cold weather, so bring spare batteries, and wrap your batteries and cameras in a warm padded pouch when not in use. Condensation on the lenses is the more crucial problem so look out for it and make sure your lenses are dry before you keep them.

Within the cities, you’ll find Christmas decorations and lights just about anywhere. National Geographic recommended Austria’s Vienna, Belgium’s Brussels, Spain’s Madrid and Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens for their great lights and atmosphere. But just about any European city is delightful in winter. Don’t forget to l00k in the shop windows; aside from displaying the newest winter fashion, they are also adorned with lights and Christmas displays, sometimes animated. If you visit Milan’s Quadrilatero d’Oro, the famous designer shopping district in the evening during this period, you might spend more time admiring the windows than the luxury collections.

The Christmas market is one of the biggest charms of wintry Europe. These markets usually last from mid- November to early-January, but it varies with the market and city. You can fill your stomachs with delicious food and drinks which are sometimes unique to the season, relive your childhood with games and attractions like the carousel and Ferris wheel, buy unique handmade crafts and souvenirs. The markets themselves are often beautifully dressed up for the occasion. The massive ones may even have spaces for performances and dancing.

Germany is the place to be if you want to get your fill of Christmas markets as this is the country that Christmas Markets originate from. According to European travel website ”European Best Destinations”, recommended cities and communes include Aachen, Leipzig, Nuremberg, ‘ Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Dresden and Cologne, Other winners are Croatia’s Zagreb, France’s Colmar, Lille, and Strasbourg, Austria’s Vienna, and Belgium’s Brussels where you can indulge in the chocolates they are so famous for.

The UK has atmospheric Christmas Markets and London’s Hyde Park Winter Wonderland is a popular Christmas destination with plenty of rides and attractions on site.

For a cozier choice, Christmas is a beloved theme in p0p culture, and many stage productions will have something just for the season. London’s West End is famous for its high quality plays, and there is the benefit of them being in English. If you happen to be in Milan, don’t miss the opportunity for some Christmas operas. There is a good reason for the La Scala Milan being a world-renowned opera house.

Europe is gorgeous and vibrant in winter despite some inconveniences, such as, the early sunset (as early as 5pm), and the intense dryness. Plan your itinerary accordingly, stay hydrated, use moisturisers and pack the right clothes so that you can fully immerse yourself in an enjoyable winter experience.

– This article first appeared in a lifestyle magazine.

Picture from Pixabay

Start Prioritising; It’s Time You Drive Your Life

The start of the year is probably the best time to start thinking of how you want to prioritise your time as we roll into the new year. All too often we hear it said that ”I just have no time…”. Yes indeed time is always so short when we need it. Yet time seems never ending when we’re in a queue. The fact is Time is fair to all. Whether you are in Singapore, London or Tokyo there’s just 24 hours in a day. So why is it that some of our friends or colleagues seem to have so much time on their hands to enjoy their life, yet others seem to be perennially scrapping to get that five-minute between tasks or appointments to catch a breather. It all boils down to how you prioritise your time and the discipline to keep to your schedule.

One way to begin is firstly you would want to have a vision of what you want in life. What to you are the most important aspects of your life and put them in List 1. Perhaps for some it is home, family, health, career, travel, friends etc. Family is certainly important. A Harvard University survey shows that most young adults believe that obtaining wealth and fame are keys to a happy life. “But a long-running study out of Harvard suggests that one of the most important predictors of whether you age well and live a long and happy life is not the amount of money you amass or notoriety you receive. A much more important barometer of long term health and well-being is the strength of your relationships with family, friends and spouses,” said the study’s current director, Robert Waldinger, as he shared some of the findings from the Harvard Study of Adult Development, a research project that closely tracked and examined the lives of more than 700 men and in some cases their spouses.

Next in your List write what you intend to do, or are already doing to achieve these aspects of your life. Probably, you need a good career, or at least one that pays the bills, which in turn would point towards the need to have some paper qualifications or skills. You also need time to socialise especially if you want to look for a life partner. Besides, we all need friends to chill out with at least once a week if not more often.

Look at the two lists and see where are the gaps, which will require you to pay more attention, or give more weightage, eg. in training, upgrading, or in social skills etc. Thereafter, plan what to do in a normal work day. Perhaps you would want to get up at 6 am to do some early morning exercises, get ready by 7.30 am to hit the road to get to the office. Your work may end at 6 pm – 7 pm or later, and you would have a few hours to socialise before heading for home. Or some would say their work never ends till 10 pm, then you have to think of whether you are the cause of this or it’s just the demands of the job. You need to take charge of your life and be in the driver’s seat. Not the other way around and let your work or someone else drive your life.

Perhaps, you just need your job and it’s is having a stranglehold on you. Then consider upgrading yourself. Maybe you should find time to do courses on weekends or with an open university to strategize before making your next move. It’s not uncommon to hear someone harking, “You must be mad. After working late on weekdays you want me to attend courses on weekends?” Well, this is your choice, isn’t it? If you don’t, then don’t fret and enjoy your long nights at the office.

You need to take charge, prioritise what you want to do with your life. Don’t you get into your own way and become the hurdle. Remember, each day comes but only once in your life time. Tomorrow is another day.

– This article first appeared in a lifestyle magazine.

Image from Pixabay

Book Review: Positive: A Memoir

Positive: A Memoir by Paige Rawl and Ali Benjamin

Paige Rawl was born HIV positive, but for most of her childhood, the illness never defined her life. All she knew was that she had to take some horrible medicine on a daily basis and visit the hospital frequently. But aside from that she was living life to the fullest. An all-rounder, she did well in school, played soccer and was a cheerleader. However, life took a dive when she entered middle school. She became best friends with a girl called Yasmine, and one day when trying to console Yasmine, brought up her HIV status in conversation. The news sread fast. Paige lost her closest friend and her trust in people. She became the target of bullies and was called nasty names in person, poison letters and graffiti.

Even the adults at school were unhelpful; not only were they unable to stop the bullying, they discredited her discomfort and accused her of stirring up trouble. Her soccer coach even made jokes about her. Paige suffered the bullying, which led her to sink into depression and a suicide attempt. She survived and sought refuge with the people who shared and sympathised with her story.

Paige’s memoir is penned in simple yet poignant and relatable prose. Her resilience and courage shines through her moving stag], and many readers have marvelled about how much of an inspiration and role mode she is. Her story delivers a powerful message – she couldn’t change other people. but she could change her life, take her future in her own hands. and then perhaps try to change the world. She put her revelation into action, and today, she is an active advocate for youths with HIV and AIDS, and actively speaks out against bullying.

The language is simple and easily digested by teenagers and adolescents. In fact, the book is probably most suited for a teenage audience, who will personally encounter many of the themes illustrated in the book, such as bullying, being different, the dangers of ignorance and fear of something unknown. Nevertheless, a story about courage is always appreciated regardless of age group. Parents and teachers especially, may value the book for the lessons they can impart to children and teenagers.

0n the flipside, the story is told in a largely American setting. Many international readers found the resources mentioned in the book for HIV-positive and AIDS patients to be useful, but these resources would largely not be applicable in Singapore. There is also some reference to American pop culture and society that may be lost to local readers.

– This book review first appeared in a lifestyle magazine.