blueprints for a life: 10 lessons my dad taught me
3 simple steps for conquering unhappiness

a happy life is not a perfect life



Are you going to spend your life wondering
Standing in the back, looking around? 
Are you going to waste your time thinking
How you've grown up or how you've missed out?

Things are never going to be the way you want
Where's it going to get you, acting serious? 
Things are never going to be quite what you want
Even at twenty-give, you gotta start sometime. 

I'm on my feet. I'm on the floor.
Now all I need is to hear a song I know. 
I want to always feel like part of this was mine. 
I want to fall in love tonight. 

Someone's going to ask you what it's all about. 
Stick around. Nostalgia won't let you down. 
Someone's going to ask you what it's all about. 
What are you gonna have to say for yourself? 

Are you going to spend your life wondering
Standing in the back, looking around? 
Are you going to waste your time thinking
How you've grown up or how you've missed out?
 

 


This song -- "Praise Chorus" by Jimmy Eat World -- has been one of my favorites for many, many years. I haven't listened to it in awhile, but something recently made me go back to it and I realized what a PERFECT song it is for Positively Present.  It's all about living in the moment, seizing the day, and being here now. As wonderful has living in the moment is, there's another part of the song that really sticks out at me: "Things are never going to be the way you want." Why, you ask, does that particular line stick out at me? After all, it's probably the most negative line in the whole song! However, it's a great reminder for me. It reminds me of a very important fact that doesn't always come easily to me, and that is...

 

A happy life is not a perfect life.

 

Sound simple? Yeah, not so much if you're a Type A, slightly neurotic perfectionist like myself. I like perfect things. I like perfect outfits. I like perfect hand-writing. I like perfect (not necessarily happy) endings. I like perfect tasks at work. I like doing things well -- the best, if possible. I'm not overly competitive with others, but I'm pretty damn competitive with myself. I want to do the best I can when I've decided to commit myself to something. I want, if at all possible, perfection.

As we all know well, perfection is not possible in the grand scheme of life. No matter how wonderful, happy, or peaceful your life is, it's never going to be perfect. N-E-V-E-R. As a perfection-seeker, this a hard concept for me to grasp. My life will never be perfect? Really?! I have to admit that my heart skips a beat when I think about that. We all want a perfect life right? The question is...do we all accept the fact that we can't have one? I think I'm still working on making sense of this reality.

As I'm writing this, I'm watching Bride Wars (which I'm watching On Demand because yesterday my sister got ENGAGED!!!!). Oddly enough, I just looked up from writing and heard Kate Hudson's character say, "It's exhausting having to try to be perfect all the time. It's how I held it together ever since I was a kid. I figured nothing bad could happen again if I was just one step ahead of everything and everybody all the time." To this, her fiance replied:

 

Life isn't perfect. It's messy...You don't have to be perfect.


What if we said that ourselves every day? What if we surrounded ourselves with people who confirmed this statement, that we didn't have to be perfect? I'm pretty sure that I'm my worst enemy in this department. I don't think anyone in my life expects me to be perfect. The only one who expects perfection is me. And this desperate search for perfection comes at a cost. It has a high price of perpetual dissatisfaction.

Identifying the problem is the first step! Now that I know that I am always striving to be perfect and that I deep down believe I will someday have a perfect life (which doesn't happen to anyone), it's time to face this problem head-on. No more perfectionism in my life! Perfectionism -- no big surprise -- causes a lot of anxiety. I don't want that kind of anxiety in my life and -- YAY! -- this is something I can control. I can choose not to be a perfectionist. Instead, I can choose to be positive.

 

6 Ways To Stop Being Perfect and Start Being Happy


  1. Stop criticizing and judging.

    This, of course, is a HUGE one. If you are able to stop judging yourself and others, you're a lot less likely to be in perfection mode. Perfection comes from the idea that everything has to be a certain way. But who says it has to be that way? Who says you have to look a certain way or dress a certain way? Who says you have to act this way or that way? Okay, yes, we all live in societies and sub-societies that have certain standards, but we don't always have to live up to those standards. And we can make our own standards!

