Courage, Compassion, and Connection—The 3 Gifts

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Gifts of Imperfection" by Brené Brown. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do you want to know more about the three values from The Gifts of Imperfection? Why does Brené Brown say courage, compassion, and connection are the gifts of imperfection?

In her book The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown says that the three gifts are courage, compassion, and connection. We could never reap the values of these gifts if we all lived ideal lives.

Keep reading to learn why struggles and mistakes lead to huge benefits.

The Three Gifts of Imperfection

Brené Brown’s research in The Gifts of Imperfection suggests that there are three key values that you need to practice to generate worthiness. These are courage, compassion, and connection.

According to Brown, these three values are the gifts of imperfection—gifts that we only have access to because we’re flawed. If we all lived ideal lives free from struggles and mistakes, we’d never need to put these values into practice—and we’d never reap their benefits.


The first value you need to practice to cultivate worthiness is courage. This doesn’t necessarily mean heroic courage; for instance, the courage you show when you run into a burning building to save a child. Instead, it means ordinary courage.

Ordinary courage is being brave enough to honestly express who you are, how you feel, and what you’ve experienced. For example, it’s having the courage to admit to your boss that you’re struggling with your workload, or bravely telling a friend about a bad experience.

Practicing ordinary courage requires vulnerability. You need to be willing to tell others all about your most painful inner feelings and experiences. You also need to present your true, flawed self to the world, rather than a “perfect” version of yourself. To do this, you need to stop caring about what others think: to overcome your fears about how people might react to your truth. 


The second value that you should practice to generate worthiness is compassion. Showing compassion means being kind to yourself and others. It requires you to draw on your past experiences to express empathy and understanding towards yourself or another person.

Expressing empathy for another person involves opening yourself up to the pain that this person is feeling. You need to do this so that you can truly understand what they’re going through. Your first response when you face this pain may be self-protection. For example, you may try to erase the pain by “fixing” the person and their issue. You might jump to seek a resolution to the problem, or try to distract from the pain by looking for someone to blame for its existence. 

However, this isn’t true compassion. True compassion is about simply being there for someone. It’s about listening to what the person has to say and allowing them to fully feel and express their pain.

For example, if a friend confesses that her manager is belittling her at work, don’t jump to resolve the issue. For instance, don’t immediately suggest she speak to human resources. Likewise, don’t rush to blame your friend or her manager for causing the issue. Instead, listen deeply to how your friend is feeling. Express empathy based on similar experiences you’ve had.

It’s important to note that compassion goes both ways: you can seek it as well as give it. When you seek compassion, you need to make sure you’re reaching out to someone who’s actually capable of offering it. You should avoid seeking compassion from those who are only going to make you feel worse—for example, people who will: 

  • Shame, blame, or judge you
  • Try to “one-up” your pain—for instance, by saying, “Yes, that’s bad, but I have it worse!” 
  • Minimize the significance of what you’re telling them, and reply “It wasn’t actually that bad!”

The Importance of Setting Boundaries

You may struggle to show someone compassion if they’re acting in a harmful way: for example, if they’re being unkind to you or taking advantage of you. To prevent a situation like this from happening, you need to set boundaries: Tell people what’s acceptable behavior and what’s not. For example, if a friend constantly calls you for advice late at night when you’re trying to rest, setting a boundary may mean outlining set times when it’s appropriate to call you.

If people don’t stick to your boundaries, hold them accountable. Challenge them on their behavior, kindly but firmly. Calmly explain why their behavior was unacceptable. Don’t berate or shame the person. This isn’t holding them accountable—it’s just getting angry at them.

The Tools of Self-Compassion

Practicing self-compassion is slightly different from practicing compassion towards others. It’s made up of three distinct practices:

#1: Showing self-kindness: Being understanding with yourself in the face of failure, suffering, or inadequacy. Resisting the urge to criticize, blame, or shame yourself for making a mistake. Instead, acknowledging that you’re doing the best you can, and that nobody’s perfect.

#2: Acknowledging common humanity: Recognizing that everyone feels inadequate sometimes—it’s not just you. You’re not alone, and you’re no worse a person than anyone else. 

#3: Practicing mindfulness: Viewing your emotions through a balanced lens—neither denying their existence nor blowing them out of proportion. Ignoring emotions prevents you from addressing them, and giving them too much importance can lead to them overpowering you.


The final value you need to practice to cultivate worthiness is connection. Practicing connection involves building meaningful relationships with people, in which:

  • You make someone feel valued, seen, and heard, and receive the same in return.
  • You can give and take from someone—materially or emotionally—without being judged.
  • The connection makes you feel stronger and more fulfilled.

Biologically, humans are wired to need this kind of connection. We derive emotional, physical, intellectual, and spiritual benefit from such relationships. Likewise, research has shown that having these kinds of connections helps our brains to perform better.

You can build connections by reaching out to other people and taking the time to strengthen your interpersonal bonds. Try to see your friends and loved ones often. When you do, share your deepest thoughts and feelings with them, and encourage them to do the same. 

Barriers to Connection

Two major barriers to connection exist in modern society. The first is social media. Social media may be a convenient way of contacting people, but it isn’t the place to form real and deep connections. For example, Tweeting someone isn’t going to have the same connecting effect as sitting and talking to them. Ultimately, you can’t derive the same emotional, physical, intellectual, and spiritual benefits from this flimsy form of connection. Make the effort to cultivate strong, in-person connections instead.

The second barrier to connection is society’s glamorization of self-sufficiency: the idea that it’s better to solve problems yourself instead of asking friends for help. If you adopt this attitude, you’re less likely to reach out to people when you need to. You want to be seen as a helper, not someone who needs help.

However, for a connection to be strong, it must travel in both directions. You can’t be afraid to be vulnerable and ask for help. If you are, your relationships are going to be unequal and unfulfilling.

Courage, Compassion, and Connection—The 3 Gifts

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Hannah Aster

Hannah graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English and double minors in Professional Writing and Creative Writing. She grew up reading books like Harry Potter and His Dark Materials and has always carried a passion for fiction. However, Hannah transitioned to non-fiction writing when she started her travel website in 2018 and now enjoys sharing travel guides and trying to inspire others to see the world.

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