im·per·fec·tion / impərˈfekSH(ə)n/: the state of being faulty or incomplete.
Have you ever wondered if there was such a strong epidemic of perfectionism before the rise of the Internet and social media? When you couldn’t see how well everyone else was supposedly doing—how perfect their made-from-scratch dinners look, how pristine their living room is amidst the toddlers running around, and how smooth and texture-free their skin looks in a bathing suit?
But alas, you live in a world of non-stop comparison—where it takes a very healthy mindset, a higher level of perspective, and strong internal fortitude to not be bogged down on the daily with evidence that you’ve somehow fallen short. While you have role models of the perfect parent/spouse/successful human being, what you actually need is role models of imperfection—people with viewpoints that show you how to embrace your imperfect selves with acceptance and even celebration.
This is not to say that you should all just give up and stop trying to improve; it is your nature to grow, expand, and flourish. However when you hold yourself to impossible standards, you ultimately set yourself up for depressive symptoms, disordered eating and thinking, and myriad forms of suffering that are absolutely avoidable if you can shift your perspective on the whole thing.
Here are five views of imperfection that can help you to soften your expectations of yourself, embrace your incompleteness, and hopefully create more room for beauty, compassion, and contentment as a whole.
1. Embrace Imperfection in Others
“There’s a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in.” –Leonard Cohen
You can learn a lot about how you handle the imperfect in your life by first examining how you view others’ so-called imperfections. When a baby is learning to walk, he/she falls down hundreds, if not thousands, of times before he/she masters the concept of walking. Obviously, you don’t judge or criticize the baby when he/she makes a mistake. Yet you can come down hard on yourself for your wrongdoings all the time.
This isn’t to say you should treat yourself like a baby, but rather that you should be as compassionate with yourself as you are with others. You certainly wouldn’t see your infant as any less for not being a flawless walker, so watch your negative self-talk and praise yourself for the efforts and attention you give to your pursuits.
Celebrating the imperfect also goes beyond how you see people to how you view the physical world around you. Do you expect your environment to be perfect, or are you able to see beauty in flawed and unconventional aesthetics? The traditional Japanese philosophy of Wabi-sabi, not only encourages people to accept artistic imperfections, but to see them as cause for reverence. You may have seen images of cracked pottery where the cracks themselves have been filled with gold. It’s a way of seeing unique beauty in what might otherwise be seen as “broken.”
Try surrounding yourself with asymmetrical, vintage, and handmade art as a way to practice this skill. When you train yourself to see beauty because of imperfections, rather than in spite of them, you soften your expectations of yourself and those around you.
2. Embrace Imperfection in Yourself
“Let go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are.” –Brené Brown
So are you supposed to be so easy on yourself that you stop trying to improve?
In her best selling book, The Gifts of Imperfection, author Brené Brown makes an important distinction between perfectionism and striving to be your best: “Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgment, and shame. It’s a shield. It’s a twenty-ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from flight.”
She goes on to identify the qualities of courage, compassion, and connections as key to making peace with your nature and strengthen your sense of worthiness. Through self-inquiry and honest communication, you must regularly remind yourself that, “no matter what gets done and how much is left undone,” you are enough and worthy of love. If you strive to improve yourself from an authentic place of self-compassion, gratitude, and intuition (among other whole-hearted qualities), you will experience more freedom, love, and joy, rather than feelings of inadequacy.
3. Embrace Imperfection in Your Circumstances
“Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” –Voltaire, a la Gretchen Rubin
In her book, The Happiness Project, author Gretchen Rubin uses Voltaire as inspiration for releasing the idea of a perfect situation. She says on her blog, “instead of pushing yourself to an impossible ‘perfect,’ and therefore getting nowhere, accept ‘good.’ Many things worth doing are worth doing badly.”
How many times have you avoided meditating all together because you didn’t have your cushion, candle, and a full 20 minutes? Rather than taking five minutes to be quiet with yourself among the mess of your living room, you skipped the quiet all together because the circumstance didn’t look exactly the way you wanted it to.
Let’s not wait until every situation is “perfect” to take action and truly live your life. Because the truth is, five minutes of meditation is better than zero.
4. Embrace Imperfection as a Way of Living
“Believing that we are incomplete and imperfect and separate from God, which is the most untrue thing we could believe, causes us terrible suffering.” –Christopher D. Wallis
The Indian spiritual tradition of Tantra has greatly influenced yoga, and by practicing it, you can work to “remember” the true Divinity of human nature. According to Tantric philosophy, people suffer when they forget their true nature. In his book Tantra Illuminated, Christopher “Hareesh” Wallis describes one of the most fundamental forms of ignorance as the “deep unconscious belief that (we) are incomplete and imperfect, tiny insignificant creature(s), and certainly not the Divine.” When you look at it this way, that every fault you have is actually worth embracing because you are yourself divine, it’s a lot easier to see the broader picture and take a higher perspective.
The Tantric view also reminds you that not only is there nothing wrong with the way you are, but every experience is in fact sacred in one way or another. Through your yoga and meditation practice, you can connect to the experience of purnata, which in Sanskrit means “perfect fullness or completeness.” Just because parts of the moon are invisible to the naked eye on 29 out of 30 days, it doesn’t mean the moon is not still perfectly whole. Tantra helps you to stay strongly connected to the inner knowing that you are divine, and that in your divinity, you are just as you should be.
5. Enjoy the Process
“All is well, and you will never get it done.” –Abraham-Hicks
Perfection is not the endgame in our lives as human beings; if it were, we’d surely all be disappointed. If everything came easily, and we were met with no contrast, we’d lose our way indefinitely. And besides, what fun would life be? Sports games are enjoyable and meaningful because there are obstacles in the way of the goal. How one moves around and through those obstacles is what makes them a good player. Try focusing on the gameplay—as opposed to the score—and see if it shifts your experience.
Putting it Into Action
The first step in changing anything is awareness. Through your meditation and contemplative practices, pay attention to the moments when you criticize yourself or others for not stacking up to a certain ideal. Notice your habits of thought, and ask if they’re serving you well. If you find yourself constantly disappointed, unhappy, or overworked, consider shifting your perspective to embrace the nature of your uniqueness as your special fingerprint on this world. Then, take action.
If social media makes you feel bad about yourself, take a hiatus or quit it all together. If the people you surround yourself with elicit a negative energy from you, connect with people with a more positive energy. If you self-sabotage by not doing things you know are good for you because the circumstances don’t seem just right, remember that sometimes just getting out the door is the hardest part.
And finally, accept the idea that you were never meant to be “perfect”, you were only meant to be perfectly YOU. Celebrate your cracks, your flaws, and your human-ness—and your experience in this lifetime will be far more enjoyable, inspiring, and beautiful.