  2. Learn to go with the flow.

    Man, oh, man this is a hard one for me! I've never, ever been a go-with-the-flow kinda girl. I like to be in control, holding the reigns, setting the pace. I don't like to go along for the ride or just sit back and relax. But, when it comes to battling perfectionism, learning to just chill is REALLY important. Life is unpredictable. There are going to be unexpected twists and turns and being able to deal with changes is essential to living a positive life. We can't control everything and this is something I really, really need to work on reminding myself every day.

  3. Know that everything has a reason.

    Many of you might not be down with this idea, but I truly believe that everything happens for a reason. Even the most horrific, awful things in my life have taught me something, have made me the person I am today. It's not easy to remember this when dealing with a crisis or heartbreak, but it's so important to remember that life is what it is. Some things are out of our control and we just have to realize that someday the reason for what happens will be explained. I do my best to learn from every mistake, every bad situation, and all of these little lessons have added up to make me the person I am right now.

  4. Look at the big picture of life.

    I try to ask myself this every time I'm freaking about something not being as perfect as I would like it to be: Will this matter in five months? Five years? Usually the answers to these questions are "NO!" Most of the things I get myself all worked up about don't really impact my life in the long run. Emotional wounds always heal with time. Though I might be panicky and worried right now, in a few days, weeks, months, or years, I won't be worried about it anymore. When I find that I'm stressing about something small (which I do more often than I should), I need to remind myself to look at the big picture and pose the questions: "How important is this? Is it really worth all of the stress and anxiety?"

  5. Take time for a time out.

    Sometimes the best thing to do when I'm feeling like nothing is going the way I want it to go is to take a time out. Removing myself from a situation can be the best way to get a fresh perspective on it. When I'm working hard to get something perfect -- whether it be an outfit for a night out, a blog post, or a serious work-related task -- it's hard for me to step away. I'm in a zone and I'm focused and I don't want to waste any time. However, whenever I force myself to pull away from what I'm doing, I find that I usually come back with fresh ideas and a new perspective which helps me not to be so perfection-driven.

  6. Appreciate what's working for you.

    This goes back to the idea I talk about a lot -- loving yourself. You most likely have a lot of great things going on and you don't even notice these things when you're focused on making everything perfect. When I'm seeking perfection, I don't take time to realize what's good in my life and my level of gratitude seems to be a lot lower. It's really important to realize what is awesome about your life and to be grateful for all of the things/people/experiences in it. Doing this will make perfection seem a lot less necessary. 

 

Those of you who aren't perfectionists might not really understand what a burden it can be to always be striving for this unobtainable goal. As I said above, there is no such thing as a perfect life. You might have a great life. You might have a happy life. But no one -- no matter how hard he or she tries -- will have a perfect life. This is a fact I must accept and embrace. Knowing that life will never be perfect, that I will never be perfect, will take a lot of the pressure off. If you know you can't be perfect, you have to settle for being the best you can be. And, right now, that sounds pretty good to me.

Do you battle with perfectionism?
What advice would you add to what's written here?

Comments

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I too am a Type A perfectionist. One thing that someone wiser than myself said to me was... maybe you are already perfect, just the way you are right now. It was a beautiful & loving sentiment. Sometimes that helps me combat my perfectionistic anxieties.

Hi Dani. Learning to go with the flow and realize that there is a reason for everything takes the pressure off big time. I think if your life were "perfect" you'd be bored :-)

#7 Hang out with your slacker friend Jay, who will show you that perfectionism is highly overrated, and that being "good enough" is an art form all unto itself. :D

But seriously, the best remedy for perfectionism that I have ever encountered is parenthood. Nothing teaches you the absolute futility of trying to be perfect like having a kid to constantly mess things up!

OK, so if you aren't ready for that step, then just volunteer at a school sometime or hang out at a park or playground. Interact with kids and parents (or teachers) enough, and they'll teach you everything you need to know about the futility of perfectionism ;)

Vi - What a wise person to have said such a great and true thing! I'm definitely going to think about that when I'm feeling less-than-perfect. Maybe I'm already perfect just as I am!

Davina - You're completely right. If I had a perfect life, I would be completely bored. I need to remember that the next time I'm feeling stressed.

Jay - Haha. I like #7! That's a great suggestion about hanging out with kids more. My sister's a teacher so maybe I'll ask her if I can hang out in her classroom for a bit!

