Let’s admit it. Sometimes we get a little too obsessed with perfection: Perfect body, perfect hair, perfect outfit, perfect children, perfect dinner, perfect schedule, and (of course) a perfectly clean and organized home. Then we look at reality and wonder why we feel frustrated and depressed: Flabby tummy, thinning hair, outdated clothing, rebellious children, cereal for dinner, impossible schedule, and a house that is far from clean and organized.
The sad but funny thing is, we spend an inordinate amount of time and energy trying to reach this elusive state of perfection, feeling vaguely dissatisfied as long as we fall short, but never asking if our definition of perfection is even remotely realistic!
I’ve thought a lot about this topic since I’m a self-proclaimed Frustrated Perfectionist turned Recovering Perfectionist striving to be a Calm and Contented Realist. It’s a long road, but I’ve learned a few things along the way.
1. Change your definition of perfection
I am a firm believer that perfection is more of a spiritual state than a physical one. Unfortunately, I think most of us gravitate toward physical perfection because it’s easier to see, manipulate, and control. (And we know that other people can see our physical perfection–or lack of it!)
For example, which is more difficult – to have a clean and clutter-free home, or a clean and clutter-free heart? Do we make our outer appearance stylish and beautiful, or do we radiate inner beauty? To help our children excel in school and extracurricular, or to teach them the values of honesty, self-control, and compassion?
I’ve often wondered about the message I am sending to my children. While I’m all about trying to help them succeed in the world and improve their talents, I don’t want them to feel like their value lies in looking good, keeping their bedrooms spotless, and getting straight A’s. There are so many things in this life that are more important than the outward appearance of perfection, so as long as we use “perfect” as a description of things that can be easily photographed or quantified, most of us will come up lacking.
2. Focus on striving, not arriving
I like to think of the word “perfect” as a verb, not an adjective. To perfect means to improve, refine, hone, or work on. That’s a lot less pressure than trying to “be” perfect today, right now. It’s that whole “joy in the journey” thing that we often find difficult to master as mothers. (I’m not the only one, right?)
I love many quotes from Anna Quindlen, but this one might be my favorite: “The thing that is really hard and really amazing is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.” Forget the notion of “being” perfect and simply enjoy the journey of becoming you! The irony of that sentiment is that if you do “become yourself” you will be perfect because you will be who you were created to become. And that person and that life may not look anything like your previous definition of perfect.
3. Realize that perfection comes through imperfection
Why do we try so hard to reach an unrealistic standard of perfection anyway, when in fact it is the imperfections of our lives that actually perfect us? What? Think about it: The child with the illness or disability that teaches us how to really pray or sacrifice; the difficult teenager who pushes us to dig deeper and love more. The daily grind that forces us to get more organized and disciplined. The financial struggles that keep us humble and motivate us to reach out to and help others struggling in similar ways. You see?