I was raised to believe everything had to be perfect. Less than was undesirable. If I did not get 100% on a test, then I had nothing to brag about. There was no victory in mediocracy, no fanfare in good enough.
That mentality continued for years. Disappointment was the norm if a goal was not achieved “correctly”. I obviously believed the whole world thought this way. Anyone who reassured me things would be okay was clearly just being nice to me. How could things be okay if they were not perfect?
I now realize how toxic that was to me and my psyche. It set unrealistic expectations in life. It created guilt and shame over things others found typical (like misspelling a word or answering a question incorrectly). I opted out of celebrating successes and milestones because quite frankly, they were not worth celebrating. Why celebrate an entry-level job or a mid-term A when they were just stepping stones to a larger, more substantial goal?
Over the years I have come to broaden my definition of perfect. I work on being more introspective and attempt to embrace any nuances of that word — shades of gray instead of black and white. I realize there are ways to see things from different perspectives (just because something does not go as planned does not mean it was a failure), and ways to accept it.
And it’s a good thing to accept imperfection. For starters, perfectionism can lead to health issues. Mental health problems, including anxiety and affective disorders; eating disorders; and OCD have all been associated with perfectionism throughout various studies. Physical well being can be affected by perfectionism as well. Studies have shown that the external pressure to be flawless can lead to poor physical health.
Seeking to be better is one thing but striving for flawlessness can create various obstacles to happiness. That constant pressure to execute anything and everything to absolute perfection is where the danger may lie. It can create an environment filled with negative energy because disappointment can occur when goals are not met. It can lead to feelings of unfulfillment and lack of gratitude. It can also lead to arguments and disagreements with others.
Ready to live a life imperfectly? Here are four things to consider:
Imperfect is not the opposite of perfect: It is just different. Imperfect can simply not be the outcome that was originally sought. That does not mean imperfection is a loss or a second-place finish. It just is what it is. Accepting that can start the process of finding light in an imperfection. Wabi-sabi, the Japanese art of finding beauty in imperfection, offers the belief that imperfections can actually make things more unique and therefore more beautiful than what was originally planned. Seeing imperfections as an opportunity for something to be better than expected can be the key to embracing situations when they do not go as planned. The result was not wrong – it was just different than expected.
It’s all perception: One man’s junk is another man’s treasure. You may see an 8-minute mile as a sign of a perfect run, where someone else believes a 10-minute one is gold. 100% on a test = success, while someone else sees showing up on test day as the ultimate goal. It’s the way you define perfection. The way you see the world and your surroundings. If you define perfect as three square meals filled with grains, protein, and veggies then anything that deviates from that is imperfect. The good news is you have the ability to alter the definition. Sleeping in late can be the perfect morning. So, can greeting the sun at dawn.
Perfection is abnormal: Nothing in nature is symmetrical, duplicated, or flawless. There are nuances in nature all the time. The sky is not the same shade every day nor is it a perfect shade of blue. If perfection is not normal, then why should seeking perfection be the standard? Embrace the abnormalities that come with daily life – I mean nature does.
Imperfections can be learning lessons: Take those experiences as opportunities. What can be learned from the experience? Can you see a way to better the situation? Simply because things didn’t go as planned or it didn’t’ work out how you hoped it would does not mean it was a waste of energy. In fact, fixating on how a situation went “wrong” only leads to unhappiness and dissatisfaction. So learn from the experience and apply it next time.
Ultimately, living imperfectly can help alleviate the stress and anxiety associated with many illnesses. It can create peace and help one be more understanding. Seeing the world through an imperfect lens can create a life that is more engaging and appreciative.