Three Truths and One Wish

1. Truth: There’s no such thing as perfect, no such person or place. It doesn’t exist. The very nature of things is that they are constantly coming together and falling apart. In the West especially, we cling to the idea of perfection, a fixed and permanent ideal. We value things more highly the closer they are to perfect–cars without a scratch, homes completely updated and shiny, used books in mint condition, bodies–don’t even get me started on bodies. Collectors know this, the less used or worn the item, the more it’s worth–and if it’s still in the package, never been used, that’s the best. And yet, perfection = impossible.

Perfectionism is self destructive simply because there’s no such thing as perfect. Perfection is an unattainable goal. ~Brené Brown

2. Truth: I know this, and yet I keep trying to get there, to be that. I think that if I just try this combination of steps, push a little harder, read this book, sign up for this program, I’ll learn the secret, I’ll figure out how, I’ll get to a safe, happy, still place where I can stay forever, me and my super fit body and husband with whom I never disagree and our dogs that never behave inappropriately in our perfectly clean house–happily ever after.

Maybe the most dangerous thing about this desire for perfection is that typically when we are judging if something meets the standard, we are comparing the worst we’ve got with an illusion. Like if I were to compare my messy bathroom in my older house with the picture of the bathroom in a celebrity’s mansion that’s been staged for a home decor and style magazine layout. To say it like that makes the confusion so clear, and yet I do it all the time.

We already have everything we need. There is no need for self-improvement. All these trips that we lay on ourselves—the heavy-duty fearing that we’re bad and hoping that we’re good, the identities that we so dearly cling to, the rage, the jealousy and the addictions of all kinds—never touch our basic wealth. They are like clouds that temporarily block the sun. But all the time our warmth and brilliance are right here. This is who we really are. We are one blink of an eye away from being fully awake. ~Pema Chödrön

3. Truth: Perfectionism will suck all the life out of your life. You will keep running, pushing, working, smashing yourself to bits, but you will never get there, because you’ve set yourself an impossible goal. You will never feel enough, never get done, never be satisfied, and you will be so exhausted, you are on the verge of illness or collapse. There will be no joy, no peace, no stillness, no calm…there will never be enough and you will never be enough. It won’t work, and you are missing e v e r y t h i n g.

I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it. ~Anne Lamott

One wish: that we give up striving for perfectionism, that we stop, let go, give up, surrender, relax. As Anne Lamott said, may we “notice how we are already found, already truly, entirely, wildly, messily, marvelously who we were born to be.” And, in doing so, may we have confidence as Susan Piver describes it, “the willingness to be as ridiculous, luminous, intelligent, and kind as you really are, without embarrassment.” And finally, may we

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything,
That’s how the light gets in.
~Leonard Cohen


4 thoughts on “Three Truths and One Wish

  1. Lindsey Mead (@lemead)

    Oh, yes yes, yes. This is a central theme of my life. My word this year is “light” and one of the anthems that runs through my head a lot is those lines by Leonard Cohen. Perfectionism has taken an awful lot of joy from my life, but as much as I intellectually understand its pitfalls, I still find myself in its grip sometimes. Do you? Must remember Pema’s words with every step today. Thank you. xo

    1. jillsalahub Post author

      Do I?! That’s what this post is all about, that I know, have an awareness, but watch myself still striving, am so often unable to interrupt the behavior–which is true with every habit that is so deep and old, so sticky. This post, as so many of the ones I write, is about first telling myself what I most need to hear, and when I press publish, when I offer what I’ve written, the hope is that someone else who needs to hear the same thing will read it. And as for that Pema quote, I really should memorize it, because even though it’s quite long to use as a mantra, it’s perfect, just what I need to remember most days.


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