Good morning, Dani! I understand you completely! :) Thanks for the tips!


This is a great post. Reading stuff like this keeps me from losing my mind with my whole post grad school situation. I think the advice on judgment is really valuable because most of us are so judgmental whether we realize it or not.

That was a nice post. Loved your title: "A happy life is not a perfect life." Worth a Stumble. :)

Well of course! Perfect = Boring
Always looking to grow and learn new things is what makes life beautiful, so I think it`s great you`re looking to relax a little. Great post as usual :)

My daughter struggles with the desire to be perfect - she wants to do everything just perfectly all the time and becomes amazingly frustrated if it doesn't work. I remind her that she is perfectly herelf... and that trying her best or doing her best is al she can ask - to be the best person possible... and that isn't a perfect person, it is an individual with lots to give and receive and experience.

Jodi - You're welcome! I'm glad that you related to the post and got something out of my advice.

Srinivas - Glad you liked this one and you found in helpful in relation to grad school. I agree that judging is one of th most detrimental things we can do to ourselves and others.

Sunny - Thanks for the Stumble! :) I'm so glad you liked the title. I changed it last minute and I'm so glad I did.

The Exception - Sounds like great advice to give your daughter -- that she is "perfectly herself." I love that and can definitely use more of that kind of thinking in my own life!

Rosa - So glad you liked the post. You are completely right that perfection is completely boring. I certainly don't want to live a boring life!

Great post! Years ago when I was learning about Amish Quilters and their perfectly executed simple, yet awesome quilts, I learned that despite its apparent "perfection" each quilter would on purpose make a mistake. Their feeling was that we should be humble and leave perfection to God and God's business. I was so relieved about that - what a simple concept and it saved me for ever struggling to make anything perfect. As they said, it's God's business, not mine.

Oh boy can I relate to this. I can be very type A. Over the past year I have relaxed a bit. I saw that my behavior was turning my kids into "mini me's" and I did not like that at all. I am very conscious to not be perfect. Making mistakes is not only expected, but OK. Going with the flow is the way to live...I am so much happier now!

I'm a recovering Type A. I now tell people I'm an A MINUS. Trying to get it right the first time all the time isn't just boring...it's damn near mentally exhausting! No wonder I ran myself into the ground. In trying to be perfect, I attempted to be someone I'm NOT. I am not perfect. And thank God for that! I am imperfectly perfect just as I am. I love being me...my quirks, my hoof n' mouth disease, and my ability to completely miss the mark and LEARN from it!

Your life is made up of multiple things, yourself, your outlook, the place you live, and the people you encounter; the only two factors you control are yourself and your outlook. So, in expecting the perfect life you expect perfection out of the place you live and the people you encounter, which are both not exactly in your control. So, as with most things, the important part is getting to be at peace with yourself, once that is acheived, I really don't think you'll care much about this whole 'perfect' thing.

Suzen - Wow, that's really interesting. I've never heard of that before but I like it. Make mistakes on purpose!

Caroline - It's good to know that there's hope for us Type A people. I need to learn to go with the flow a lot more because it really will make me a happier person. And, in going with the flow, who knows what great experiences I might encounter!

Peggy - I love that -- A minus! That's great. I really believe that learning to letting go and accepting the fact that it's okay to make mistakes are the greatest things us Type A's can do for ourselves. It's not easy, but, you're right, if you don't stop trying to be perfect you will completely run yourself into the ground.

Ia - Very great point! You are made up of so many things and so many of those things are out of your control (which is where my control issues come into play...haha). Realizing that life is made up of more than my thoughts and actions is a great way to really learn to let go. Thanks for sharing these insights!

Excellent post.

Very well put. Striving for perfection is really a path to an incalculable hell, because we'll never be satisfied. When we strive to be our best and to make the best of what we have we've set a positive course for change and well being.

Peace always.

j

these are simple and excellent pointers. I love "Going with flow"; it's probably only thing we need to do. But a mind like mine can't be reasoned with; when it was stuck hard in its patterns and what should be and perfection and anxiety and all the rest...what worked for me were non-cognitive methods like releasing, eft, sedona etc.

Jack - Striving to be perfect is definitely hellish. I really think taking some of my own advice and trying out the things in this post will really help me out.

