In praise of imperfection

There are many things that can hold you back from the life you want and the person you want to be. Identifying what exactly is holding you back and why you are overthinking about things can help illuminate a path forward.

One unwelcome thought that can halt your progress and motivation is the idea of perfection. Your mind can easily fall into the false trap that perfection exists and it is something you should strive towards. This can snowball into you second guessing yourself and your choices and can end with you not taking any action.

Acknowledging and accepting imperfection gives you freedom to do things without the stress of trying to achieve an unachievable goal. When you stop seeing actions as something that needs to be done correctly you are able to do things on your own terms and in your own way.

Perfection does not exist

Each one of us knows on some level that perfection does not exist. There is no perfect way to bake bread, dance the nutcracker suite, or paint bathrooms walls. There are countless ways to do each of these things, but knowing is different than accepting.

You can know that there is no perfect way to exercise, but when you are done working out you may find yourself critiquing what you did. But there is no perfect number of reps or amount of time to devote to moving your body. Instead of feeling accomplished, satisfied, or just plain content, your mind works to find fault in what you have done.

It is often easier for us to acknowledge our perceived faults and imperfections than to allow ourselves to be content with what we have done and where we are.

Aiming for perfection means you will always miss the mark which in turn can make you feel that you are not good enough or not as good as others. But that’s simply not true. There is no perfect version of yourself, there is only you existing here and now.

Reframing your mindset

Coming to terms with the fact that perfection does not exist and being OK with that is not a mental shift that happens overnight. Our society imprints upon us the false priority of constantly striving to be the best and get to the top of some arbitrary ladder. We are told to always be going above and beyond, to not be happy with where we are but strive for more, more, more, and better, better, better.

To live is to be imperfect and that is not a fault but the beauty of life. Without the constraints of perfection, we are each able to do things in our own way and forge our own unique journey.

By either accepting that life is all about imperfection or completely throwing the notion of perfection out the window you open yourself up to so many possibilities. You are free to try new things without the stress of needing to be the best. You can have hobbies that you do every few days or weeks that simply bring joy. You can care more about the journey and each moment of you life than the non-existent end goal of perfection.

What you can do

Take note of what brings you joy. When you find yourself truly immersed and content in a moment in time, take note of what you are doing. Maybe it’s singing the same song you always sing while vacuuming the house, maybe it’s challenging yourself to a new hiking trail, maybe it’s reading a book during a thunderstorm, maybe it’s tuning your guitar, or maybe it’s spending time tending to your garden.

Realize that things cannot be done perfectly. How does one perfectly read a book or hike? They answer is they don’t. Many of the things you do in life don’t have a clear goal to strive towards and that’s a good thing. You do not need to try to improve everything you do or aim to make it more efficient. The simple fact that something brings you joy is reason enough to do it.

Realize that aiming for perfection can take away the joy of doing things. Some of the things you do may have a clearer path towards a goal such as more efficiently tuning a guitar or hitting notes correctly in a song. But whether that goal improves the experience is completely up to you. Maybe tuning your guitar faster will allow you to play more songs so striving towards efficiency will end up bringing you more joy. Or maybe you find joy in slowing down and taking your time to tune and trying to rush that would take away from the experience.

Understand that “better” and “best” are subjective. There is no universally accepted “best” way to do the things that bring you joy and becoming “better” at something is based on your own personal journey and goals. For some the best way to garden is to work towards growing the most food and becoming a better gardener means making small tweaks to slightly increase the yield each year. For others the best way to garden is to grow plants they like looking at and becoming a better gardener means adding more native plants to their plots each year.

Being selective about what you take in

If you surround yourself with others who believe in perfection and only show those moments from their life that supports their narrative, you will constantly be reaching for a destination that does not exist. People can achieve greatness, become experts in a field, and fulfill dreams all without striving for perfection. People can also live quiet lives in the woods, grow a garden, and write poems all without having the goal of perfection. You can work towards doing whatever you want to do and living the life you want to live all without the focus being to do it perfectly.

What you can do

Periodically review what content you take in. Look through what social media accounts you follow and what types of news you take in. People and companies that try to convince you that you’re not pushing yourself enough or living up to your potential are often trying to sell you something. Are you only seeing edited highlight reels of someone’s life? What they are showing you is not real or attainable, but they have built a following around convincing others they can achieve this fake level of perfection.

Curate your content to better fit your life. Consider following people, companies, and organizations that show a realistic view of what they do and what they don’t do. Find people that enjoy doing the things you are interested in but whose focus is on the enjoyment and not doing things perfectly.

Along with what you take in, it’s equally important how often you are taking content in. Even if what you are taking in is realistic, inspiring, or motivating, it is easy to fall into mindless scrolling. Work to be aware how of how much time you devote to watching other people’s lives compared to how much time you devote to living your own life.

Focusing on the small things

As you begin your journey of embracing the imperfection that comes with life, start small. It can be easier to accept that you can’t perfectly fold a fitted sheet versus accepting that there is no perfect version of the book you have spent years writing.

By starting small you can learn to see that you are surrounded by imperfection, but it does not take away from the things that bring you joy. You can live a content life even if you can’t quite master cooking a hardboiled egg.

Ideas of small things to focus on

A slightly untidy, but made bed. Focus not on how the bed looks, but the fact that the bed is made. If your priority is to have a neatly made bed with pillows in specific locations and no creases, then it makes sense for you to spend some extra time on your bed. But if your priority is to just get in the habit of making your bed, focus on simply making your bed.

A not completely homecooked meal. A bagged salad with tofu that you marinated, takeout soup with homemade bread, or a box of fries with a side of veggies from the garden. Some people truly enjoy cooking their meals from scratch, some would rather spend as little time in the kitchen as possible, and many people fall somewhere in the middle. Life is all about balance and there are plenty of ways of eating that don’t involve you doing all the preparing and cooking.

A short workout. Some days you may be able to run far, lift heavy, and bend seemingly impossibly. Other days simply making it to the mailbox and back can take all of your energy and motivation. Some days your body needs to move and some days no movement is exactly what your body needs. Listening to your body, giving it what it needs, and not constantly pushing it past its limits is the best things you can do.

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