I was surprised to be drawn into two separate conversations recently about the pressure to be perfect. One of the conversations was started by a 30-something mother of an infant complaining that other women were trying to look perfect on Facebook. I asked if she thought people should instead post comments about their marital problems, fights with kids and the like. I suppose most people post positive aspects of their life for their hundreds of Facebook friends and reserve more difficult topics for intimate chats with close friends or family.
The other conversation was with a 40-something mother of three teenagers who said she had always felt pressured to make everything perfect and sometimes wondered if her beautiful suburban house was good enough. While studying the history of various ethnic groups in our country, she realized life in the suburbs in the 21st Century is pretty darned good.
At my stage in life, I’ve learned that not only is there no perfect person, there’s also no perfect family, household, job, boss, neighborhood, country, wardrobe, and the list goes on. I probably wanted a perfect life at one time too but after emerging from a few bouts of severe depression, I believe that any day without a genuine crisis, such as a loved one’s illness, death or job loss, is a good day. I began to let go of my desire to throw a “perfect” holiday gathering when I realized that any guest worth having is just happy to be a guest instead of a host and will not hold you to unrealistic standards.
Letting go of perfectionism in my work was a little harder. Some days I worked far too long on writing the “perfect” article for a blog or newsletter. A couple of years ago, a friend with similar tendencies shared a great acronym that helps me remember not to spend too much time on a single task: GEMO or Good Enough, Move On.
After reflecting on the topic for a couple of weeks, I’ve concluded that the land of perfectionism is an isolated place to be. Perfectionism can cause us to waste a lot of precious time comparing our lives to others. For example, on Facebook we see perfect Mary with her perfect husband Joe and their darling son and daughter and wonder why our life doesn’t measure up to hers. She appears to have a dream job, cook gourmet meals and never have to scream at her kids to stop driving her crazy. This false belief causes us to beat ourselves up for our very normal, messy and sometimes challenging lives.
Perfectionism can also prevent us from sharing difficulties with others, which in turn prevents others from sharing their struggles with us. Each of us thinks the other has an ideal life when nothing could be further from the truth.
So relax. Spend less time on Facebook and Pinterest and more time talking with your close friends and family. Let go of “perfection” and strive for excellence instead. Excellence is the best we can do at a reasonable cost of time and money while still enjoying other important aspects of life.
Make a point to think about a more difficult time once in a while and realize how far you’ve come. And if this week, month or year has been the hardest you’ve ever faced, reach out to others for support and guidance. Like the friends who lowered the paralyzed man through the roof of the Temple to be healed by Jesus (Luke 5:12-16), sometimes we carry our friends, and sometimes they carry us.
And now, after thinking about it for a couple of weeks, I will call this post complete. Good Enough, Move On.