Does the quest for perfection in the world and in your own heart constantly nag at you? Looking back to get ahead can become a key factor in living well in the here and now. But the key is to remain present. Progressing, not perfect.
Recovering self from perfection
I rarely take the time to reflect on the significance of what feelings can teach me about myself and others. Reflection provides the opportunity to linger and consider the value of the present in light of how past threads and seasons have landed each of us in this moment. This psychosomatic practice costs nothing other than the intentionality of shifting a few neurons and making space to squeeze the beauty out of this gift of being present. In my own hurriedness to get through neverending to-dos, while confronting my insecurities about feeling like an outsider, as a motherless, childless, 30-something, and shifting leadership at work, this striving for perfection is exhausting.
Nonetheless, this practice will unveil character growth that I will treasure for the rest of my days. But, I have the rest of my life to get to those days. I belong here. Now. In the messy middle where I am more mature than yesterday, but don’t yet know what will happen ten minutes from now – I can rest, even if only in my thoughts.
My default is to run as fast as possible away from the hurts and disappointments of my past toward what I hope will be some fantastical happily ever after future. Ah, if only I could already be there! Perfection. But then I would miss out on what can be here. Now.
Do you really want to be perfect?
The pursuit of perfection is pervasive. We constantly chase after material success and eternal youth. Our parents want(ed) to be like the Jones’, but we seek to surpass that iconic, envy-inducing family, whoever they are. Other than the obvious consequence of frustration over the inability to achieve such a status and experiencing frequent FOMO, the way is marked with other red flags. Scandalous Hollywood headlines of those who gained the whole world but lost their souls and everything material fame had entitled them to. Gaining everything left them empty.
Striving for perfection leads us to feel as though we’re constantly failing. But there is great value in failing. Failing is part of our journey. A closed door, a missed opportunity, or criticism received on a project we hold dear allows us to search for a different way forward. Instead of playing the victim because of all the past wrongs we’ve suffered, consider what factors have allowed us to reach this moment.
Some of life’s greatest blessings come after a long wait. For me, this blessing came through marriage to my beloved husband, after years of hearing from our respective inner-circles that this was too big of a cross-cultural leap to survive ‘til death do us part’. For you, it might be a baby’s cry after being told by doctors you would never birth a child. Waiting makes the imperfect worthwhile. What seems to others as hard are badges that remind us the journey is worth it.
Lessons learned from a recovering perfectionist
What’s something you can practice gratitude for right here, in the now? Even the little things are big, significant things when we pause to consider them. We are not perfect, we are progressing.
Tips for staying grounded
- Eliminate distractions by quieting our minds
- Get cozy or keep it cool in our surroundings
- Have a good view to take in – natural light is key for me and works wonders to make my heart happy
- Have a favorite seasonal beverage close by
- Be still and breathe deeply to quiet our racing thoughts – imagine smelling the scent of your favorite flower (breathe in) and then pretend to blow out a candle (exhale from down deep in your belly)
- Doing something that makes us smile, or dare I say, makes us laugh out loud, (bonus points for pulling others out of their own stupefied quests for perfection by recognizing there is purpose and hopefully some feel-good belly laughs in the midst of this mess).
Gratitude for Provision
My Creator met my needs this morning to get me out of bed. He has allowed me to spend four years in a job that fulfills my lust to wander to new corners of this incredible planet. He has also provided a therapeutic outlet through my writing.
Thoughts on practicing gratitude
- Become grateful for the overlooked (breath in your lungs, the ability to see a colorful world and read words that encourage your heart and expand your mind)
- Volunteer by seeking to serve others who will widen your perspective beyond the struggles within your own story.
- Don’t take life for granted. Tomorrow isn’t guaranteed. Find the good in today.
- Recognize while life could be better (there’s always a loose end you wish were resolved) it could always be worse.
- Cultivate beauty – both in the lives of others, and your own
- Nurture the relationships you have and tell people you value why they’re important to you. Ask others what they’re grateful for? Instead of asking a coworker who is going through a tough season: “how was your weekend?” inquire: “what was the best part of your weekend?” The latter shifts their focus from just getting through the weekend to instead look for the good that prevails in the overall narrative of their lives.
- Keep a gratitude journal. Write out meaningful conversations you’ve had and prayers that you’ve prayed and seen answered.
- Live mindfully. Seek to celebrate how far you’ve come and trust that good things lie in store.
What are occasions where you have responded favorably or unfavorably in the midst of turmoil whether through your choice or someone else’s? How can you apply the perspective of learning in past seasons to proactive growth in the midst of this season?
Feeling stuck is a valid place to perch. And that small acknowledgment, fellow travelers, is progress too. Here you are starting from a place of acknowledging there is work to be done, in lieu of aimlessly floundering.
I can see the beauty of this moment. While it doesn’t resolve everything that plagues me, perspective does allow me to shift my focus from what I cannot resolve now to how I can respond with my actions to what is within my control.
While I cannot change the past, I can allow it to inform my present. The worries that threaten to catapult me into a place of despair can be quieted by acknowledging that I have walked through these emotions before.
Sure, the circumstances are different but the emotions, the roots that cause them, have always been there. If I can identify a root (usually some form of feeling insecure in my case) then I can consider and apply a fresh understanding to how I have reacted in the past and respond more maturely to my present circumstances.
What we are called to…right now
Today is day one of the rest of your life. It’s worth the work of slowing down to recognize all the fears, and also the tangible wins, of this present moment. We don’t have to run from our past or fear the future. Or fear that we are, or will, fall short of perfection. All we have is here and now. May we find peace and rest.
This practice of pausing will equip us to start reducing the clutter of the counldn’ts of our past and the future if onlys threatening our joy in the present. So dial in to your surroundings and choose your response. Your future you will thank you because you’ve done the work today to show up and keep it real.
By paying attention now, your self-awareness will grow and allow you to better cope when unproductive thoughts or circumstances out of your control arise. Each day presents the opportunity to become more whole and to apply the wisdom we didn’t have yesterday.
The mantra that keeps me growing
Asking for wisdom and the courage to use it is the mantra that I pray Heavenward. It spurs me forward with the reminder that my past has equipped me to face this present moment. Presence over perfection. Life has prepared you and me to walk this distinct path that only each of us is uniquely qualified to traverse.
We have all we need for this season to face our circumstances, both those overcome by a hair and the highlights worth celebrating along the way. You can cease striving for perfection. But don’t give up the fight seeking to end each day better than it began. We cannot change the past nor know the future, but we can control how we live today and how we respond to events whether planned or happenstance.
The fear of facing the impossibilities of now can be calmed because we choose to begin and continue to show up for ourselves and others in the present. Yesterday’s work of intentionality prepared me to face this present moment. Overcome the lie that you cannot achieve your true purpose until you reach certain goals or milestones. Looking back will help us get ahead. We were each created for such a time as this.
For more thoughts on being present over perfect check out: https://thewespot.com/redefining-rest-practicing-pause-presence-and-peace/