“The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.” ~Anna Quindlen
As I sit in bed typing this, all cozied up with a hot cup of tea and my fuzz ball Maestro relaxing at my feet, I feel happy and at ease.
I scan the room and see a couple of stacks of laundry that need to be put away. I recall that my daughter’s toys are still strewn across the house because I didn’t feel much like stopping to pick them up prior to my retreat to writing, my happy place. I realize that I have an inbox full of emails to answer. That can all wait.
Sounds kind of normal, right? But, for me, this maintained mellowness in a sea of what could be perceived as chaos is a pretty big deal.
You see, I’m a recovering perfectionist. There was a time in my life when uncleaned messes, unanswered emails, and other various untied loose ends would have gnawed at my very core and robbed me of my peace until I finally cried mercy, giving them the attention they demanded.
But at some point I realized that the stacks of certificates and awards collecting dust inside a drawer in my perfectly clean house weren’t doing much for me. In fact, they were only temporary fixes to fill the voids of my spirit, as I desperately avoided being completely honest with myself and opening up to my truth and vulnerability.
I would take on one project after the other and work myself to the bone until they were executed perfectly.
Putting in more than fifty hours a week at the office and hitting the gym six days a week was, once upon a time, my norm.
I remember days of changing my outfit a dozen times before leaving the house and then doing fifty sit-ups for good measure. The voice in my head was telling there was room for improvement, to reach perfection.
I hid behind my straight A’s in school, my top sales awards as an employee, and the recognition and accolades I fought for as I dove head first into my entrepreneurial adventures. They were my mask, my shield.
What’s wrong with all of that, some might ask? The pursuit of excellence is a good thing, right? Aren’t hard work and dedication admirable traits? Yes, and no.
Following your passion and making a difference in the world are certainly high up on the list of things to do for a happy life. But, when you are coming from a place of lack instead of a place of love and when you get so caught up in the end results that you totally miss out on the journey, that’s a recipe for burnout and a life unfulfilled.
So, what is the difference between perfection and excellence? It’s quite subtle, actually, but they feel very different.
Perfect feels constrictive, judgmental, painful (especially when the mark is missed), and is fueled by feelings of lack, of wanting to be accepted and liked. Excellence, on the other hands, feels warm, honorable, accepting, and is fueled by feelings of love and pure intentions of being in service and becoming a little bit better version of yourself each day.
When you come up a bit short of excellence, you still win. When you strive for perfect, you’re just never quite good enough. It’s like being in an abusive relationship—with yourself.
Simply put: In the pursuit of perfect, we miss out on much of the beauty around us in our everyday lives. Nobody is actually perfect, so it’s really like living a lie. The truth is buried under all the “perfect” walls that we put up.
Perfectionism is a cozy little blanket we try to wrap ourselves in. But, while we trick ourselves into believing it is keeping us safe and warm, in reality, it’s just a shield to hide what’s really going on inside.
Becoming “mommy” six years ago was the catalyst in my life that finally helped me to see past my crutch.
I believe that our actions are our strongest teacher, and I didn’t want my daughters to learn through mine how to torture themselves and feel inadequate by striving for the delusional ideal of being perfect.
Plus, it feels pretty amazing to just relax and enjoy the journey of life moment by moment. Basking in my children’s laughter, sharing with them my presence and genuine goofiness. No outside validation or approval required.
If you can relate to this at all and are ready to peel back some of your own layers, here are a few things to think about. These really helped me along my road to accepting my perfectly imperfect authenticity.
1. Remember: You are enough!
Ask yourself this: Whose approval are you after, anyway? You don’t need to impress anybody! Think about it. What does outside approval even get you? Other people think you are cool? They give you the “thumbs up”? You’re living your life in a way that somebody else agrees with? Hmmm.
Well, at the end of the day, if you are not living your own truth and doing things that are in alignment with your own soul’s calling, then you will be left feeling unfulfilled and always grasping for that outside validation.
Instead, remember this: Everything you need is already inside of you. Learn to drown out all that outside noise and just celebrate your unique beauty. A good self-check is to ask, “Am I doing this for the cause or the applause?”
2. Perfection is an illusion.
There is simply no such thing. We’re not meant to be perfect—by design, humans make mistakes. (Otherwise, we’d be called robots).
We all have good days and bad days. Plus, one person’s definition of “perfect” can be completely different from the next. So, why act like a crazy person and give yourself a hard time over something that is delusional? Stop the madness!
3. Think “Wabi-Sabi.”
No, not the spicy green horseradish-like stuff you eat with sushi! It’s a Japanese aesthetic that describes beauty as imperfections. It celebrates cracks and crevices and other marks of time. Yes, it is, in fact, our imperfections that make us beautiful. Embrace them.
4. Consider: What is the impression you want to leave on the world?
In pursuit of perfection, we can seem aloof, despondent, closed in. It’s because by being so focused on the end result, we put some serious blinders on and miss out on beautiful connections with others. People will much more closely connect with your truth (especially the right connections for you). No need to hide. Let your soul shine!
5. There is pure joy and love in truth and vulnerability.
Allowing ourselves to be real and vulnerable is not always easy. However, living a life hiding from our true identity is even more painful.
Living your truth means embracing and accepting all aspects of you—bumps, bruises, and all. This is, after all, the meaning of life. Unlock the potential of unlimited happiness in your life by letting go.
Our existence here on earth is too short to live it under the neurotic premises of doing everything perfectly. Throw caution to the wind, embrace your imperfections, celebrate your authenticity, breathe in each precious moment, and give vulnerability and acceptance a try.
You might just discover the glorious freedom that exists within, underneath the “perfect” armor.
Once you peel back all those layers and discover the breathtaking beauty of self, you might even find yourself tilting your head back toward the sky and allowing a giant smile come across your lips. You are home. Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy. Namaste.
Photo by Sukantho Debnath