Want to be happy? Stop trying to be perfect.

I was in Staples on the weekend and, as I was looking for a laser printer toner cartridge, I stopped in front of an entire display of new items from Martha Stewart, a new line of office supplies for the discerning woman. I think Martha Stewart has done a better job than anyone else at marketing misery. What I mean is this: She has managed to convince masses of women that in order to achieve some strange degree of happiness, everything has to be just perfect, and perfect to Martha is usually over the top. And because she’s so over the top, no matter how hard anyone tries, they will never quite be as perfect as Martha, thus the never ending marketing of misery. Years ago I read an unauthorized biography on her, and if even a small part of it is true, she’s faaaar from perfect.

What added to this moment was that there was a woman standing there poring over the products. She was dressed in frumpy sweat pants, and had her bare feet stuck in running shoes, over all of this was a far too big fake shearling coat. Her hair was messy, and all in all she looked a bit like a homeless woman. As I turned to walk away I glanced at her face out of the corner of my eye and was floored to realize that I knew her. We’d worked together years ago, and at one time I had thought we were friends, but I had been mistaken. I do that a little too often, open myself to people who have their own best interests at heart and use me until they achieve what they want. I never realize that until too late, so unfortunately I get less and less open with new people in my life, and appreciate even more the ones who have been there so long.

But that’s neither here nor there.

It really surprised me that she looked the way she did. This woman was intelligent (and I assume she still is), had usually been well dressed, spent a lot of money getting her hair done by one of the top stylists at one of the top salons in the city (and was very proud of that fact, even when I know she couldn’t really afford it), she always had her makeup done well, and was proud of her appearance. She used people to make her way to where she thought she wanted to be and, from what I had heard, things didn’t work out for her all that well when she got part-way there. It makes me sad that she isn’t somewhere at the peak of her career and winning recognition.

Regardless of that fact though, how we dress tells the world how we feel, and even if we feel like crap, dressing neatly at least gives the “impression” that we feel good about ourselves, and sometimes that’s enough to fool ourselves into believing it. If I look a mess, I feel a mess, and that just perpetuates a vicious cycle. I don’t mean that you have to be wearing some fancy brand label to be well dressed, quite the opposite. A crisp pair of Levis, and a nice white t-shirt look great with just a simple necklace. Brush your hair, put on a nice lipstick, add a simple pair of earrings, put your shoulders back, keep your chin high, and you’ll look like a million bucks, and you’ll feel the same way. Anybody ever watch “How Not to Dress”? I LOVE that show! The message is so simple. Life’s messy, but you don’t have to be. On a relatively small budget, you can look great, and when you look great, you feel great.

Perfection, on the other hand, is totally unachievable, because just when you think you achieve it, someone will always change the rules on you. And that someone will be you. You will just find something else to obsess over and therefore you will slip back a few steps into what you perceive as unhappiness again. If you live your life thinking “I’ll be happy when I get the new car/new dress/fancy computer/new guy/whatever” you’re never going to be happy, because you will just set the bar higher as soon as you get what-you-thought-would-make-you-happy-but-didn’t-when-you-actually-got-it.

Be happy with yourself, if you look around you are probably better off than an awful lot of people in the world. Perfection is an impossible dream, because the person you are trying to emulate probably isn’t as content as you think he/she is, you are probably projecting something unrealistic onto him/her. We make these unrealistic demands on ourselves and then, when we can’t achieve them, we either crumble or try to find someone to tell us how great we could be if we only do these little things. Well guess what? You ARE already great! You don’t have to achieve some unattainable (or even attainable) goal to be appreciated and loved. You just have to be you, to be real. Be comfortable in yourself. Stop always trying to find the next thing that will make your life perfect, imperfection is so much more interesting.

As I was cleaning out some old bookmarks I came across a great article that is worth a read.

Want to be happy?

