Perfectionism and Other Preconceived Notions


Perfectionism and Other Preconceived Notions

I think sometimes we all get so very fixated on what isn’t perfect in our lives that we ignore and miss out on the things that are so very right. Last week, I shared how my past (or rather my romantic reminiscences of the past) colored the way I view the present. Despite that the past had never actually been so “very perfect”, I was using an idealized fantasy image of that period of time as a measuring stick in my present life. These expectations were neither realistic nor beneficial to my happiness.

I think to some extent we all do this. I think that we all expect life to be perfect and unendingly wonderful based on some preconceived (and more often than not unrealistic) notion of what these terms mean. I would even go so far as to say that wherever we feel stuck, frustrated, or discouraged in our lives, we are probably comparing our reality to some fantasy in our heads.

The problem is that nothing ever measures up to these preconceived notions. We believe that in order to be happy, things have to be “perfect”. I enjoy my work but I’m not making enough money. My spouse is kind and considerate but not suave or romantic. I think my children are wonderful but they don’t measure up academically in relation to others.

Yes, but…

In each case, the first part of the statement is always completely cancelled out by the “but”. We just can’t allow ourselves the win. We don’t celebrate the first part of the statement and then logically decide if we actually care about the second part. We just automatically label the whole experience a loss.

We think that unless things in our lives look a certain way and unless we can control every little thing in our lives perfectly, we aren’t allowed to be happy. Deep down, we believe that the only people who deserve to be happy are those who are perfect in every possible way. Those who never made a mistake. Those who never made a wrong turn or a misstep. Those who navigated every transition in life perfectly smoothly. Those who are always successful at everything the first time around.

Of course, no one can possibly live up to such ridiculous standards. Life is change, transition isn’t pretty, and we all struggle as we learn to live in this world. According to these rules, no one alive or dead should or would be allowed to be happy.

Surviving Each Day

Now, that is a sad thought. It suggests that we should merely survive each day. More so than that, it suggests that our sole purpose on this planet is to grieve living. How horrible!

Just for one moment, think of the things we’ve gotten “right” as individuals, as a society, and as citizens of this planet. Think of all of the things that took hard work, endurance, and a whole lot mistakes to come to fruition. Shining moments made all the brighter because getting to that point didn’t come easy, wasn’t a forgone conclusion, or was exactly what we needed (but didn’t know it).

Off the top of my head, I can think of quite a number of incidents and experiences in my own life. Things that have brought me great unexpected joy. Moments that shaped my life in ways I never thought possible. Experiences that threatened to break my heart and soul in two that somehow magically led me to a more compassionate understanding of myself.

We come in to this world and it’s messy and chaotic. We leave this world unfinished, with regrets and unfulfilled dreams. But does that really make our time in between any less valuable? Do our lives only matter if we reach some unrealistic mythical notion of perfection?