How I Made Peace with Perfectionism
I once heard a famous, self-help guru/podcaster say, “Purpose is the thing that launches you out of bed each morning, ready to attack the day.” I was flummoxed. Launch? There are people that launch out of bed in the mornings ready to attack the day? Usually by the time my alarm goes off I’m thinking—What am I supposed to get done today? What emails did I forget to respond to? Did I mail that birthday card? Who fed the cat?
I have always admired those 5am early risers that get up, run 6 miles, read the paper, meditate every morning and brag about it with such joy it makes me want to pull the covers over my head (and that’s on my more gentle days). I like to think that I have a more Eeyore approach to the mornings, wondering where my tail went and searching sleepy-eyed for coffee. There’s nothing I love more than Christmas, yet there are home videos of Christmas morning when my little brother would come bouncing into my room Tigger-like shouting “Kate! Kate! Santa has come!” and I have this look on my face like- just one more hour of sleep. And this is the morning most children happily launch out of bed eager to attack the day. Or at least attack the presents.
Realizing our own limitations can make us feel sad sometimes. I will probably never hear the phrases “morning person” or “ray of sunshine” to describe me prior to that first cup of coffee. My favorite thing is to stay in pajamas until lunch reading. Another favorite pastime I enjoy is overthinking myself into a tizzy. I remember when a simple decision like stopping for coffee would stop me in my tracks. I would wonder – Where should I go? Should I get a latte? Can I really afford that? I should get tea. What kind of tea? Chai? Chai tea latte? And that’s just about getting coffee.
And then one day I had a huge realization: this is perfectionism. The comparisons, the shoulds, the overthinking; this as a form of perfectionism because it is all based in fear – fear in couture clothes. The fear that if I’m not launching out of bed in the mornings with this grand sense of purpose that I must be unworthy or somehow lacking. That I’m not making the most of my one and only life. If I can’t sit on the mountain top discovering my inner child and find peace then I’m missing something everyone else is privy to.
If I can be completely honest with you, the truth is that I am coming to love my imperfections and being myself- warts and all. I kind of love the side of me that has a stack of unfinished books, that goes to art galleries because I’m supposed to but what I’m really looking forward to is ordering a pastry at the café, the side that says “yeah, I like to ride my bike to work” and I don’t even have a bike.
It has taken me 31 years to come to love myself fully and completely even on the days when I wish I were different. I think – you know what, I am doing the best I can. I will never be perfect; I will never win the morning person competition or like cold weather or make beautiful jewelry or bike around Austin during South by Southwest. It’s not that I can’t do these things, it’s just that I don’t want to. Why would I spend time doing the things someone else would enjoy when I can find the things that bring me true happiness? It is better to be an imperfect me than a perfect example of somebody else.
If you sometimes struggle with who you think you should be and what you think your life should look like, I want you to know that you are not alone. The Dutch writer, Henry Mulisch, wrote about this idea: “Every person has, I believe, the feeling that he doesn’t belong in the lives of other people. That he is in some way different, a guest, and he takes all possible measures to make sure others won’t notice. This is the feeling all people have, and that is precisely why we all belong together.” And that is precisely why we all belong together – I love that last line.
You’re ok. You’re not perfect, maybe there are things you’d like to change and I know you can accomplish anything you put your mind to, but I have found that the real adventure is to love yourself fully, unconditionally, and without regard for the destination. Loving ourselves and loving others is the bravest and most worthwhile path we could ever walk. It means accepting our limitations, accepting the limitations of others, and cutting ourselves some slack… And giving ourselves permission to sleep in from time to time.
What will you let go of in order to fully accept yourself?