I recently finished reading the book, The Gifts of Imperfection, by Brene Brown.
When I first saw the title a few years ago, I actually snickered. Gifts of imperfection? How is that possible? What can be a blessing that’s less than our very best?
For as long as I can remember, perfection was the bar set for me as a child, and one I carried into adulthood. Being praised and recognized for performing and achieving was almost like a drug, with the fix being, “I’ve arrived,” or “look how happy people are now that I succeeded at x, y, or z?”
These external reward systems can be appealing for those of us who like to check off accomplishments on our mental or physical to-do lists, but they turn poisonous when self-worth and value become attached to the unsustainable standard.
Striving for perfection may be the most soul-crushing endeavor we undertake. Losing our own barometer of what’s good enough, our own personal best, and our own sense of purpose, in the pursuit of fitting in and meeting cultural or interpersonal expectations.
How loosely do we hear the word “perfect” thrown out, casually or intentionally? We can turn on the news, open a social media, fashion, or sports magazine article, turn on any competitive event, and perfection is eagerly discussed. It’s what makes the headlines, earns praise and recognition, and becomes a standard rather than an exception.
But how often do we take on perfection as a lifestyle, rather than living life with a healthy growth and development mindset? Are we even aware of the damage perfectionism has on our hearts, minds, souls, bodies, and spirit?
Brene Brown has been a huge difference-maker and game-changer for me where perfectionism is concerned. Not only through The Gifts of Imperfection, but through this simple sentence; “When perfectionism is driving, shame is riding shotgun.” In other words, worthiness depends on being perfect, not making mistakes, and having a constant moving target that’s based on external factors and circumstances beyond our control. Perfection means living outside the human experience and capabilities.
The dangers perfectionism hold for us are limitless. It drives a wedge in our relationship with self, which then spills over into our relationships with family, friends, coworkers, acquaintances, and strangers we encounter in our daily living. It also prevents us from having a healthy and accurate foundation for a spiritual relationship with God.
For me, perfectionism meant being physically ill and injured without sustained healing, disrupted sleep, relationships with my most loved and trusted people that felt shallow, hollow, or forced, and a spiritual life that was more about me seeking what I could get from God instead of creating a partnership that nourished and filled my soul.
Pushing and forcing solutions only made things worse. To put it bluntly, I was failing myself miserably because I was trying to do the right things for the wrong reasons, and my being was saying stop.
But how do we shift expectations from perfection to healthy desire for excellence? In my experience, it took five steps (and a lot of question asking) to make and maintain the shift toward imperfection through self-acceptance.
1. Willingness and openness to the truth through prayer and meditation.
Am I prepared to believe and accept what God shows me?
2. Reality checks.
How am I feeling physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually? What are my motivations and intentions? How aligned are they with my best self? Am I aiming for what’s authentic?
3. Turning off autopilot.
Am I living intentionally and making peace with discomfort for potential failure, mistakes, disapproval, delayed gratification, or pain? Am I pushing and over-exerting to force a solution, or letting things unfold in their own time? This has been the hardest mindset and behavior change to maintain—along with number four.
4. Asking for and receiving help.
Who is in my corner unconditionally? Am I in a relationship with God and listening to his guidance, or asking for a particular outcome? Who are the truth-tellers and healthy perspective providers? How willing am I to listen to their words or accept their assistance?
5. Rerouting when off-course.
Am I humble and willing enough to accept that change inevitably includes steps back into perfectionist mindsets? Am I willing to say yes again to imperfection through my thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and motivations? Am I willing to do this time and again to experience imperfection’s freedom?
We all are human. We are imperfect. We are learning, growing, and evolving, if that’s the path we choose. When our expectations and value are beyond those truths, our soul dies a slow, painful death. The coulds, shoulds, and ought tos then drive our lives, and we seek things beyond ourselves to numb the pain, to earn approval, to force worthiness, to distract, or we isolate ourselves so no one can see our beautifully flawed and imperfect selves.
God does not make mistakes. Period. When we were created, the expectation was that we would make mistakes, fail miserably, fall and fall again until we were bruised and battered, discovering that we were in need of saving. Then, we wake up to the truth that our perceived shortcomings are also strengths, and unique combinations that only we have.
That’s what makes us special, beautiful, and able to fulfill our imperfect destiny.
There’s a grace and ease when perfectionism’s straitjacket is removed. The air fills our lungs, the emotional and mental Kevlar removal brings about a lighter load, our mind clears to see possibilities instead of challenges to overcome, and a new found freedom emerges.
Our senses become alive and alert, and we can hear the inner voice that’s been longing to be followed.
Intuition, soul, and our true self emerges upon arrival at self-acceptance. And while this daily practice has mistakes embedded within—it’s our imperfection that makes us perfect.
Author: Sarah Pederson
Editor: Lieselle Davidson