Each one of us probably has a personality trait or a physical feature that doesn't sit well with us. You may always find yourself inadequately prepared for the big interview, you may feel you’re too curvy to carry off that ‘gram-worthy dress, or you may feel your shyness makes you miss out on the opportunity to strike up interesting conversations. Seem relatable? Social media spouts perfectionism as an ideal state and our rising social presence may make us believe that we need to be always at our best.
By definition, perfectionism is a personality feature that requires one to be or appear perfect, for their own selves or to be perceived by others. It can be identified by the need to set unrealistic expectations, strict self-evaluation, denial regarding one’s flaws in personality or appearance, and an overpowering desire to leave no scope for errors or failure.
Indeed, researcher Karen Horney described perfectionism more simplistically as ‘the tyranny of the should’s’, referring to how it tends to make one extremely critical of their own performance or abilities.
At the outset, perfectionism is seen as a positive – even desirable – trait that can result in growth and success in personal and professional areas. However, there’s more to it than meets the eye – science shows that perfectionism gives rise to stress, anxiety and depression. Furthermore, socially prescribed and self-oriented kinds of perfectionism can even result in self-harm.
Being a writer, I understand the perils of constantly chasing perfection. I recognize the pattern now: I’d start by opening multiple tabs containing seemingly crucial bits of information and research, which I felt absolutely needed to be included in an article.
Then I’d proceed towards creating a comprehensive article on the subject, entirely ignoring the assigned word-limit and the specific outline I needed to adhere to. Halfway through, I’d notice that the article just can’t be an all-encompassing guide, so I’d procrastinate and avoid writing altogether, only to ultimately feel like an imposter.
It took utmost dedication on my part to draw awareness towards this problematic routine, until it became clear to me that I was stuck in a perfectionism trap. Over time I trained my subconscious mind to not procrastinate endlessly in the desire for a written piece that’s perfect to the tee. Instead, I eased my standards to fit the client’s requirements and feedback, rather than resorting to my preconceived ideas of perfection.
“The first step towards embracing imperfections is to be mindful and shift your perspective regarding how you perceive yourself.”
Perfectionism can have detrimental effects on developmental outcomes in individuals of all age groups, warns Katie Rasmussen, a child development and perfection researcher. “As many as two out of five kids and adolescents exhibit the traits of perfectionism”, she says, emphasizing how prevalent the phenomenon currently is in our society.
In fact, the idea that sublime excellence and perfection will lead us towards success and happiness might be ingrained into our minds from a young age, and hence letting go of this tendency requires determination and persistence.
“Perfectionism is just fear in fancy shoes and a mink coat pretending to be elegant when actually it's just terrified”, says Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the bestselling book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. Accepting our fears, flaws and insecurities as we pursue our dreams can help us carve out an accomplished and meaningful life. Here are six steps you can take towards embracing imperfections and even celebrating them.
The first step towards embracing imperfections is to be mindful and shift your perspective regarding how you perceive yourself. Stop viewing yourself as insufficient or lacking in certain areas, and start seeing yourself as a whole being, albeit flawed. Moreover, upon reflection you may find that your flaws or imperfections offer you a unique edge.
For example, my obsession with writing a perfectly researched article made me aware of my tendency to procrastinate if I don’t find the final written piece to be up to my standards. So, now I try to focus on the task at hand by being mindful, while reaffirming to self that I author good-quality work, else I wouldn’t have had long-term clients. Learning to view your flaws as your strength can be a gradual process, but you’ll be able to see yourself in a better perspective by developing self-validation.
David Richo, renowned psychotherapist, and author of Wholeness & Holiness recommends including affirmations in one’s daily routine that pertain to letting go of notions of perfection. To begin embracing imperfections, try telling yourself, “I let go of my need to be in control” and “I let go of my need to be correct, first and perfect all the time.”
Imperfections give you character and make you authentic. Whenever you find yourself getting swayed anew by the portrayal of someone who’s perfectly put-together and efficient, try imagining that individual in your daily life. You may be surprised by the revelation that their flawlessness might begin to annoy or bore you in no time.
Most of us try to erase our peculiarities and hide quirks rather than accept them as a vital part of our personalities in the quest for perfection. In reality, your sense of being flawed or imperfect may be stemming from self-perception that may highlight only one facet of your personality.
Indeed, you may be completely unaware about how your so-called flaws may offer a sense of wholeness to your persona in the eyes of others. Embracing imperfections by practising self-acceptance allows you to let go of need to conform to the unrealistic standards you set for yourself, to be free to lead a meaningful life.
Love your flaws: imperfections make you human shutterstock/Koldunov
Letting go of notions of inadequacy or imperfection does not come easy. Which is why we can take inspiration from the art forms around the world, and creators who wished to glorify the transient and erroneous nature of humans. The concept of ‘perfectly imperfect’ has been propagated in cultures across the world, wherein mistakes are deliberately introduced in artistic works.
Turkish carpet weavers leave unidentical patterns in painstakingly handwoven rugs, whereas Indian sculpturers put small dents or slightly misshapen features, all with the belief that true perfection is solely the privilege of the Creator. And the traditional Japanese art of Wabi-Sabi is centered around the philosophy of beauty comprising of impermanence and imperfection, which is why potters consciously introduce asymmetry and unidentical patterns in their works. Kintsugi or the ‘art of golden joinery’ involves mending cracks in pottery with brushed gold instead of hiding them, thus coaxing us to spot beauty in unexpected places by embracing imperfections.
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We often mistakenly assume that perfection is a prerequisite for fulfilment of goals. Indeed, goals help us move forward, but they shouldn’t serve as impediments that remind us of what we lack. A Harvard Business Review study concluded that while perfectionism can improve performance, it can also result in elevated stress levels and anxiety as perfectionists often latch their self-worth to their ability to perform perfectly.
“Embracing imperfections by practising self-acceptance allows you to let go of the need to conform to the unrealistic standards you set for yourself.”
Thus, perfection need not be a grueling punishment or an obsessive behavior that makes us rigid, thus devoid of fluidity or expression. Instead, we need to accept our flaws and endeavor to fulfill our goals while still feeling great about ourselves. Setting SMART goals and developing your own flow state or rhythm to achieve these goals can ensure greater success, without the need for you to fall into the perfection trap.
The company we keep and the people we interact with can affect our thought processes and decisions, and hence it’s advisable to surround ourselves with positive minded people who truly accept us with our flaws and shortcomings.
Find forums and groups with like-minded individuals, make it a habit to listen to inspiring podcasts, follow bloggers or websites which keep you bustling forward with accountability, without having to resort to the trappings of perfectionism.
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"The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places", noted Ernest Hemingway, the renowned novelist. Once you realize that brushing your insecurities aside and accepting your true self makes you authentic, you can help others understand this as well. Reveling in your vulnerabilities and continuing to put your best work forward by embracing imperfections can inspire several others who feel impaired by their imperfections.
Our random acts of kindness benefit us as well. Reaching out to others who may be struggling with accepting their flaws and sharing your experience with them will also help reinforce your learnings towards embracing imperfections.
It’s important to understand that your flaws and imperfections make you real. Indeed, some of these flaws you may be able to rectify to fulfil your vision or to evolve into a better version of yourself, while some shortcomings are meant to remain a part of you forever. Embracing imperfections is key to leading an authentic and fulfilling life. •
Main image: shutterstock/Nat Ulrich
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Fitness and healthy food blogger, food photographer and stylist, travel-addict and future self journaler. Sonia loves to write and has resolved to dedicate her life to revealing how easy and important it is to be happier, stronger and fitter each day. Follow her daily pursuits at FitFoodieDiary or on Instagram.
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