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The Illusion of Perfection

What is this fixation most of us seem to have with perfection? Why do I have this constant need to have the perfectly clean home, a perfectly organized desk, and perfectly cooked meals every day – and an endless list of unsustainable tasks.  I take my hat off to those that can maintain all of the above – I wish you well. To those like me, you’re always chasing your tail. Just when you think you’ve finally reached the threshold of perfect bliss – without warning, reality kicks in. The second or two you clear your desk so you can be motivated to have a productive day, is the same moment your nearly 12-year old dumps her weekly notices from school without an explanation. The minute the kitchen sink is clean and clear of dirty dishes, the minute it gets filled again. The moment you make up your bed with clean sheets, fluff the pillows and make it look like a replica from a home decor magazine, is the same moment your 7-year old comes flying in to jump on it (apparently it looked too inviting!) That sense of achievement, fulfillment and pride is painfully wrenched away. But was it really yours at all to begin with?

Striving for perfection is to waste effort and energy on an unrealistic and unachievable goal. Plus the fact that your mind keeps shifting the goal posts every time you’re anywhere even close to the goal square.

It’s only recently that I’ve come to realize, for myself at least, that it’s all about control. By keeping things “under control”, I feel I’ve tapped into some kind of mammoth strength that feeds this egotistical obsession with controlling what happens around me. Sad but true. I feel safe and comfortable when I can control what’s around me – and it distracts me from other things I should be focusing on (yes, that loyal companion of perfectionism – procrastination, settles in).

So what happens now? How do we tackle it? How do we relinquish this so-called control and learn to live our lives without the distraction and without the shackles that are holding us down? How do we halt procrastination from taking out a lease in our brain? Stop cleaning, stop organizing, stop aiming high? Of course not.

I don’t have a fool-proof plan or 10-step guaranteed solution. Sorry to burst your bubble but I just have my own experience that has taught me volumes about the waste of perfectionism.

My first lesson that we all must learn is that perfectionism is not real – why? Essentially because once you achieve it, you assume that it is a stable, static stage that will not change. But we all know this is false. Instead, strive for excellence, strive to achieve your personal best and once you achieve that, keep going. Don’t let the end result mean the end. There’s always something new to learn, to enjoy, to experience. No matter how many times things don’t go to plan, remember it’s a chance to discover a different approach, that plan B doesn’t have to mean failure.

Secondly, we need to practice mindfulness and gratitude every step of the way. Being present and enjoying every moment, being grateful for all the bounties you have no matter how small are key to feeling content. A feeling only fleetingly felt when striving for perfection. Appreciate your achievements, celebrate and honour yourself and your life. Get out of your head and into your life – smile more, stress less; serve more, worry less, love more, fear less. Fill your mind and heart with gratitude and appreciate the little things.

And finally, remember that a perfectly made bed is to be enjoyed not photographed – maybe jump on the bed with your crazy 7-year old. Having more dirty dishes to wash means you are surrounded by companionship. Seeing order through a messy desk equates to creativity! Ok that may be a long shot, but you get the picture. Life is just too short and too precious to waste on this illusion called perfection.

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