Hi. I’m Julie, and I’m a perfectionist.
Whether by nature (how many other 6-year-olds take 30 minutes to put their hair up in a perfect ponytail?) or by nurture (how many other parents make their 6-year-old write and rewrite papers until there isn’t a single smudge or mistake?), the description fits me through and through and has been consistent my entire life.
I used to think this was a good thing, and now I’m trying to embrace imperfection.
How ironic is it to have to try harder to NOT try to do things better?
Brené Brown seems to understand the conflict. In The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, she explores why the drive to be perfect is actually a weakness and explains how to overcome it.
Imperfection Is The Only Possible Result
“Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging.”
Brown describes her journey toward wholehearted living, during which she chose to seek courage, compassion, and connection in her battle against perfectionism and the shame that inevitably accompanies its pursuit. She even named it her “
Breakdown Spiritual Awakening.”
The first step is to know that, in more ways than one, we’re not alone. First, we have plenty of good company to share in this struggle. Second, we’re surrounded by people who will love and support us if we allow them through our defenses.
“Courage has a ripple effect. Every time we choose courage, we make everyone around us a little better and the world a little braver. And our world could stand to be a little kinder and braver.”
When we (inevitably) fail to achieve perfection in a particularly painful way, it takes courage to speak up and allow ourselves to be vulnerable rather than swallow and hide our shame and sorrow. Look at your Facebook feed–how many people are brave enough to share real feelings instead of filtered photo ops?
However, we must choose to share our story with someone who has earned our trust to hear it, someone who won’t pity us, shame or blame us, or make it all about her.
Our chosen person will express compassion and empathy and show us love and acceptance regardless of what we choose to share. Together, we’ll form a connection more powerful than the shame and circumstances, and this will allow us to process the events and move forward.
Compassion, Not A Doormat
As we practice compassion towards ourselves and share the same gift with others, we must remember to maintain a relationship of equals. We’re learning that while we’re imperfect, so is everyone else, but just as we don’t want to give or receive pity, we also must not give or receive abuse.
“The heart of compassion is really acceptance. The better we are at accepting ourselves and others, the more compassionate we become. Well, it’s difficult to accept people when they are hurting us or taking advantage of us or walking all over us… If we really want to practice compassion, we have to start setting boundaries and holding people accountable for their behavior.”
There’s a difference between people and their behavior. Everyone makes mistakes. Love and accept the people, but don’t tolerate outrageous behavior.
As we find our tribe who loves, accepts, and understands us, we need to keep reaching out and building connections with them. The more we reach out, the more we’ll break down the walls that isolate us.
Talking about our experiences helps us foster a community and enables us to build relationships that make our lives richer and more complete. These conversations over time allow each of us to be the helper and the one being helped, the giver and the taker, the teacher and the student. We shift roles depending on circumstances and benefit from the opportunity to see both sides.
Worthiness Isn’t Conditional
When we channel our courage and reach outside ourselves, we must believe that we are all worthy of love and belonging. We are all enough even though we’re imperfect. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive to improve ourselves, rather that
“When we spend a lifetime trying to distance ourselves from the parts of our lives that don’t fit with who we think we’re supposed to be, we stand outside of our story and hustle for our worthiness by constantly performing, perfecting, pleasing, and proving.”
We put on an act for others and try to be what we think they want us to be instead of trying to be the best of ourselves. We try so hard to fit in, when what we really need is to belong.
Fitting in is wearing the ‘right’ clothes and acting the ‘right’ way, while belonging is finding a crew who accepts us for who we really are. I tried for years to fit in and sometimes even succeeded (briefly), but I didn’t feel comfortable or even like myself very much during those years. If I wouldn’t accept my true self, how could I expect others to accept me?
This acceptance doesn’t start when we’re perfect.
It starts now.
Not when I figure out how to bring every single patient back from death. Not when my blog has a million subscribers or enough income to substitute for my day job. Not when I lose 10 pounds. Not when I learn to dance. Not when my house is spotless. Not when I have 2.3 beautiful children, a dog, a vacation home, and a boat. Now.
Only when we feel loved and accepted can we feel truly free to figure out what we want from our lives instead of what other people want from us.
Embracing imperfection is a journey, and Brown provides Guideposts to help us on our path. Here are my favorites:
Authenticity: Letting go of what people think
“The choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.”
If we’re not our authentic selves, then what’s the point? We might succeed in fitting in, but we still don’t feel at home.
Self-Compassion: Letting go of perfectionism
“Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be your best. Perfectionism is not about healthy achievement and growth. Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgment, and shame. It’s a shield. Perfectionism is a twenty-ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from taking flight.”
We aren’t perfect. And no one but us cares. What is perfect anyway? We can’t please everyone no matter how hard we try, so let’s stop trying. Instead, we’ll try to be our best selves, the ones we like and respect. The ones whose consciences we live with at peace.
A Resilient Spirit: Letting go of numbing and powerlessness
Cultivate problem-solving skills and the ability to ask for help while avoiding things like TV, alcohol, and drugs that numb our emotions. When we experience the highs and the lows of life at full volume, we learn how strong we are and know that we can handle whatever comes our way.
Brené Brown’s other guideposts include gratitude and joy; intuition and trusting faith; creativity; play and rest; calm and stillness; meaningful work; and laughter, song, and dance. Each of these could be a post on its own, so I’ll leave you wanting more and encourage you to read The Gifts of Imperfection for yourself and let me know what you think.
Are you a recovering perfectionist? What are your tips? Thanks for being my supportive community.
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