This time of year can be difficult for many people. Internal and external pressures abound. And often, added to the mix are family dynamics. We can fall into the dynamic of thinking “If only…” “If only I had the perfect thing to say…” “If only I had seen that coming…” Like I have talked about before, we are wired to be hard on ourselves, but it also causes unnecessary suffering.
Many people are striving for the best, the perfect, the most awesome version of themselves. Sometimes, families also encourage this view. And should we fault them? Who wouldn’t want to be the best version of themselves? On the other hand, are people striving for the attainable, realistic, best version of themselves? Or, are they expecting to become omnipotent, never-failing beings?
What I often see is that people strive for perfection as a way of avoiding the feelings of failure. In The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown argues that striving for perfection is a type of armor. It gives you a false sense of security. She says:
“Perfectionism is a self-destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: If I look perfect, and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgment, and blame.”
Giving up dreams of perfection also means giving up dreams of never failing. If there is anything that involves failure, it is running a business. I have had to grapple with my imperfections frequently in this process of building my therapy practice. Just last week, I made a mistake with an insurance company. It may cost me a few hours to untangle what happened. I am not sure yet. My imperfect self wants to say “If only I had known, or taken a step back, or asked the ‘right’ question the first time.” I have learned that saying “If only” just makes me feel worse. Instead, I have the opportunity to ride the wave of emotion (in this case, the wave of frustration) and return to feeling good enough. I am an imperfect therapist but a good enough one.
If I had given into perfection, I probably would not have started a business in the first place. Too many opportunities for failure! My fear of failure could have kept me stuck and limited my career options. Instead, I found that accepting my “good enough” self allowed me to move forward and to take risks in ways that I had not in the past.
While feeling feelings of failure, disappointment, and regret are not pleasant, it is very difficult to go through life without feeling them. If you choose to skip failure, disappointment, and regret, you often lose the other end of the spectrum as well. You lose joy, excitement, and opportunity. You have the choice. To avoid feeling all of these feelings or to get better at the feelings of failure, disappointment, and regret in order to also feel the feelings of joy, excitement, and opportunity.
Instead of perfection, we can choose to healthy striving. We can accept ourselves as good enough. We can delight in successes and connect with others who surround us with support when we fail. We can even cultivate a sense of wholeheartedness for coping with shame, disappointment, and regret (more on this in my next post). In the end, giving up perfection often opens doors and gives way to new opportunities.