Let’s admit it. Sometimes we get a little too obsessed with perfection: Perfect body, perfect hair, perfect outfit, perfect children, perfect dinner, perfect schedule, and (of course) a perfectly clean and organized home. Then we look at reality and wonder why we feel frustrated and depressed: Flabby tummy, thinning hair, outdated clothing, rebellious children, cereal for dinner, impossible schedule, and a house that is far from clean and organized.
The sad but funny thing is, we spend an inordinate amount of time and energy trying to reach this elusive state of perfection, feeling vaguely dissatisfied as long as we fall short, but never asking if our definition of perfection is even remotely realistic!
I’ve thought a lot about this topic since I’m a self-proclaimed Frustrated Perfectionist turned Recovering Perfectionist striving to be a Calm and Contented Realist. It’s a long road, but I’ve learned a few things along the way.
1) Change your definition of perfection. I am a firm believer that perfection is more of a spiritual state than a physical one. Unfortunately, I think most of us gravitate toward physical perfection because it’s easier to see, manipulate, and control. (And we know that other people can see our physical perfection–or lack of it!)
For example, which is more difficult–to have a clean and clutter-free home, or a clean and clutter-free heart? Do we make our outer appearance stylish and beautiful, or do we radiate inner beauty? To help our children excel in school and extracurricular, or to teach them the values of honesty, self-control, and compassion?
I’ve often wondered about the message I am sending to my children. While I’m all about trying to help them succeed in the world and improve their talents, I don’t want them to feel like their value lies in looking good, keeping their bedrooms spotless, and getting straight A’s. There are so many things in this life that are more important than the outward appearance of perfection, so as long as we use “perfect” as a description of things that can be easily photographed or quantified, most of us will come up lacking.
2) Focus on striving, not arriving. I like to think of the word “perfect” as a verb, not an adjective. To perfect means to improve, refine, hone, or work on. That’s a lot less pressure than trying to “be” perfect today, right now. It’s that whole “joy in the journey” thing that we often find difficult to master as mothers. (I’m not the only one, right?)
I love many quotes from Anna Quindlen, but this one might be my favorite: “The thing that is really hard and really amazing is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.” Forget the notion of “being” perfect and simply enjoy the journey of becoming you! The irony of that sentiment is that if you do “become yourself” you will be perfect because you will be who you were created to become. And that person and that life may not look anything like your previous definition of perfect.
3) Realize that perfection comes through imperfection. Why do we try so hard to reach an unrealistic standard of perfection anyway, when in fact it is the imperfections of our lives that actually perfect us? What? Think about it: The child with the illness or disability that teaches us how to really pray or sacrifice; the difficult teenager who pushes us to dig deeper and love more. The daily grind that forces us to get more organized and disciplined. The financial struggles that keep us humble and motivate us to reach out to and help others struggling in similar ways. You see?
This little poem by Leonard Cohen helps me to put it all into perspective:
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything,
That’s how the light gets in.
I would encourage mothers to not only reconsider their definition of perfection, but to learn to accept (and even embrace!) their perfectly imperfect life so it can work its magic!
QUESTION: What is your definition of perfect?
CHALLENGE: Forget the notion of “being” perfect and simply try to enjoy the journey of becoming you!
Photo by myacademy at www.flickr.com
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Just what I needed to read today, thanks Allyson. I also am a recovering perfectionist and I have to say, I feel a ton less stress and pressure when I take a step back and realize that I don’t have to be perfect today. As my almost 6 year old daughter says, if you want to be good at something you need to “practice, practice, practice!” She reminds me that we are not here to be perfect today, but that through our experiences, both the good and the not so good, we will be edified, refined, and “practiced” into perfection.
Thank you for your words… I think I need to bookmark this article and REREAD it often. Its amazing how quickly we can forget the things we know in the hustle and bustle to perfection. I’d much rather enjoy the journey to becoming who I was created to be. Thanks again.
The idea of “becoming yourself” is really hard. We are taught to look up to, or emulate heroes and icons and our mothers, but we have to learn that we are individuals. _I AM AN INDIVIDUAL_ and it I can have my own taste that doesn’t come from a magazine or website, but is something that I pulled from here and there and pared down to fit within my budget. I’m no perfectionist, and I never will be, but I hope someday I can be proud to be me and not second guess my decisions and perceptions.
I love the idea of perfection coming through imperfection. In my own life it has been the hard and challenging times and times where things have seen the polar opposite of perfection that have helped me grow and get closer to where I want to be.
I really appreciate how the true, fulfilling “perfection” is offered up for clearer definition. Too often I see it being thrown out completely with an air of “it’s never going to happen so give up and accept things the way they are” (this is a half truth). I’ve noticed when I choose to accept my current reality as part of the process of perfection, I recognize the desire I have to strive as the motivating factor to “refine, hone or work on” instead of reason for a guilt trip! I define perfection in the “being” sense as “whole or complete” so it helps me to remember I’m simply not finished yet!
Telena Hall says
Oh, Allyson, this was so well written. I really appreciated the thought of changing my definition of perfection, and the idea that our imperfections are what perfect us. Thanks you so much for these well said thoughts.
I love how you said perfect is a verb not an adjective! I love the thought that is is a process that we are constanly working on!
[email protected] says
I love that poem. Thank you for your encouraging words.
I can identify with this SO much. I too am a bit of a perfectionist (I’m doing better now that I’m nine years into this humbling thing called motherhood!). Thanks for the positive thoughts.
Wonderful poem! I’m going to rejoice a little more in my weaknesses and let the light in!
This was really great. Thank you!
Oh boy, did I ever need to be reminded of this today! Thanks for another great article