i consider myself to be an ex-perfectionist that is in recovery. it was sometime during my grad program in counseling psych that i had this lightbulb moment where it was like, “holy shit – i am going to miss absolutely everything because i am so focused on perfecting each moment that i am missing every moment.” part of that moment was sparked by this book – the gifts of imperfection by brené brown.
i know what you might be thinking…”her previous post was about brené brown.” this probably won’t be the last post you read about her because i think she is spectacular. she normalizes so much of the shit we drive ourselves crazy about. or at the very least, shit i drive myself crazy about.
brené’s book is meant to help readers accept their truest selves – flaws and all. perfection is not something that truly exists; it is something that we (as people and a society) have made up. and with that, we are driving ourselves crazy. i wanted to figure out how to feel a little less crazy in addition to finding out how to reframe what i viewed as imperfection.
in my most recent post, i discussed a quote of brené’s on courage. in this book, she talks about how the original definition of courage was linked closely with the concept of vulnerability and how now, there has been a shift and it is linked closely with being heroic. her thought is that we need to get back to that original definition – courage, even if seemingly ordinary, is something magnificent. especially because in today’s world, courage that is linked to vulnerability is rare. the example that immediately came to mind for me happened a few years ago; my grandmother was diagnosed with cancer for a third time. typically, it would be in my nature to tell hardly anyone or downplay how hard things were for me to anyone who asked. i decided to take a different approach. i sent a detailed email to about 20 people who i am close with. i not only covered the type of cancer she had, but i was vulnerable about my feelings and how i would likely need support (that some may have never previously given me – either because it wasn’t needed or because i did not make it obvious that it was something i needed). it was incredible to see how many people showed up for me during that time. while it was wildly uncomfortable for me to send that email, and for a moment, even felt like a sign of weakness, in retrospect, i know just how courageous that was.
there is this section dedicated to worthiness that has helped me greatly as a person and as a therapist with each of my clients. i would say it has been even more helpful in my work with so many teen girls of color, who are being told at every turn that they are not enough as they are.
“the greatest challenge for most of us is believing that we are worthy now, right this minute. worthiness doesn’t have prerequisites. so many of us have knowingly created/unknowingly allowed/been handed down a long list of worthiness prerequisites:
- i’ll be worthy when i lose 20 pounds
- i’ll be worthy if i can get pregnant
- i’ll be worthy if i can get/stay sober
- i’ll be worthy if everyone thinks i am a good parent
- i’ll be worthy when i can make a living selling my art
- i’ll be worthy if i can hold my marriage together
- i’ll be worthy when i make partner
- i’ll be worthy when my parents finally approve
- i’ll be worthy if he calls back and asks me out
- i’ll be worthy when i can do it all and look like i’m not even trying
here’s what is truly at the heart of wholeheartedness: worthy now. not if. not when. we are worthy of love and belonging now. right this minute. as is.”
now, i think every person reading this can relate to at least one of those bullet points. and in working with impressionable teen girls, i work with them to hush the voices inside of their heads that sound like those bullet points. i explain this concept of brené’s to them that i hope they carry long after their work with me – “in a society that says, ‘put yourself last,’ self-love and self-acceptance are almost revolutionary.”
something that was confusing to me as child that i carried into adulthood was this concept of perfectionism being synonymous with doing my absolute best. this was not only inaccurate but a way to set myself up for failure time and time again. it was this idea that my best was not good enough. perfectionism also went against something i cared more about as an adult: authenticity. how could i be authentically me if my primary concern centered around looking and acting perfect? i wanted to shift from believing that improvement was only occurring if perfection was achieved. this took an immense amount of practice and breaking down years of trying to be perfect. the work was well worth it once on the other side.
as i have unearthed the true value of imperfection, i have felt more at peace than i knew possible. it has enabled me to be proud of myself. it has enabled me to feel joy.
“what is joy? joy seems to be a step beyond happiness. happiness is a sort of atmosphere you can live in sometimes when you’re lucky. joy is a light that fills you with hope and faith and love.” -adela rogers st. johns
so i ask you: how do you practice courage? does your idea of worthiness have prerequisites? when is the last time you felt joy? have you found the beauty in imperfection?