It took me 35 years to realize that being perfect does not make one happy.
As I progressed in my life—from being an innocent child to a curious teenager who wanted to explore the world, to a young woman who tasted a successful independent life, to someone who suddenly lost everything, to someone who created her life from scratch more than once—I came across many perfect-looking people who were role models for others.
But as I got to know them closely, they were miserable, unhappy, and completely caged with the fear of losing the image of a perfect family, perfect looks, and a perfect business. Then I came across some perfectly flawed people who were not perfect from any angle. And as I got to know them more, they were truly free and happy.
I asked myself, “When have I been truly happy?”
I was once in a dreadful situation, but I was happy at the time. This is when I realized that I could be happy in any given situation. Since I experienced happiness during many unfortunate times, I learned that we don’t need to be perfect to be happy.
I guess only by living life and experiencing it can we truly understand some things. If someone told me that I don’t need to be perfect to be happy, I would not have believed them.
I was raised by a family who believed that making mistakes and taking risks were not a path we could choose. We had to choose the tried-and-tested path, which would bring a more predictable outcome, like a certain career or a certain social image.
But I could never take that path. I wanted to make mistakes, experience life, take risks, explore myself and the world. I don’t regret that decision, even though I experienced major life setbacks that transformed me many times.
I may not be perfect as per my own defined guidelines of perfection, but still, I have found my happiness.
Here are some ways to help us break free from this self-imposed, invisible cage of wanting to look perfect:
It is possible that we have heard a voice that tells us to be perfect and how being perfect can make us look or feel better. Recognize that voice and understand where it’s coming from. It could be our family or our environment from the past.
When we are able to recognise that voice, understand that not everything that was told to us was true. Whoever told us something was because they wanted the best for us and thought that maybe that was the only right way for us—but they could be unaware of the consequences or didn’t know any better.
It’s okay not to be perfect. The definition of perfection varies in different cultures and social environments. What we feel is true may not be true elsewhere.
2. Be aware.
After leading a life with a certain habit for years, it becomes a reflex to respond to certain situations in a particular way.
Take a notepad, study your patterns, and write them down. Now write how differently you want to approach a particular situation in the future. If we are able to be more mindful and conscious during a situation controlled by our desire to be perfect, we should be able to catch it in a mental state.
It will bring a lot of fear and discomfort to the surface, but we should accept it as a part of change. Let’s do things differently as we would have done before but with the acceptance of imperfection.
3. Accept yourself as you are.
Many times, we compare ourselves with others, which starts a mental competition that forces us to do better or look perfect.
We should be aware of our thoughts. As soon as we catch ourselves doing that, we should remember that we are perfect just the way we are. There is no change required for us to become better or perfect. Find the perfections in your flaws. Appreciate the differences you see around. There is a reason this universe did not create the same kind of plants and animals and other creatures. A rose is beautiful—so is a lily and a sunflower. Comparing any of them is wrong.
Discovering our unique self and changing our perspective toward how we see ourselves so that we appreciate, respect, and love ourselves is the way to honor our uniqueness. When we honor it, we start to automatically appreciate the uniqueness of others instead of making comparisons.
4. Experiment with yourself.
Listing down five things I never want to compromise on looking perfect have helped me a lot. Maybe we can’t go out without makeup, or we can’t keep our house messy. Pick any situation for the sake of breaking a pattern and self-exploration.
Try to do things differently. For instance, if you don’t express your true feelings for someone only because you’re scared to come across as an oversensitive person or a complainer, try telling that person how you feel (or felt) about what hurt you. You might fear being judged or rejected, but this is the only way to transform yourself and learn to find ways to experience real happiness.
Do not worry about the outcome. It is possible that the outcome may not be positive in some cases, but you will certainly feel inner freedom by doing this.
Transformation is an uncomfortable and difficult process because the only person we fight here is our own self. We can only tell ourselves which suits our comfort and what doesn’t.
We only have this one life, and it is only well-lived through all hardships and success, suffering and joy. Real happiness cannot be experienced if there is no sadness or sorrow.
If our perfectionism is transforming into an obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), a therapist or a counsellor we trust can help us in our journey toward healing.