Overcoming Perfectionism: The Joy of Just Okay
Posted on 27 December 2010
“The amount of happiness that you have depends on the amount of freedom you have in your heart.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh
Yesterday I was talking to my dear friend Erin about all the pressures to be perfect—to be more than just enough. To always be striving to be 100 percent.
I realized later that this has been going on all my life. Haven’t we all felt it?
In grade school, the importance of getting those A’s, being on the teacher’s list, always getting the gold star.
In high school, being popular, being smart, being a jock—whichever lane we chose to fit into to, there was always the hierarchy of being the best.
Later came the career ladder—always needing to excel. Not to even mention the pressures to be a perfect parent and the ongoing need to be the perfect child.
Okay, my neck is stiff just writing this.
I am a child of the fifties. I remember people having hobbies, just doing things they enjoyed with no value system attached. Whether it was painting a picture, crocheting a potholder, or making furniture in the garage, the point was the joy.
I don’t remember a lot of apologies about how something wasn’t up to some predefined set of standards. The end product might wind up on a wall or in the entryway, but it might stay in the garage.
The point was the experience, not the outcome. A lot of weird crafts on the wall were just accepted.
It would be so easy to blame Martha Stewart for this change in values, but I don’t think she wields that much power. Granted, for many things, the bar became set so high that it was impossible to have fun.
I remember looking at my dyed Easter eggs, a project I have once loved, and becoming the critic. They were a bit amateurish. The colors were blurry and my little dots looked strangely like mold! Ah, I forgot the most important part of the story: I am an amateur!
These are just eggs to be hidden in tall grass and eventually broken up into egg salad. Only I am holding them as a standard of my current worth.
Here is my personal philosophy. I only know this is my truth, but maybe it will resound with you, as well.
The worse I feel about me, the more I need to be perfect.
My birthday cake with the sliding top layer becomes symbolic of my own inner imperfection, and so it is hard to accept. My attempts at watercolor are not ready for MOCA, and so I lose the joy of just splashing some water and paint on paper and having fun.
I am not good enough. The jewelry I love to make has a weird knot midway and instead of loving its imperfection, I toss it aside as not good enough and quit making jewelry. I am not enough.
I think the reason I cannot just enjoy these simple activities is that in some recess of my mind, I have chosen to use each of these as a defining point of who I am.
Instead of finding the fun of pursuing something I like to do, I have used it as a scale of my own value. So each time one of these activities falls short of my personal benchmark, in my mind it is actually me falling short of being perfect, or at least pretty darn good!
I’ve kind of known this for a while, but as I now face it full on, words on a page, I see how I have shut myself off from such a wealth of joy, of fun, of pure pleasure.
If each pursuit is not a review of my personal worth, then my world opens. I can detach from the outcome. Wow, I could even start something and not need to finish it. Now, that’s a concept. Fun could just be fun, no first place ribbons attached.
It’s almost a New Year, a fresh slate and I have a new manifesto. I am okay, perfect in my imperfection. In my life, it is okay to be average, to be below average sometimes! To just be.
I am reveling in the sweet comfort of mediocrity. I am going to look for the end result: the joy. The path that gets to me that place is irrelevant.
No more apologies for a cake with slipping layers. I mean, Hello! It’s cake after all. Yummy in any form.
Photo by aarongilson