Feeling paralyzed by imperfection is a feeling I am familiar with, one I am trying to distance myself from. Memories of quitting or turning down opportunities because my fear of imperfection begins as far back as I can remember. I have spent hours of my life planning to execute my goals, scheduling my days and weeks, formulating my menus, or mapping out my life, only to find myself stuck when there is an unexpected bump in the road.
The notion of being able to flawlessly carry out my plans seemed reasonable. After all, I put in the time and effort to research and create the road to success. Each time I was convinced I could do it; sure I could control and predict every aspect of my life and perfectly implement all these plans.
I obsessed over being perfect and observed time after time that I gave up (quicker and quicker) when things didn't go exactly as intended. Then I would spend countless more hours finding and mapping a new and 'better' plan. This happened with my exercise routine, my diet, my schooling, and the timeline for my life.
It was tiresome and disappointing but it was all I knew and I was comfortable with it. All-or-nothing! I would either be perfect or be a complete disaster. I was good at planning and failing. It became my reality and my identity.
After I had children, I had less time to obsess. Yet perfectionism still ruled my world. Not only was I striving for the same level of perfection as before, but now I added being a perfect mom and house-wife to the list.
Before children I suppose I had time to obsess, make mistakes, and redesign plans. Once having children, however, time is limited and priorities have no choice but to come into focus.
My increasing need to be 'perfect' came at the expense of time with my family. I spent more time with a notepad or computer designing my next 'strategic-no fail, six-pack abs mom' plan than with my husband and children. I was constantly looking for others to care for my children in order to execute my plan; get to the gym, cook a week's worth of meals, clean the house, and make activities for my children to engage in.
Subconsciously I knew that it was my family – my husband and children who gave meaning, value, and purpose to my life (thank goodness for ‘ah-ha’ insights). So I became aware that prioritizing perfection over family, experiences, and memories did not make sense anymore.
The problem with perfection for me is that I failed more often than I succeeded. If I didn’t do exactly what was written on my action item list for the day, in the order requested, or to the extent suggested, I perceived the entire day as failure. This damaged my self-esteem, motivation, and my results. And I would fall into a never-ending cycle of feeling like a failure.
So, after 3 years of trying to fit my children into my 'perfect' plan, I decided to become present in their lives, the life of my husband and in my own life instead. Missing 'once-in-a-lifetime' moments was not worth the perfect body, all our meals cooked and measured, always having a clean house and laundry done, reading the next chapter in my book, or crafting activities I never had time to play .
It was once I came to these realizations and actually allowed myself to believe them that I became an advocate for progress instead of perfection. I saw that I could have a meaningful time with my family AND change my habits. It didn’t have to be all-or-nothing!
“Don't let the perfect
Be the enemy of the good.”
The idea of progress is still new to me. I am learning to recognize my internal reasons for setting certain goals (thumbs up for moving away from the superficial); this is one of the biggest differences between progress and perfection. My reasons for wanting the body, the healthy eating habits, the cleanliness, the pre-planned child friendly activities is rooted much deeper than “looks, appearances, or image”. My main motivation is to show my children how to live happily and healthfully, not just tell them.
Shifting my focus to progress allows me to move forward make and make measurable changes towards my goals. Now my goals align with my intentions; they improve my life and model self-love. I no longer dread the journey towards reaching an outcome because part of the goal is how I get to it.
“The journey is what brings us happiness,
Not the destination”
~ Dan Millman
Hitting a bump in the road does not come with the negative impact of the past. Instead of the entire car falling apart, now only 1 tire is flat, and there is usually a spare. Before one miss-step from the outlined plan and my entire day would fall to pieces. Now, most of the time, I am able to modify something in the plan or skip it entirely and continue on with the rest of the day mostly unaffected.
I now understand that a little bit of progress each day and reaching my goal later but with my integrity and health intact is more meaningful than reaching it sooner at any cost.
“Small daily improvements over time lead to stunning results. Why?
Because consistency is the mother of mastery.
And incremental improvements are the father of exceptionalism.”
~ Robin Sharma
Nowadays, I feel worthy of a full and happy life all the time not only when I reach 'perfect' and so are YOU!
Embracing progress has allowed me to decrease the pressure on myself. I no longer feel the need to reach a goal in record time and be perfect all the time (sigh of relief). I have learned not to take myself or the process so seriously. Finally setting goals and the path to achievement is fun, exciting, and all-inclusive!
Daily internal battles over the “shoulds” I have imposed on myself and my deepest desires are learning to settle. I am more willing to try because I’m less afraid of failure. Knowing I don’t have to be perfect the first, second, or fiftieth time means I have space to learn, grow and evolve. It even means when I try my best I can be happy. It means I can be a positive role model for my children..
Slow, steady, and consistent effort is both sustainable and enjoyable. I no longer live on a timeline or a countdown. I no longer have to choose between my goals and my family.
Are you willing to give progress over perfection a try? In what areas of your life do you think you would benefit the most?
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With love and gratitude,
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