Guess what! It’s my birthday month! That’s right. It’s a running joke in my family that I don’t just have a birthday… I have a birthday month.
As I was thinking about what I wanted to share with you, I came up with today’s topic. But it had 2 different titles: What I Learned From My 38-Year Struggle with Perfectionism and What I Learned From My 38-Year Struggle with Contentment. I couldn’t decide which to focus on and I feel like they’re equally important messages, so I decided to turn this into a 2-part series. Today, we’ll be focusing on perfectionism and next week, we’ll talk about contentment.
I wish I could tell you this is a challenge I’ve fully overcome. It’s still a journey for me as I get ready to celebrate my 39th birthday this month. But I have learned quite a few lessons and I feel like everyday it gets easier to embrace my shortcomings and imperfections. Let’s explore 6 helpful takeaways I’ve uncovered so far.
❶ The Grass Is Always Greener
Perfectionism and comparison go together. I think it’s easy to measure ourselves based on someone else’s standards. We see picture perfect people and homes and closets and bodies on social media and we think we have to live up to that. But #1 – a lot of that isn’t real or isn’t as it seems and #2 – I guarantee that most of those people are trying to live up to someone else. It’s human nature to compare and to crave. We’ll talk more about that next week when we explore the idea of contentment.
But you never know what someone else is going through. You never know what they wish they had. You might be jealous of someone else or trying to look as perfect as someone else, but I promise you they don’t think they’re perfect.
If you are comparing yourself to others or trying to reflect an outer appearance of perfection, whether in real life or on social media, it’s time to give yourself a break. NO ONE is perfect. Everyone’s definition of perfection is different. You are trying to live up to impossible standards that don’t exist.
So I try to remind myself that the grass is always greener and things aren’t always as they seem.
❷ You Are Your Own Worst Critic
We can be so mean to ourselves, can’t we? I would never speak about a friend the way I speak about myself.
It’s funny, because my husband and I were on vacation last week for the first time since our son was born more than 5 years ago. We went with his cousin and his wife. And it was interesting to see how critical she and I could be about ourselves in photos. We kept wanting to delete certain ones. But we never thought each other looked bad! And I’m sure I didn’t really look bad either. It just wasn’t how I thought the photo would turn out in my mind.
We want to look perfect in photos and filters often allow us to. And if we don’t like them, we can just erase them from existence. But I don’t want to lose moments of my life. The only photos I kindly asked my husband to delete were the ones where I was talking as he continued snapping selfies or if he caught me mid-blink. He has plenty that I don’t LOVE. But I also know I don’t need to look “perfect” in order to enjoy a great memory or moment.
I have learned to be kinder to myself over the past 39 years. I talk to myself as more of a friend than as an enemy. I may feel disappointed in how I looked or how a project turned out or results that I had, but I don’t dwell on it or beat myself up. I move on much faster. I know I’m my own worst critic and I’m working to become my own best cheerleader instead. I’ll let you know how it’s going another 38 years from now.
❸ It Doesn’t Matter What People Think
If you’re worried about what people think of you, STOP. They’re not. They’re not thinking of you! Everyone is the main character of their own life. And while what’s going on with you might seem like the biggest deal, people are far less concerned with you than you think. That’s not to say people don’t care about you, especially your friends and family. But people have their own problems, insecurities, and distractions.
When you show up with confidence, that speaks volumes. When you’re not afraid to be yourself, you’ll gain respect if nothing else. You’ll attract people to you and hear more compliments. People appreciate courage and authenticity. So be yourself and let go of what everyone else thinks about it.
❹ Confidence Is a Choice
You can choose right now to show up as a confident person. You don’t need anything outside of yourself. You don’t need a better wardrobe or body or bigger budget or anything to accept what you have and show up. Just go for it! You have one life and I don’t want to see you hiding out in the shadows.
