03 Apr Book Review: Imperfect Courage by Jessica Honegger
Dr. Donnelly reviews Jessica Honegger’s Imperfect Courage. Honegger is the founder of Noonday Collective, a fair-trade, direct sales jewelry brand based in Austin, TX. According to the blurb on the book, in Imperfect Courage “Jessica takes you by the hand and invites you to trade your comfort zone for a life of impact and meaning. First, she invites you to draw a circle of compassion around yourself and leads you through some soul-searching aimed at setting you free from shame. Next, she challenges all of us to come together, dare to be vulnerable with one another, and commit to building a culture of collaboration. Finally, Jessica calls on you to broaden your circle of compassion to embrace the entire globe–and to bring your beautifully imperfect courage to a world that needs you.” Sounds ambitious. Does it do all that?
My answer is… sort of. This is an easy read, but is not one I’ll be recommending frequently. The structure didn’t work for me; Honegger barely sticks to one point or one time period even for more than a few paragraphs. The disjointed jumps between coaching tips and stories from Rwanda and then back to stories from Austin was all just a little too much. None of them felt connected, they all just felt like someone without ADD should have been her editor. For some folks, this would work and clearly does as the book is selling well. For how I learn best, however, I need you to make your argument a little more before you throw me into four or five other ones.
The strongest part of the book is her focus on the global sisterhood. She repeatedly reminds her readers that the world is bigger than the U.S. and it comes across with fierce compassion. Her entire company is built on the principle that we are all stronger together, and it shows throughout this narrative. Her writing is strongest when talking about the importance of lifting others up, of learning what is happening in the world around you, of being brave enough to remember you are not the center of the story.
Also, SHE USES FOOTNOTES, FOLKS! What a gift. After the Rachel Hollis debacle, we’ll be sure to point out mainstream, non-academic books that cite their sources, and celebrate those books for it. Honegger never uses them in ways that are intrusive, but reminds us that her wisdom comes from other sources and from herself and differentiates between the two. Thank you.
However, I do have some niggles even beyond the structure.
First, she talks about using power, pocketbook, priorities, and proximity as tools for changing the world. What she doesn’t really highlight is ‘privilege’. She dances around it, flirts with calling out her own, or even recognizing that her readers will come from different intersections of privilege than she does, but not including it explicitly in that list is a missed opportunity and the book felt weaker for it.
And finally, a note about this book, but also about a lot of others. Y’all, I’m noticing a pattern among leadership books aimed at ladies. You know the ones I’m talking about – they’re not egregiously labeled as “women books”, but everyone knows they kind of are. Well, they’re also not egregiously labeled as Christian, but… they all kind of are. Imperfect Courage is one such book. As Honegger explains her story – how she founded Noonday, what it’s taught her since – she relies on assumed Christianity in a way that came across to me as problematically privileged. She assumes you speak her language – that you understand what “calling” is and you’ll be comfortable with her casually mentioning that God called her and her husband to international adoption. Now, Dr. D, you may be saying, you advocate for authenticity all the time! She’s just being authentically herself and now you’re whining?
But I also advocate (as does Dr. Hinson) for being transparent. Our professional research demands that we explain to the reader who we are before we tell them what we know. You hopefully notice that we do that a lot around here, too. We try to be as clear as we can be about our own inherent biases and assumptions about the world, because if you know the context of someone’s opinion, it’s frequently easier to actually understand what they’re saying.
In the case of these (mostly white, middle class, American) Christian ladies, a quick paragraph in the intro would not be amiss. “Welcome to my book! Let’s be clear from the jump, I’m a Christian person and have been my whole life. It’s part of my language, part of my worldview, simply part of the air I breathe. I zero percent need you to agree with me, but because this is my story, I wanted you to know that. I’m going to accidentally make assumptions or statements based on that which may rub you the wrong way or not work for you. I get that. So I wanted to be upfront. This is not a book about my faith, but because it is about me, it also is.”
An intersection of privilege in America is being a Christian, and those of us who are either baptized into a church or still practice or whatever should recognize that.
Just like everything else, I am positive this book changed someone’s life. Honegger used the exact right words, or they see themselves in her story, or it was just the right season… That’s one of the beautiful things about books. But for Abbey Research? Eh.