Kaushik - You're right. Going with the flow is the most important thing I can do. If I do that, a lot of the other things will fall into place.

Hi Dani,

I too believe that everything happens for a reason, and I use an affirmation (I think it's from Susan Jeffers) whenever I need to let go of my desired outcome and accept the present for what it is: "All is well in my world - NO MATTER WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE - it's all happening perfectly!"

It helps to remind me that the imperfect present is actually perfect - the only problem is that I don't recognise it as such - yet! (cos I usually do in 5 months/5 years time when I look back ;-)

omg yes - I am such a perfectionist! I've gotten better as of late, but I used to be HORRIBLE to myself if I wasn't 'the best' at everything. I remember crying some days if I couldn't get my eyeliner on just right. Eventually, I realized that attempting to be perfect - & always trying to have a handle on every little part of my life - was what I did to give myself some sense of control. I couldn't just let things evolve or happen naturally. But in the end, it just made me EXTREMELY unhappy trying to "not mess up" in all areas, all the time.

It's sometimes a weird idea that maybe I could be "okay" just the way I am. But everyday I'm starting to get a little more used to the notion.

<3

Things never can be perfect.

Funny, but when I stop trying to be a perfectionist and just go with the flow, the closer to perfect things get.

This a wonderful post. And you share some very powerful (and inspirational!) techniques here. I once read a quote by Sarah Ban Breathnach (author of Simple Abundance) that "Perfectionism is self-abuse of the highest order." I absolutely believe that. And as a recovering perfectionist, I concur with your suggestions. Our need to be liked by others is so often the root of our perfectionistic tendencies too. You are a wise person, indeed. I am glad I visited here and will return. Blessings to you!

I especially agree with you on points 5&6. I noticed that when I take a time out and just reflect back on what's worked for me, most of the time the results of that time out are far better off than trying to cram something out of 10 hours of non-stop work.

Hilda - Thanks for your comments. I love what you wrote about how "it's all happening perfectly." That's so true and I need to remember that.

Erica - I think I'm in the same boat you are. I struggle with being a perfectionist but every day I'm becoming more and more okay with who I am. A lot the mistakes I've made have made me the person I am today and I think I'm doing pretty okay.

Jannie - That's so true! The more we let go, the more things start to fall into place...

Jan - Thanks so much for coming by and commenting! I'm glad you agree with the ideas in this post. I love that quote you posted. It's SO true. I've never heard it before and I need to keep it in mind. Thanks!

John - Great point. When you take some time out, a bit of a break, you're a lot likely to accomplish more with a clearer mind.

Hi Dani,
The one that really jumps out at me is #4 - Look at the big picture. The truth is simply that weeks/months/years down the road - that one thing that seemed so so important will be forgotten. Life goes on... That one jumps out at me, and really strikes a chord. As much as I believe it, I sometimes really have a hard time "in the moment" remembering this.

I'm feeling better right now about my far-from-perfect day I've just had!

Learning not to be a perfectionist has taken me years! And I still have a ways to go. So thank you for pointing out some tips in that direction.

Karen

One of my favorite quotes, which #3 is about:

I believe everything happens for a reason. People change so you can learn to let go, things go wrong so that you can appreciate them when they're right, you believe lies so that you will eventually learn to trust no one but yourself, and sometimes, good things fall apart, so better things can fall together.
-Marilyn Monroe

Thanks for the blog and all your hard work!

Everything happens for a reason - I am beginning to believe that and see that life is a journey and a whole lot of lessons to be learned. Therefore the experiences and teaching are never over :)

I half expected you to add "Megan Bord!" after the title of this post, that's how much it resonated with me. Perfectionist since birth... yes, guilty as charged. (There are a lot of us, I gather!)

I loved what you wrote here, in particular: I'm pretty sure that I'm my worst enemy in this department. I don't think anyone in my life expects me to be perfect. The only one who expects perfection is me. And this desperate search for perfection comes at a cost. It has a high price of perpetual dissatisfaction.

You covered this topic really well. I don't think I can add much of anything, except to say "thank you." Imperfection is perfection... I keep reminding myself of that!

Lance - Looking at the big picture is SO important. It's not always easy for me to do (I get so caught up in the moment...but not in a good way), but I'm working on it more and more every day. I'm glad you're feeling better about your day!