Stop trying to be perfect

By Brené Brown

(CNN) – The quest for perfection is exhausting and unrelenting, but as hard as we try, we can’t turn off the tapes that fill our heads with messages like “Never good enough” and “What will people think?”

Why, when we know that there’s no such thing as perfect, do most of us spend an incredible amount of time and energy trying to be everything to everyone? Is it that we really admire perfection? No — the truth is that we are actually drawn to people who are real and down-to-earth. We love authenticity and we know that life is messy and imperfect.

We get sucked into perfection for one very simple reason: We believe perfection will protect us. Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgment, and shame.

We all need to feel worthy of love and belonging, and our worthiness is on the line when we feel like we are never ___ enough (you can fill in the blank: thin, beautiful, smart, extraordinary, talented, popular, promoted, admired, accomplished).

Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be our best. Perfectionism is not about healthy achievement and growth; it’s a shield. Perfectionism is a 20-ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from being seen and taking flight.

Living in a society that floods us with unattainable expectations around every topic imaginable, from how much we should weigh to how many times a week we should be having sex, putting down the perfection shield is scary. Finding the courage, compassion and connection to move from “What will people think?” to “I am enough,” is not easy. But however afraid we are of change, the question that we must ultimately answer is this:

What’s the greater risk? Letting go of what people think — or letting go of how I feel, what I believe, and who I am?

So, how do we cultivate the courage, compassion, and connection that we need to embrace our imperfections and to recognize that we are enough — that we are worthy of love, belonging, and joy? Why we’re all so afraid to let our true selves be seen and known. Why are we so paralyzed by what other people think? After studying vulnerability, shame, and authenticity for the past decade, here’s what I’ve learned.

A deep sense of love and belonging is an irreducible need of all people. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong. When those needs are not met, we don’t function as we were meant to. We break. We fall apart. We numb. We ache. We hurt others. We get sick.

There are certainly other causes of illness, numbing, and hurt, but the absence of love and belonging will always lead to suffering.

As I conducted my research interviews, I realized that only one thing separated the men and women who felt a deep sense of love and belonging from the people who seem to be struggling for it. That one thing is the belief in their worthiness. It’s as simple and complicated as this:

If we want to fully experience love and belonging, we must believe that we are worthy of love and belonging.

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 created 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 get/stay sober

• I’ll be worthy if everyone thinks I’m a good parent

• 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 when I can do it all and look like I’m not even trying

Here’s what is truly at the heart of whole-heartedness: Worthy now. Not if. Not when. We are worthy of love and belonging now. Right this minute. As is.

Letting go of our prerequisites for worthiness means making the long walk from “What will people think?” to “I am enough.” But, like all great journeys, this walk starts with one step, and the first step in the Wholehearted journey is practicing courage.

The root of the word courage is cor — the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage had a very different definition than it does today. Courage originally meant to speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.

Over time, this definition has changed, and, today, courage is more synonymous with being heroic. Heroics are important and we certainly need heroes, but I think we’ve lost touch with the idea that speaking honestly and openly about who we are, about what we’re feeling, and about our experiences (good and bad) is the definition of courage.

Heroics are often about putting our life on the line. Courage is about putting our vulnerability on the line. If we want to live and love with our whole hearts and engage in the world from a place of worthiness, our first step is practicing the courage it takes to own our stories and tell the truth about who we are. It doesn’t get braver than that.


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3 Comments

  1. Gael White03-01-2012

    Okay Martha maybe is toooooooo perfect but I think it better to "pick on" a man. After all Martha got sent to prison for what hundreds of men have done……….I say "pick on" the men as they get away with WAYYYYYYYYYY TOOOO Much! There ya go!

  2. Gael White03-01-2012

    Okay Martha maybe is toooooooo perfect but I think it better to “pick on” a man. After all Martha got sent to prison for what hundreds of men have done……….I say “pick on” the men as they get away with WAYYYYYYYYYY TOOOO Much! There ya go!

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