“The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.” ~Anna Quindlen
I finally learned I wasn’t Superman.
It was a hard concept for me to grasp. You see, I was always the good child. The one that did everything without complaint or supervision. I was the one who didn’t need help in school, who knew how to plan, who did the chores without having to be asked twice.
As I grew older this idea that I was “the good child/person” grew. My grades had to be perfect. My work had to be perfect. I had to interact perfectly with everyone I met.
Needless to say, this drive to perfection caused me a lot of stress. Stress to the point that I was literally pulling my hair out. I know you see that on cartoons and things, but it happened to me for real.
I didn’t even know I was doing it until one day I looked in the mirror after my shower and saw a bald spot. I had combed over it for so long without even consciously realizing it was there.
I knew I had to do something after that. I had to change something. I wanted to just give up. After all, if I couldn’t be prefect, then what was the point of it all?
I cycled into depression, but even this depression did not lessen my drive to be perfect. I made it look like I was doing fine. I went to work every day, did my home things, and even interacted on a superficial level with those around me.
After a while of this hollow existence, I started to become angry. Why did no one see I was hurting? Why was there no reaction to this change?
I slowly ground to a screeching, sputtering stop as circumstances in my life piled up: the death of a family member, the illness of another, my car getting totaled, my job on the edge.
Boom, boom, boom. One right after another.
Nothing was perfect now, and I could not see any way to make it perfect. It was hopeless, all of it.
So, at last, I gave up on being perfect.
At first, it seemed strange to me. Leaving things unfinished. Doing things halfway. Not going out of my way to make everything seem okay. I thought the world would fall apart. But it didn’t.
Other people took up the slack. Things that I thought were vital went undone without consequence. Not working at 110 percent did not make the world come crashing down around my head.
Hesitantly, I started to look around. I started doing things that were fun for me instead of things that needed to be done. I said no when people asked for help. I left dishes in the sink and trash in the can. I ate out instead of cooking. I ate what I wanted and not what I thought was right. I watched TV when I wanted and slept when I wanted and didn’t worry about what I should be doing instead.
And you know what?
It was okay.
Shockingly, there was little difference in my life between working hard and enjoying it. Little difference to others. However, it was a big difference to my mental health. I discovered I could do more with less. Less work, less stress, less perfection.
I could enjoy life without being perfect.
I am not saying that my change did not cause conflict. My family was not pleased with the sudden upsurge in their workload. Those little things I always did were now undone. If they wanted it done they had to do it themselves.
The little things they took for granted suddenly became scarce and my ever helpful and always consistent presence became something that had to be requested rather than relied upon.
It was empowering to say no. To be out of touch. To be enjoying myself without guilt or stress.
I found out that I could now enjoy and even look forward to things that had previously stressed me out. That every experience was not a chance to screw up but a chance to learn something new. That doing new things was good, even if I wasn’t good at them at first.
It’s great to strive toward excellence, but it’s not worth stressing about perfection. If you’d like to take a page from my book and learn to enjoy being imperfect:
1. Accept that perfection is unreachable.
No one can possibly be perfect; that is what makes us human. However, you have to not only accept that you will not be perfect, but also be happy that being imperfect makes you different than everyone else. Being perfect would make everyone identical. Our imperfections are what make us unique and special in this world.
2. Say no.
When you are trying to be perfect, it’s hard to tell people no. You want to make them perfectly happy. You want to be the perfect spouse, sibling, or friend. However, taking on more and more things does not make you more perfect or even a better person. It only makes you more stressed.
Saying no is not only good for your mental health, but it is good for others as well. Many times people will have to deal with their own issues, which will make them grow into stronger human beings. If you had helped them, they would not have had the chance to grow.
3. Try new things, even if you fail.
Being a perfectionist, it’s hard to get the guts up to try something you have never done before in the fear that you will be less than perfect at it. However, that’s the fun of trying something new! You get to learn and grow and become more than what you were before. Staying stagnant is not healthy for anyone. Embrace your mistakes and learn something new.
4. Let some things go.
We prioritize things that are not really important. Will you remember doing the dishes, or having fun with your friends? Will you remember filing, or having a great conversation with your coworker?
When you learn to let the unimportant things go, you have more time for what really matters. You also have more time to do what is fun for you instead of only doing what ‘needs’ to be done.
5. Prioritize what makes you happy.
Life is more than work and chores and making it through one day after another. If you feel like you are working and moving but never enjoying or accomplishing anything, you may need to take a step back and reevaluate what you are doing with your life.
Being stressed all the time is no way to live. Instead, try to enjoy your life. Prioritize those things and people that make you happy.
Stressing out about perfection is a useless endeavor. Perfection is impossible for us, so why do we make ourselves sick over it?
I have learned to abandon perfection and focus on enjoy life every day. This has greatly reduced my stress, increased my happiness, and made me the kind of person I would want to be friends with.
About Ken Myers
Ken holds a master’s in business leadership from Upper Iowa University and multiple bachelor degrees from Grand View College. As president of morningsidenannies.com, Ken’s focus is helping Houston-based parents find the right childcare provider for their family. When he isn’t working, he enjoys spending time with his three children and his wife.