So I don’t really consider myself a perfectionist. Did you just laugh? No, there are definitely people in my life that I think hold that title and I often watch them struggle with thinking anything they do or have is ever really what they wanted it to be. I don’t think that is me. Rarely is anything good enough for these perfectionist people in my life and they beat themselves up in the pursuit of perfection. I don’t do that. Or do I?
Let me be clear, I think I definitely strive for an extremely high standard. But in my opinion, I am not a person who thinks what I create and what I do is never good enough. I am often satisfied with my work and my accomplishments. I think I am good at many things. I know I am an expert at times. I definitely hit a point of satisfaction and “good enough” for me in all that I do. Eventually.
But isn’t is funny how our self-perceptions aren’t always totally accurate. Isn’t it odd how we can see ourselves one way when the world may see us differently? If I am honest with you (and me), that bar I’ve set for myself in all that I do is pretty darn high and I have to really bust my buns to hit the level where I think I can stand back and admire my handy work, where I think I have accomplished what I set out to. I am a visual and creative person and my visions are not simple or easy to reach. In fact they are often grandiose. So is it perfectionism…I don’t think so. But maybe. Kind of. Sort of. Ok, possibly.
Just this week I found myself wondering if I was at least 50% perfectionist. Or maybe 75%. But certainly I am not 99%. I mean, seriously. Is perfectionism an all or nothing trait or would we be more honest if we looked at our “degree” of perfectionism and how we rank on that scale when it comes to REALLY reaching our goals and dreams. And am I 50% in my cooking and 87.5% in my interior design? And what about in my self-image?
Ultimately, these are the questions at hand. Can we give ourselves a break? Can we relax and not be striving all day every day. Can we relax? Can we have less proving ourselves, and more being ourselves? Can we feel more comfortable than ever in our very own skin? Can we be at peace? I think those are the answers to whether we are a perfectionist or not and I am beginning to look more and more like a perfectionist with each one of my answers. Yikes!
Just as I was thinking about this idea of perfectionism this week and struggling to tackle my to do lists at home and at work, a profound article by one of my favorite gurus Brian Johnson hit my inbox. And in it he said “Let’s quit setting ourselves up for failure and burnout by thinking we need to be perfect and just get on with the business of becoming a little more courageous day in and day out!”
Wow! I hadn’t ever thought of how courageous it is to set out every single day to just do your best. I hadn’t ever framed our constant pursuit of our goals and to use our gifts and talents as courage. Courage! What a relief. Just showing up is courageous. That feels good! We don’t have to be perfect. There really is no such thing. All we have to be is courageous.
Brian is totally right! Life is so hard. Even for those of us who have it easy in the grand scheme of things, who have jobs (or even dreamy jobs) and have food and shelter and love and friendship. Even for THOSE of us, life isn’t easy. I mean just dragging our tired selves out of bed each day to start down the monstrous list of to do’s we have can be totally overwhelming at times. And if we throw perfectionism in on top of it all, if we have ridiculous standards of how those “to do’s” are done, then how can any of us ever feel accomplished, feel joy or feel at peace? We can’t.
It is true. It takes REAL courage just to show up everyday. It takes courage to take our gifts and give them away. It takes courage to face the expectations of life and of the world and of our friends and our family and our clients and our community. But most importantly it takes courage to face the expectations we set for ourselves.
The moment we can stop trying so hard to be perfect and just accept ourselves for who we really are in all our perfectly imperfect glory, THAT is when we find true joy.
Brene Brown in her fantastic book Daring Greatly talks a lot about courage and how to be vulnerable and show up in life. She was inspired by the great Teddy Roosevelt when he said…”It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, who’s face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory or defeat.”
Wow. Leaves you speechless, doesn’t it. And I love this quote from Brene’s book Daring Greatly where she says…“Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”
How profound. We can never feel at home in the world, if we don’t feel at home in our own skin; if we can’t give ourselves permission to be who we really are.
And from Brene’s book The Gifts of Imperfection she says, “Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.”
Talk about needing courage! Can you show your TRUE self? I am a bit nervous just thinking about this concept. And I do strive to be honest and authentic in all that I do…but wow! Our true self–the one that is vulnerable, and doesn’t know everything, and is flawed. Can you show her?
Well that brings me back to Brian Johnson and his admiration of the wisdom of Alberto Villoldo in his book Courageous Dreaming where Alberto says…
“There are no perfect human beings! Persons can be found who are good, very good indeed, in fact, great. There do in fact exist creators, seers, sages, saints, shakers, and movers… even if they are uncommon and do not come by the dozen. And yet these very same people can at times be boring, irritating, petulant, selfish, angry, or depressed. To avoid disillusionment with human nature, we must first give up our illusions about it.”
We are human, friends. And humans aren’t perfect.
And Brian also highlights the words of Abraham Maslow who said “No, what we need is to be honest about what it means to be human: that we are fated to miss the mark of perfection but achieve small and impressive acts of courage and greatness. Instead of thinking that some people are flawless, we ought to take inspiration from the fact that our heroes, celebrated or not, brought themselves back on course again and again whenever they realized that their behavior was out of alignment with their intent. Simply saying, “Enough—I’m moving on!” is an act of courage that breaks the spell.”
So can you do it? Can you show up as your perfectly imperfect self? Can you give yourself a break? Can you do less proving yourself and more being yourself? Can you achieve “small and impressive acts of courage and greatness” each day in spite of your “human-ness”? Well, I am an optimist, so I think we can. And this my friends, is definitely the Secret Sauce to a life of joy.
Happy Saturday from this imperfect almost perfectionist. xo,