The Courage to be imperfect

Before I understood that life is pink and yellow, I’ve thought that everything is either black or white. You’re a good or bad person. You have a satisfying or shitty job. Your relationship is hopeless or perfect. You make mistakes every single day or never.

I believed that doing ‘something’ is pointless. You go for ‘everything’ or – instead of bothering yourself with half-measures – stay with ‘nothing’. 

What’s more, my ‘everything’ needed to be flawless. I didn’t accept an aspiration to do anything just to have it done. None of my projects ever started from the beginning. My ‘step 0’ was always setting up the highest standards.

At that time, I divided people into those who care too much (perceived in my eyes as “good”) and those who care too less (perceived as “bad”). If someone was somewhere in the middle (healthy), in my opinion, he clearly cared too less.

It’s not like I’ve always been working the hardest. But I either have been working the hardest or didn’t work at all. This kind of attitude by itself allowed me to be focused only during short periods. No one can be efficient and productive 24/7. 

I had my ups and downs. Unfortunately, every ‘down’ meant then a considerable crisis. When things weren’t going my way, I usually decided to stop them, aiming to start over in the future. 

Beginnings are exciting, pure and perfect. They give you a fake impression that this time everything can go smoothly, deprived of any complications. The point is that trying to achieve this kind of ‘perfection’ and running away from the problems should be a significant warning for you. Especially when it stops you from taking action.

I know some couples who never fight. I was in this kind of relationship. It didn’t mean that we didn’t have problems; we were simply avoiding a confrontation. Was I happy? Not entirely. But if someone asked me about how the things were going with my partner, I perfectly kept the impression of having a great connection. 

I was excellent at postponing things when I knew that the results might not be ideal. Instead of writing once for a while something average, I haven’t been writing at all. Instead of exercising irregularly, I haven’t been exercising at all. Basically, instead of choosing small, consistent steps, I’ve been choosing to stand still.

“I have a young friend who dreams of becoming a novelist, but he never seems to be able to complete his work. According to him, his job keeps him too busy, and he can never find enough time to write novels, and that’s why he can’t complete work and enter it for writing awards. But is that the real reason? No! It’s actually that he wants to leave the possibility of “I can do it if I try” open, by not committing to anything. He doesn’t want to expose his work to criticism, and he certainly doesn’t want to face the reality that he might produce an inferior piece of writing and face rejection. He wants to live inside that realm of possibilities, where he can say that he could do it if he only had the time, or that he could write if he just had the proper environment, and that he really does have the talent for it. In another five or ten years, he will probably start using another excuses like “I’m not young anymore” or “I’ve got a family to think about now”.*

That’s typical for perfectionists: not accepting little progress and being afraid of any kind of failure. The only thing a perfectionist wants is a perfect win. 

If I were mentoring my perfectionist younger self, I would tell her that it’s okay to risk, change your mind and make mistakes. It’s completely fine to say that you want something and then to opt-out. It’s normal not to be sure what you want and confront yourself with your crazy ideas. The worst you can do is to stay quiet and to run away from any obstacles.

Doing nothing is comfortable and it gives you a guarantee for no mistakes. If you never try, you’ll never lose. Unfortunately, there’s also no chance to win.  

“Holding on to this idea that if you’re careful you won’t make mistakes gives a false sense of security. The only real security is knowing and accepting who you are right now. If you embrace your identity with your flaws included, it’s a powerful defense against even the harshest criticism. Otherwise, the image you present to the world is like a turtle shell, and the real you is underneath, naked, vulnerable, and afraid.” **

I start to feel that vibe. 

I’ve always thought that being a perfectionist is something to be proud about, because if you’re not one – you’ll never be able to achieve anything in your life. Right now, I understand that embracing imperfection will bring you closer to your goals than a perfectionist mindset ever could. 

“Imperfectionism is pursuing and doing good things in life without so much as hoping for (let alone expecting) perfection. It’s prioritizing doing over doing well. This doesn’t rule out doing things well; it only takes away the crippling fear of not doing well.“**

For me, it’s never easy to accept frustrations, so-called ‘bad decisions’ and uncertainty. But more and more often, I convince myself to forget about high-pressure and it makes me feel really great. Lofty expectations are impressive, but making decisions without being afraid if they are perfect, brings me much more satisfaction. It also allows me to confront myself with my true self. There are higher chances that I’ll change your mind by taking action than that I’ll change my actions only by trying to think in a different way. 

I really start to see the beauty in dilemmas. I start to respect disagreements. I start to allow myself to feel and talk about those feelings. I start to say out loud things which I would never say. I start allowing myself to take breaks and I stop striving to be flawless.

I still like excellence, but I appreciate the process much more.

I start to understand that life is not about running away from anything that’s not excellent and searching for joy in feeling comfortable and protected.

“Being protected is not always the best for us. Consider animals that grow up protected in shelters and so lack the skills to survive in the wild. Consider individual muscle fibers, which are torn through exercise and then built back stronger. **

Protection often wakens that which it protects.”

Life is about letting to drop your guard down and still feeling strong.

* Ichiro Kishimi, The Courage to Be Disliked: How to Free Yourself, Change Your Life, and Achieve Real Happiness

** Stephen Guise, How to Be an Imperfectionist: The New Way to Self-Acceptance, Fearless Living, and Freedom from Perfectionism

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