Karen - It's definitely a long road going from being a perfectionist to being able to accept things the way they are. I know this won't be easy for me, but I hope the tips I've outlined here will help me out!

Calvin - That's a GREAT quote. Thanks so much for sharing it here. I love it!

RML - You're right. Everything is a lesson and it's never-ending, but that's what makes life exciting and interesting. I need to keep reminding myself that if everything were perfect, everything would be boring.

Megan - Hahaha. I love what you wrote in your comment. I'm so glad you felt like the post was speaking to you! It's not easy overcoming the need to be a perfectionist but I do believe it's possible. Like everything, it takes work, but I think we can both overcome this! :)

Don't get me started! I was brought up with parents/relatives who always questioned my activities - don't do it that way do it this way and what are you doing that for? were common questions, which as an adult led to an inability to make decisions unless i knew for a fact that the outcome would be perfect.

I've worked on that for a number of years in order to realize, as you say, life is messy. For me, the messiness is what provides great stories to tell. Perfection is boring! I do believe in #3...I really do believe things happen - positive or otherwise, for a reason...I also believe we have a hand in creating it...

Stacey - That sounds terrible, having people question all of your decisions. No wonder you always wanted to make things perfect! It's great that you've realized that everything happens for a reason and perfection is pretty darn boring. I'm still working on it, but I know one day I'll be able to relax more and just go with the flow.

Excellent post!!! This is the first time I have been to your website and blog and I love your work. Perfection is one of those crazy paradigms that I know I have struggled with for years. One of the best ways I know to help battle my tendency for perfectionism is to tune into my body, in the moment, to find out what is real for me. This happens with the breath.

When my mind starts yattering at me that "I need to do more, be more, achieve more etc. etc." I realize I am living all in my head and my heart and body are no where in the equation. I take some deep intentional breaths to get me into my body. I pay attention to the sensations that are flowing through my veins, I look around me, listen to the sounds around me and I try and still my mind. The breath helps tremendously with this. As we develop the habit of tuning into our breath, we start to quiet down the inner critic and start to make room to listen to our inner wisdom. When I am accessing my inner wisdom, I ask "What do I really, really, really want right now". It is an amazing exercise to find out what is at my core.

Take care all and enjoy your moments.
Gerrianne

Gerrianne - So glad you found Positively Present! :) It was great to see your comment in my in-box. I love what you've written about the disconnect between what your head is telling you and what your heart and body are doing. That happens to me a lot and it's something I really need to work on. Deep breaths definitely help me out and it sounds like they work for you too. Thanks for commenting!

Ah, it's the flaws that makes a person lovable. This is something I keep in mind when writing fiction. I always try to make sure my characters aren't perfect. Villains have a few good traits. Heroes have flaws. People are not perfect.

I'm reminded of the movie Primal Fear, in which one character says "I believe good people sometimes do bad things."

Melissa - You made some great points in your comment. I especially like the idea that good people do bad things sometimes. That's so true and it's definitely something to keep in mine as I'm battling with this notion of perfection. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

These are great tips. Ones I definitely need to think about and follow on a day to day basis. I can be so hard on myself. Thanks for reminding me to appreciate what I do accomplish. :)

Hi Dani .. thanks for that - all the points you make are so pertinent .. but appreciating what's working for you .. will give you the gumph, impetus, positive to keep going and working with those things that are working - probably more than you think ..

Thanks - Dani ..
Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters

Crystal - I'm so glad you got something out of reading the tips. Try not to be so hard on yourself and don't forget to remember all of the awesome things you do. :)

Hilary - I agree. When I remind myself of what I'm doing well, what is working for me, I'm a lot more likely to accept the things that aren't perfect. No one's 100% perfect after all!

Wonderful wonderful post!

Cat - Thank you!! :)

I like to think of it this way: We are all perfect in our imperfection. Thank you for this very thoughtful and insightful post.

Carrie - That's a great point. We're all perfect in our imperfection. I need to remember that one the next time I feel like I need to be perfect. Thanks!

