I am a recovering perfectionist and “an aspiring good-enoughist”*. Not that I ever actually thought I was perfect, but I always felt I ought to be and was painfully aware of all the ways in which I never measured up. In university, for example, there were many instances when I tried to take a zero on an exam or assignment because I felt ill-prepared or that my work was substandard. Thank goodness for amazing profs who counselled me to try anyways (of all outrageous notions), that any mark was better than zero. Yikes! Fortunately, I have come a long way since then.
Experience, and a tenacious spirit, have taught me that life does not have to be perfect to be beautiful. That I do not have to be perfect to be beautiful. To not allow perfect to be the enemy of good. That if I make a mistake or do poorly at something, the sky will not fall, and all will be well, and I will dust myself off and plod forward. That most people won’t actually judge me for being less than perfect (and many will actually sigh in relief that they are not alone) and those who do probably don’t matter much to my day-to-day happiness anyways. I’ve chosen a kinder, more compassionate way to live.
“A moment of self-compassion can change your entire day. A string of such moments can change the course of your life.”
Christopher K. Germer
Having said all that, I still, on a fairly regular basis, butt up against that ornery, accusatory, voice of perfectionism. She tells me (can you relate to any of this?):
You want to counsel others on how to live healthier but you still have struggles of your own and your children want to eat junk food!
You do all that work menu planning but your meals are often boring and sometimes you drop the ball completely!
You ‘preach’ joy but there are times you feel sad/anxious/frustrated/afraid.
Why can’t you do all that so-and-so seems to get done with perfect hair and in high-heels?
Ugh. You may have done X and Y but your bathroom is gross and your floor needs a scrub.
You messed up AGAIN! You yelled at your child/blew your grocery budget/procrastinated on that project.
Blah! Blah! Blah! Happily, after years of practice I can usually turn to boldly stare perfectionism in the face and agree, “yup, you are right. I am not perfect and I don’t need to be.” What freedom to acknowledge the truth that I am, indeed, imperfect, and that with all my quirks, my specific personality type, and the fullness of my strengths and weaknesses, I am lovely. Worthy. Gifted even.
Close to two years ago I did a six-month stint of counselling with a psychologist during which I tearfully admitted my fears around perfectionism (how can I authentically counsel others as a women’s wellness advocate and holistic nutritionist when I am still learning myself?). Without skipping a beat he replied that he does not personally know of another psychologist (himself included) who does not, himself, go for counselling. This simple statement had a powerful impact on me and my thinking.
We do not need to be perfect to serve the world or to live with joy. To have strong, connected relationships, or to do meaningful work in the world. We can embrace good enough and kick perfectionism to the curb. She always was a mean and self-serving companion, anyways.
Wholeheartedly embracing imperfection,
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*from The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown. One of my absolute favorite books ever!
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