Perfection in Imperfection
There’s a case to be made for perfection… but when we learn to embrace our human imperfections, life’s journey gets a lot less stressful.
I used to be a perfectionist. I’m talking OCD-type perfectionist. Fortunately, I’ve come a long way from those days and I’m happy to say I’ve mostly overcome my obsession with perfection.
There was a time when I used to go into a manic frenzy or deep depression when something didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to, but that’s not the case anymore. Mostly. I admit I haven’t gotten rid of all my quirks or peculiar ways of doing things. If anything, I’ve probably gotten more eccentric as I’ve aged. The difference is that I just don’t worry about being perfect anymore.
That’s not to say that there isn’t a case to be made for perfection. There is. Think of how many more people could possibly die from medical errors if perfection weren’t a goal? How about in the transportation sector? How many more accidents would there be if the companies building our planes, trains, or automobiles didn’t strive for perfection?
Perfection has its place in the world. Speaking for myself however, I’ve found great joy in being able to step back after completing a project and asking myself, “What did I enjoy most about this experience? The result, or the process?”
I can honestly say that my answer is almost always, “Both.” I will absolutely give something my best effort and I revel in getting the best result I can, but if it’s not perfect, I’m okay with that. Mind you, I’m not making a case for mediocrity. I’m making a case for not beating ourselves up when something doesn’t come out perfect—as we define it.
My shift came when I accepted a very simple principle: By allowing myself to be imperfect, I am perfectly aligned with my humanity. I know this sounds strange, but I found perfection in my imperfections. By letting go of my need for “perfect” results, I removed the barrier that had kept me from enjoying myself and what I was doing. I realized that the need for perfection didn’t just affect the result I wanted, but everything I did to get the result. If the slightest thing went wrong… oh, boy. I’d be in a bad mood, or worse—depressed for days.
Of course, I did my best not to let my bad mood or depression show, but I nevertheless was unable to enjoy myself or my life. I was caught up in a cycle of blaming circumstances, people, or anything else outside of me for my misery. The only thing I didn’t do was look at myself and ask the hard question, “How am I contributing to this mess?” I spent most of my time finding excuses for why things didn’t turn out the way I wanted. My need for perfection was turning my life into a perfect nightmare.
So what changed? What caused me to embrace my human imperfections when those imperfections used to cause so much distress? As crazy as it may seem, I just started going with the flow. I know, I know, that sounds like new age bullshit, but what’s exactly what happened. I had heard the expression, “Just go with the flow” most of my life, and to be frank, most of the time I rolled my eyes and shook my head when I heard it. But when I reached the point where I was tired of getting nothing but upset and depressed, I thought, “Why not go with the flow? Trying to change things outside of my control is exhausting.”
So, I started accepting my mistakes and the unexpected disruptions to my plans. I literally started saying, “You know what, that’s okay,” even if I was really upset.
By telling myself that everything was okay (including the upset I felt), I gave myself permission to feel AND move on. I stopped feeling stuck and weighed down by a perceived failure, and I started feeling better about myself and my attempts at doing something I wanted to do. In fact, the simple statement of, “that’s okay” helped me to start looking at imperfect results differently. I stopped seeing an imperfect result as failed final attempt, but rather as a starting point for a creative process that I could enjoy for a long time as I made changes and adjustments.
I also experienced another important shift. Distractions stopped being ways of procrastinating something I didn’t want to do, and they instead became ways of centering me in a joyous mindset as I found more playful ways of creating what I wanted.
Those who know me well (especially those who like to remind me of my nickname “Shiny Squirrel”) know that Shiny Squirrel Syndrome (or Attention Deficit Disorder in clinical terms) is a very real part of my daily life. However, once I embraced the distractions and started treating them as willing, even enthusiastic, creative partners for getting me what I wanted, the burden of perfectionism fell away.
I started noticing that shiny objects and squirrels (the metaphorical type) were a natural part of going with the flow. I may have a goal and I may even be able to see my destination, but I’ve learned to accept that every time I turn away from it, it’s not me being an aimless, visionless bum with no ambition. It’s me staying centered in what makes me happiest and following the course of least resistance. The path I take to my destination doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is getting there. And once I make it to where I want to go, I’ll choose the next thing I want to do and start another adventure.
Oh, I’ll admit that I still experience times of harsh self-criticism and judgment, but overall I’ve come to accept that I am perfectly imperfect. The expression of my joy is centered not only in what I create, but also in the creative process, the adjustments, and the changes that come when I accept the imperfect results and I have fun turning something that isn’t quite right into something that is just right.
Today’s Reflection is therefore dedicated to everyone who finds perfection in their imperfections and to those who continue to struggle with perfectionism. Whether you find hope in my words or you completely disagree doesn’t matter. I simply know what has worked for me and what has worked for countless others who have found themselves in similar positions.
Embrace your imperfections, and when you do, you will find that life suddenly gets a lot more interesting.
About the Author
Appio Hunter is an author, speaker, spiritual guide, and a guy dedicated to raising our collective EQ. He uses his seminars and workshops to facilitate conversations about authenticity, alignment, awareness, and the experience of community, connection, and joy. Appio is also a weekly columnist with The Good Men Project and co-host of the Real Men Feel Show along with his good friend Andy Grant.