I’m far from perfect. I have a lot of insecurities. But that doesn’t stop me from living and showing up and going for things. I get to choose every day to step into the most confident version of myself. I don’t always make that choice. Sometimes, I give into my frustrations and feelings. I think we all need days to recoup and recharge. But that can’t be your everyday. So don’t hide out. Don’t play small. Remember, you have a CHOICE in how you show up for your life.
I’ve learned to take imperfect action and I know it’s gotten me so much farther than waiting for every piece to come together perfectly before I move.
❺ You Make the Meaning
I’ve participated in a lot of transformational, self-development training over the years. Think Tony Robbins seminars but in a more intimate setting over the course of several months at a time. And one of the things I was taught was to be 100% responsible for our results.
Looking back, this was not a healthy perspective for my Type A, perfectionist personality. I used that principle as a way to beat myself up and reinforce the belief that I would never be good enough. I also wrestled with the fact that this didn’t leave any room for God and His plans for my life. Maybe I wanted something and worked really hard to create it, but He knew there was something different and better for me in the long run. Like our 6-year infertility struggle. I wanted a baby so badly during that time, but looking back, I’m relieved that we had our son Grey when we did, not sooner. I believe God’s timing is everything.
But what I’ve come to realize is that while God might be writing my story, I get to make the meaning. I get to decide whether I’m going to wallow in my circumstances or see hope and opportunity. I can take my thoughts captive and choose to think positively or negatively about everything in my life. You have this same ability, my friend. We all do!
So while the perfectionist in me wants everything to go perfectly and according to my plan, that’s not life. We’re going to face challenges and curveballs. Even when things don’t go perfectly, I can make lemonade out of life’s lemons.
❻ People Pleasing Is a Lose/Lose
When you’re pretending to be someone you’re not just to win the approval of others, everyone loses. You suffer the stress of trying to present yourself in a fake way and the exhaustion of trying to keep up appearances. And other people lose because they never really get to know you. You’re not letting them in.
For much of my life, I put on a front that everything was perfect. I liked to slap a smile on my face even if I was feeling depressed. I would brush things under the rug and all the while building up hidden resentments. I kept relationships superficial for the sake of being liked rather than being seen. I would go with the flow and then later wish we were doing something else. I’m not into astrology but I definitely have the personality of a Libra. I like to keep the peace. I can see everyone’s perspective. Sometimes, that makes it difficult to assert my opinion or even find my opinion in the first place.
Even as I’ve let my guard down over the last 5-10 years, it’s interesting how my mind works. I started developing friendships with a new group of women a couple of years ago and in the beginning, I would have what I can only describe as a vulnerability hangover after hanging out with them. I would come home and analyze every single thing that I said. I would wonder what they thought of me or if I offended anyone. I would regret so many things that came out of my mouth and want to undo portions of the night. Thankfully, I persisted. I kept hanging out with these incredibly kind and non-judgmental friends and the thoughts lessened with each occasion. But WOW can I see how much my people-pleasing has impacted me throughout my life, especially now as I’m learning to let it go.
And I’m happy now that I’ve shown my authentic self to these women. I’m showing up on this podcast for you each week, not knowing whether you’ll like or find value in every episode or judge me for not having it all together or looking perfect or having some massive walk-in closet with a chandelier and custom shelving and 10 pairs of Louboutins. That’s not who I am and I won’t pretend to be that. I want you to know that I’m a mom, in a middle-class, suburban neighborhood, with coffee stains on my clothes often. I don’t go on a lot of vacations or to fancy premiers or press events. I don’t work with celebrity clients or spend thousands of dollars on clothes each month… or even each year! I try to be intentional with what I have and honest about what I think and how I feel.
I want you to know the real me and I want to know the real you.
With all of that said, I realize these are lessons we all need to learn for ourselves. Maybe you’ve shared some of these epiphanies or maybe you’re still clinging to a false sense of perfection. Either way, my hope is that you can lower your standards a smidgen, show yourself love and kindness and grace, and be who you really are — in your style, in your words, and in how you show up.
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