Are you a perfectionist? Or do you always feel like you’re not quite enough? Learn how to be accomplished without being overwhelmed.
I tried to be perfect that day. I had practiced the music routine for weeks. At age fourteen, I desperately wanted to be a twirler for my school. On tryout day, the music played and I marched and twirled to “Feeling Groovy” by Simon and Garfunkel. I thought it was going pretty well and, at the start of the next move, I confidently grabbed the ball of the baton and prepared to throw it in the air. But at the moment I swung my arm, something went terribly wrong. The ball came off the end and, instead of going up, the baton went cartwheeling to the side, nearly taking out one of the judges. If the judges hadn’t been sure about me before this moment, seeing my baton hurtling toward them made their decision easy. So while many of my friends were selected for the twirling squad that day, I didn’t make the cut.
Although I was able to bounce back from the experience, not making the cut was the first time I was told I was not good enough to be a part of something I really wanted. Rejection is an unavoidable part of all our lives and can lead us to opportunities and careers that suit us better. But everyone processes it differently, and that’s the tricky part. Some people fuel comebacks with these feelings. They return stronger or they excel at something new. And hard work does pay off. Coaches successfully use this strategy to prod athletes into improving their game. Students study harder and get better grades. People work harder at their jobs, get promoted and recognized for their achievements. And while some are happy with the challenge, for others, this feeling of never being good enough, or worthy, becomes a debilitating trap. Always striving for perfection can permeate our thinking. It’s a mindset that can ruin relationships and prevent people from experiencing their imperfect, authentic, and happy selves. And in the end, no matter what successes we have achieved, it’s our happiness and our relationships that are most important.
Brené Brown has a solution. Brown has spent years researching and studying the damaging effects of what she calls “shame storms” and has written a guidebook to help people avoid the pitfalls of trying to be perfect. As a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, Brown writes and speaks regularly about her findings. In The Gifts of Imperfection – Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, and in her very popular TED Talks on The Power of Vulnerability and Listening to Shame, she shares her personal struggle for perfection in a warm and engaging style. She encourages readers and listeners to take an honest look at their own lives and examine how they can change their way of thinking to become successfully happy people.
Brown offers ten guideposts to what she terms “Wholehearted Living,” a lifetime practice of cultivating the positive things in life and letting go of the negative ones. She suggests the only way to true happiness is to get away from the feeling we have to “hustle for our worthiness by constantly performing, perfecting, pleasing, and proving.” Instead of worrying about being perfect, about what people think, and insisting on certainty, Brown suggests alternate strategies such as cultivating authenticity, self-compassion, a resilient spirit, and gratitude. Practicing these strategies is the key to feeling worthy.
Brown’s message is both powerful and freeing. It’s not about becoming a slacker. It’s about embracing who you are. She writes, “Wholehearted living is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It’s about cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough. It’s going to bed at night thinking, Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging.”
I moved on from the twirling debacle years ago, but now I’ve found Brown’s book at just the right time. As I am learning to juggle a new job with my responsibilities at home, as a mother and director of all household activities, I will need to remember that perfect is not always necessary. My family will still love me if our dinners aren’t as exciting or if my kids are down to their last clean pair of socks. I accept Brown’s “invitation to join a Wholehearted revolution;” in a culture that places such value on achievement, this one is a win-win!
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