Most of us are familiar with an all-too-convincing inner voice that repeatedly insists that – whatever we do, however hard we try – we just aren’t measuring up. We compare ourselves to some lofty (usually totally unrealistic) idea of where or what we should be. And invariably we find ourselves lacking.
That’s perfectionism at work. And it’s a surefire recipe for unhappiness and stress. It kills our joy, drains our energy and damages our health, leaching our precious life force at every turn.
Perfectionism is remarkably common in our culture (where we’re inundated with images of what we mistakenly believe is perfection in others) and it’s an all-too compelling pattern that some of us live out with genius-level proficiency. One could even say to… ahem… perfection. We lose no opportunity to remind ourselves of just how far, and in how many ways, we are falling short of some imaginary mark. And should we miraculously happen to reach the almost impossible standard we have set for ourselves, our next virtuoso move is to completely discount that accomplishment while simultaneously raising the bar to even dizzier heights. In other words, we have created a foolproof method for perpetuating our sense of inadequacy!
One of the misguided arguments we use to explain and justify our perfectionism is that it’s essential to our worthiness. We need it to be good humans, to achieve our goals and realize our potential, we argue. Never mind the misery we create for ourselves along the way. Somehow we’re convinced that the more we push, berate and judge ourselves, the better version of ourselves we will become.
For sure, lofty dreams and goals are essential to our growth and development. They set the course for where we want to go, inspiring us to evolve and change in powerful and sometimes astounding ways. They also guard us against complacency and stagnation.
But if we are constantly measuring ourselves against where, in an ideal world, we want to be or, we believe, we should be – instead of how far we have come and where we are now – we will never, ever be satisfied. Instead we will assuredly rob each precious moment of joy and self-acceptance. We will heap untold pressure and stress upon ourselves, brutally undermining our health and well-being along the way. And we might even give up altogether, or never start something in the first place, so hopeless do our prospects seem in the dismal light of our merciless self assessment.
The clear, unyielding message that this perfectionistic voice conveys is that we are not enough in this moment. Perhaps in some distant future it’s possible that we might be, this voice says. But here and now we are deficient.
Two simple words offer a powerful antidote to these perfectionistic pitfalls: for now. These words of quiet acceptance beautifully bridge the gap between where we are and where we want to be:
For now… I have come this far
For now… I am enough
For now… wherever I am… I can appreciate and celebrate my progress
For now… in this moment… I can fully love and accept myself exactly as I am
There’s a softness to these words that instantly defuses the strident criticisms of our perfectionist voice. The words themselves invite us to be fully present to now, this particular moment, to meet ourselves exactly where we are – with kindness and acceptance. (Perhaps even with a healthy dose of humor!) And all the energy that our perfectionism used to squander to criticize, carp and condemn is now freely available to savor this precious healing moment of simply being enough. For now.
From here, this present moment of unconditional self-acceptance, we can look to the future with a renewed sense of hope and possibility. We can draw from the wholeness of our fullest most resourceful self, rather than the diminished version of ourselves that perfectionism portrays.
And now...from this loving place, we can cast our eye to the goals and aspirations that inspire and urge us onward. Enlivened and excited about what’s ahead, we can trust that we have everything we need to get there. One step at a time.