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Perfectly Imperfect: The Gifts Of Imperfection

Gifts of Imperfection

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

The problem with trying to be perfect is that we’re destined to fail. Being perfect is impossible. We accept this truth for others, so why is it so hard to accept it for ourselves?

“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.”

Courage

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.

Connection

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.

Guideposts

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.

More Guideposts

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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Comments 18

  1. I definitely have perfectionist tendencies, but I will say that a combination of maturing and becoming a mother has made me less of a perfectionist. If I hadn’t accepted after my sons were born that I couldn’t do everything perfectly, I would have had a nervous breakdown some time ago. 🙂

    I recently read Brene’ Brown’s book myself and loved it. I’m now reading Daring Greatly.

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      Thanks for the book suggestion, Sharon. Please let me know what you think of Daring Greatly.
      As for kids and perfectionism, that makes ‘perfect’ sense 🙂 It really is impossible to do everything just right, and there’s no way that’s right for everyone anyway. Even as a non-parent, though, I’m aware that there are lots of expectations and plenty of comparison and judgment. We could all do with less of that and I’m so glad you’ve figured out how to focus on the important parts.

  2. I don’t think I’m a perfectionist but this line caught my attention – “We can’t please everyone no matter how hard we try, so let’s stop trying.” I definitely am a recovering people pleaser – and it has affected every area of my life. I’ve had to work at letting go in that area too – and sometimes I go to the other extreme and just try to not care at all. It’s a work in progress – but at least I know that I struggle with that. I do work with a few students who have perfectionist tendencies and they have a lot of anxiety. It’s something their teachers understand well and embrace, while still trying to help them be their “best selves” (and not “perfect” selves).

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      I’ve found that admitting to myself that I’m not perfect makes it easier to say I’m sorry too. Most of the time people are very understanding and then we can work together toward a solution. Kids aren’t always that kind to each other, though, so it’s wonderful that educators like you are around to spread understanding and support.

  3. I am not a perfectionist, but this paragraph spoke to me for other reasons: “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.” Thank you.

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      Hi Olga,
      There are people who will judge and criticize rather than sit with us, comfort us, and help us to work toward progress. When we find those special people who love us well, we must appreciate them and let them in.

  4. You are the perfect Julie! There can’t be good without bad. There can’t be highs without lows. You have reached perfection with the perfect balance!

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  5. I saw Brené Brown speak in person a year ago and she was fantastic. I read her book shortly after that and it was definitely life changing. The way she tells her stories allowed me to reflect on my own life and there were lots of times I found myself unknowningly nodding along. Thanks for the great reminders!!!!

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      We all think we’re unique, and we are to some extent, but the best authors and speakers can draw on our universal experiences and sometimes it helps to know that we’re all in this together. Thanks for sharing.

  6. “We can’t please everyone no matter how hard we try, so let’s stop trying.” This really hit home for me, Julie. Thank you.

    I had a very recent experience where I put forth my best effort, but it fell short of another’s expectations. I’ve been beating myself up and contemplating the next step for me in this area of my life. I appreciate this post and it’s important message – very helpful! 🙂

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      Amanda, it sounds like you did all you could. Some people don’t want to be happy or they have unrealistic expectations– or both! Sometimes it truly isn’t you, it’s them. As long as you did your best you can be proud.

  7. Julie, you are annoyingly perfect! At least when it comes to your posts, anyway. And I say this because you never fail to make me think. Thinking, of course, is a good thing. But sometimes, like today, I don’t want to think, question my worldview, or ponder the possibility that I may be wrong. So thank you once again for ruining my day with this very thought-provoking post.

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  8. I love her work. Whenever I need courage, I reread one of her books. I love how she deals with the difficult to get to the good stuff. It’s one of the themes in my own blog. Let’s take a look at the difficult things then we can chat about a more abundant life.

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      Isn’t she great? She’s not afraid to be real and tell true stories that aren’t polished and Facebook-perfect. Once one person opens up with stories like this, it opens the floodgates for the rest of us to say, “me too.”

  9. Two things jump out at me from your post, Julie.

    (1) This line hit me right between the eyes: “We accept this truth for others, so why is it so hard to accept it for ourselves?” I can so easily look past ‘imperfection’ in others, but can’t do that for myself. I first noticed this about myself years ago, but don’t know what to do about it other than shrug it off. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    (2) A psychiatrist named Bruno Bettelheim said “We become most upset with our children when we see in them aspects of our own personalities of which we disapprove.” Yikes – another punch between the eyes! I continually notice this about myself re: my kids. I’m not sure if/why/how this is tied to imperfections, but you’re post has me thinking about it.

    Thanks for another solid post! Mr. Groovy is right – you never seem to fail at making others think.

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