I’ve always been a bit annoyed by Martha Stewart. Not as a person or anything, but at the illusion of perfection she creates in her magazine and in her world. OK, we can all agree, she’s not perfect. But that’s not my point. My point is I finally understand why the search for perfection gets in the way of really enjoying life. A friend of mine told me about a book called The Gifts of Imperfection, by Brené Brown, PhD, LMSW, in which the very scientific researcher who spent her whole early life trying to fit in and be perfect uncovers the mystery at the heart of living fully (what she calls a “wholehearted life”), and finds that it’s totally at odds with the search for perfection.
It’s the perfect book to read around the holidays because who among us doesn’t fret a little that maybe our holiday decorating seems a little odd, or maybe we won’t get just the right present for the people we love, or maybe our cookies didn’t turn out just so, or maybe we never follow the exact directions on how to wrap a present correctly or roast a goose?
Brown describes the journey she writes about in her book this way: “I’ll tell the story of how a cynical, smart-ass academic became every bit of the stereotype that she spent her entire adult life ridiculing. I’ll fess up about how I became the middle-aged, recovering, health-conscious, creative, touchy-feely spirituality seeker who spends days contemplating things like grace, love, gratitude, creativity, authenticity, and is happier than I imagined possible. I’ll call it Wholehearted.” So she’s funny, too!
But here’s my point. I’ve vacillated back and forth between wholehearted living and trying to fit in my whole life. For the first time, I have a scientific, research-based reason why I should probably just give up completely on trying to fit in, and instead focus on belonging. And, more importantly for us recovering perfectionists, there is also scientific research that justifies the importance of play, rest, recovery, and just plain doing nuthin’.
Anyway, this book makes a great gift…to yourself! And I will close with this e.e. cummings quote, which Brown cites in the book:
“To be nobody-but-yourself—in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else—means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.”
“Only God is perfect.”
The first time I read these words in by BKS Iyengar in “Light on Life” (Rodale Press, 2005) a wave of relief flooded by entire being. I have since lived my life as an offering to God, with all of it’s divine imperfections.
Thank you for reminding us to live whole-heartedly, Maria!
Om. Tat. Sat.
Beautifully written Maria and so true.
In my classes over the past few years, I studied Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs so often that I could recite its components on command, but I never deeply thought about how it applied to me. Letting go of perfection or fitting in leads to self-actualization. “Self-actualized people tend to accept themselves and others as they are. They tend to lack inhibition and are able to enjoy themselves and live their lives free of guilt.”
Now, I can’t remember all of the components, but trying to achieve self-actualization rather than perfection or assimilation has quieted so much inner-conflict. Thank you for this post.
Best wishes to you and yours for a peaceful holiday!
I love this. Thank you for the book recommendation!
Signed, A Perfectionist Trying to Let Go