Hey Dani! I'm a perfectionist too, and I can imagine your post will definitely strike a chord in the perfectionists that exist in everyone of us. Looking at the big picture is an approach I adopt often in order to stop getting caught up in the details. I wrote a popular 3-part series on perfectionism before on my blog, how it is a disabler than an enabler and how we can start overcoming perfectionism on my blog before, in case any readers are interested to read: http://celestinechua.com/blog/2008/12/10-ways-to-tell-if-you-are-a-perfectionist

Hi Dani

A close friend of a few years back once said to me 'Of course you're not perfect. But I love your imperfections!' Or put she it another way as well 'Perfect in your imperfection'.

As you say, of course we are imperfect because 'perfect' doesn't exist. It's an illusion, a concept without base in reality. In fact, with people I started to try to see the beauty, the character in imperfections. It's not always easy, but aren't the scars, the marks, the ridges and the lines signs we've lived? Aren't the challenges and problems signs that we are alive? And isn't ugliness a sign that we know beauty?

Lovely post!

Celes - You're right. Looking at the big picture is so important for perfectionists. I'm definitely going to hop over to your site and check out the posts on perfectionism. Thanks for leaving the link!

Ian - I LOVE the questions you've posed in your comment. They are all so true. Perfect is an illusion and it is our imperfections -- and the imperfections of the world -- that make life so interesting.

How funny that you brought up Jimmy Eats World -- "Praise Chorus" is one of my favorite songs too. On a separate note, I found Bride Wars to be one of the worst chick flicks ever. Way too cheesy for my taste, so I'm skeptical of taking away any real "life lessons" from it.

You on the other hand, pointed out some great points. I think everyone rallies against perfection in some area of their life, and the biggest thing I've learned is that you have to set a stopping point. If I don't create a stopping point, I will go back and keep reworking, critiquing, and nit-picking for forever. I'll never be 100 percent satisfied with any of my projects most likely, but at least I can sigh and smile when they're "finished."

Laura - I'm so glad you liked the song choice. I'd forgotten about it for awhile but I'm glad I came across it again. As for Bride Wars, I have to say that I don't much care for the movie, but I did like that one line from it because it's so true. Life is messy. I love your idea about the stopping point. I need to work on creating more of those in my life!

I needed to read this post. I do agree, things happen for a reason. I like to learn things from my mistakes and complications. I find myself striving for perfection as well and try to "go with the flow" more often than not.

Marci - I'm so glad that this post spoke to you today. I tend to like perfection but it's so important to go with the flow and realize that life unfolds just the way it's supposed to.

You have a way with words! I love how you said it, "realize that life unfolds just the way it's supposed to." Brilliant. I look forward to learning more from you. :)

Marci - Thank you! :) I really do believe that life is happening just the way it should (even though that can be so hard to see/understand at times). I'm glad you enjoyed this post and I look forward to hearing more from you too!

So true - and in the actor Kirk Douglas’ book ‘My Stroke Of Luck’, where he recounts his battle and victory over a stroke, he shares the following powerful truth:‘The world is filled with people who have suffered from one misfortune or another. The only thing that sets one apart from the rest is the desire and the attempt to help others. People who reach out beyond their pain, out into the world in a trusting way – they are the ones who make a difference. Nietzsche said, ‘He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how.’

Peter - Thanks for sharing that great quote from Kirk Douglas' book. That really is true. I love it! And thanks so much for taking the time to comment on Positively Present. I'm not sure how you came across the blog, but I'm glad you did.

This site is like a classorom, except I don't hate it. lol

Jenny - Haha, I'm glad you feel that way! Thanks for commenting!

Hi,
wanna ask you something...
what do ou mean by: know that everything happens for a reason - do you mean that getting trough drug abbuse, adoption, quiting with scholl are a good thing?

Trinny - No, I don't believe that those are necessarily good things, but I do believe that any difficult things we have to go through in life happen for a reason. We might not know the reason until much later, but we ultimately are given challenges in life to make us stronger people.

Hey..this is so true..I get so mad at times cause things are not perfect and cant be..in fact life can be far far from perfect..life can be dirty, painful, and scary.. but accepting that it is how life is and not expecting everything to be perfect makes the bad things more bearable..and who is to say its even "bad" .. :)

Matt - Great question: who is to say it's even "bad"? It's hard to keep that in mind sometimes, but it's such an important point of view to have. Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

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