Most of us have been subtly trained to resent ourselves for being human.
What makes us beautiful rests exclusively in our rough edges and imperfections, yet we are encouraged to polish them away to strive toward “excellence” or “success.”
I’ve fallen into this trap a million times.
As a child magician I practiced every trick obsessively. I feared that if the audience noticed any unnatural movement the whole trick would be ruined.
As a student I was embarrassed to get any grade less than an A. B’s and C’s meant that I wasn’t working hard enough (heaven forbid…) or that I wasn’t smart enough.
When I was studying personal development I became fixated on my “growth areas” so that I could eventually be my “best self.”
All of these lessons blended together to teach me that it’s wrong to be imperfect. I learned that who I am isn’t really enough.
But of course, I’m not unique.
The pursuit of perfection is so common that we don’t even recognize the intense pressure it puts on us. To most of us, it just feels normal.
We’re constantly told that if you want to make more money, optimize your business. If you want to have more sex, sculpt an attractive physique. If you want to get a promotion, make your boss look good. If you want to take your life to the next level, keep pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone.
While much of this is more or less true, it misses the point entirely; it forces you to scrub away the parts that make you you. It’s little more than a denial of self. It sends the message that you are somehow flawed.
Whatever happened to just accepting yourself for the beautiful imperfect human you are? Isn’t that better than withholding love and respect for yourself until you become someone you’re not?
In defense of rough edges
Though we may idolize people for their apparent “perfections”, we love them for their rough edges.
It’s the vulnerable expression of our imperfections that make us adore and fall in love with one another. The imperfections give us something to latch onto. They distinguish us from robots and everyone else in the world. They remind us that we have souls.
Yes, embracing your imperfections and allowing yourself to be unpolished may result in making less money, leading a less glamorous life, or being less acclaimed than you could be. But seriously, who gives a shit? Those were never your values anyways. They were superimposed on you by marketers, politicians, family members, and friends.
My wish for you (and for myself) is that you embrace your imperfection. Doing so is a powerful act of self-love and self-acceptance. It draws you closer to yourself and the people who matter.
Strategies for accepting your imperfections and falling in love with yourself
So, how do you embrace your rough edges, and so-called imperfections? There are two big wins here:
First, allow yourself to quickly forgive and accept others. Doing so will train you to forgive and accept yourself. A lot of people – myself included – find it easier to forgive others than to forgive themselves. The good part is that you can leverage this. By becoming more forgiving of others, you’ll become more forgiving of yourself.
Are you getting angry because one of your friends is running late causing you to miss the start of the show? Acknowledge the anger you feel, remind yourself that your friend is human, and then let it go. Later on, when you’re running late, it will be easier to forgive yourself.
Are you annoyed with your sister because she spends so much time drinking and shirking responsibility that you feel like you’re always taking care of her? Realize that, yes, she is being irresponsible, but it’s still very easy for you to love her even if you don’t love all of her behaviors. Learning to love another person (even when you don’t love their decisions) will help you love yourself, even when you’ve made a bad choice.
Are you in a heated debate with someone, and you’re starting to worry that you might secretly hate one another just a little bit (this happens to me all the time)? Remind yourself that reasonable and intelligent people can disagree about a lot of important shit while still adoring and respecting one another. This will make it easier for you to accept periodic disagreement (which is inevitable) without losing sight of the reality that you’re still totally worthy of love and respect, even if people disagree with you.
In learning to accept other people for who they are, we learn to accept ourselves for who we are. In allowing others to be human, we create the space for ourselves to be human. The less you fault others for their imperfections, the less you’ll fault yourself for yours.
Give yourself permission to be unpolished. It’s better to make a joke that no one laughs at than to fear the silence. It’s fine if your business, relationship, or body isn’t good enough to grace the cover of a glossy magazine. Getting C’s (and even the occasional D or F) but enjoying life is exponentially better than getting straight A’s and hating every moment.
So let me make it easy for you: you are allowed to be imperfect. It’s fine if you burn the chicken, skip the gym, and offend your friend (just try to apologize when you can).
In the long run your life will be better because you’ve embraced your rough edges.
One of my personal mantras is, “I am allowed to be imperfect.” I say this to myself throughout the day and write it down a few times in the morning. When I’m torn between showing up authentically or pretending to be perfect, the mantra calls me back and helps me choose imperfection. In its own weird way, it feels beautiful.
Un-training perfectionism: 33 things that are completely cool to do, guilt free
To help put all of this into practice, I’ll leave you with a short list of things that are 100% cool (especially in moderation).
More than that, you can do all of these things guilt free. I promise. If you start to feel guilty, do your best to let it go and replace the guilt with a sense of playful mischievousness:
- Saying something totally silly or stupid without meaning to
- Getting nervous about almost anything (in fact, accepting that you’re nervous will make the task ahead of you much easier)
- Getting so nervous that you decide to call the whole thing off
- Running late
- Reading an email in entirety, enjoying it, and then taking forever to respond
- Getting fired from your job (especially one you don’t like)
- Eating an entire pizza by yourself
- Staying in on a Friday night
- Claiming to be busy when actually you just can’t be bothered
- Taking the day off, just because
- Staying in your comfort zone (actually it’s cool to do this 98.7% of the time… leaving your comfort zone sucks)
- Hitting snooze
- Hitting snooze again
- Hitting snooze a third time and skipping out on that stupid meeting that you don’t want to go to in the first place
- Buying yourself an awesome gift, even if it’s a bit outside your budget
- Cheating at Monopoly
- Being single
- Embellishing your stories
- Forgetting your friend’s birthday
- Wearing the same clothes multiple days in a row (I do this wayyyy more than you’d expect)
- Looking like a troll when you leave the house (I do this a lot too….)
- Binge watching Netflix instead of reading that long article everyone is babbling about
- Cancelling plans at the last minute
- Being a little bit materialistic, jealous, depressed, or resentful.
- Ignoring the news because you feel that Donald Trump is a fascist and because watching the world burn is too depressing to bear
- Calling Donald Trump a fascist on your blog, even when you know that about 20% of your readers are Trump supporters
- Skipping Thanksgiving with your family
- Prioritizing your life over work (actually, I hope you do this as much as you can)
- Giving zero shits about the things that everyone else finds really exciting and important OMG!!!! (Umm, Super Bowl anyone? GMOs?)
- Being awkward
- Carrying a bit of extra weight on your frame
- Getting a speeding ticket
- Saying, “No”
Post Script: how this is playing out in my life
Until recently I tried to be more polished, confident, and high status than I actually am. I did my best to hide my insecurities and detach from my imperfections.
The weird part is that I didn’t even realize I was doing it. I thought I was being authentic. In reality, I was just doing an impersonation of some fictional version of myself.
Today, I consider myself a recovering perfectionist. I’m working to just show up as I am.
I don’t spend as much time thinking about what I’m going to say before I say it. When I’m nervous, I no longer stop my hands from shaking or my voice from quivering. I save less money than I used to. I’m working to accept that 1) I’m kind of awkward from time to time, and 2) that’s ok.
The cool part? Allowing myself to be unpolished is the best decision I’ve made in a lonnnnng time.
I feel closer – much closer – to the people I love. Every few days I get so flooded with energy that I start dancing around like a lunatic to Bruno Mars’s “That’s what I like.” And last week, after allowing my business operations to remain undefined for months on end, I found the next step on my path (more on that later).
Honestly, I think you can expect similar results. The most valuable relationship you will ever have is the relationship you have with yourself. Everything flows from there. The more you accept who you really are – including your innate imperfection – the more you’ll fall madly in love with yourself and the world.