Learning Not to Strive for Perfection

With age comes wisdom. Believe that and you’ll believe anything.

What age has done for me is shown that striving for perfection is a fruitless and tiring exercise.

Many of us feel the pressure to be ‘better’ and ‘more’. Here’s some news; you’ll never get to the end of that. Take it from someone who knows and is finally learning that reaching for perfection is like trying to pull the stars out of the sky; foolish and fantastical.

The Definition of Perfect

The Oxford English Dictionary defines perfect as,

Having all the required or desirable elements, qualities, or characteristics; as good as it is possible to be.

Keep that definition in mind throughout reading this blog post.

The Perfect Body

Learning Not Strive for Perfection - limited editionI have put my body through hell from the moment I first heard the messages that I needed to be thin and beautiful to be acceptable.

I made the ridiculous decision to shave my legs for the first time at the age of 11. I should have been embracing remaining a girl but everyone else was doing it so I thought I had to as well.

My punishment for vanity came from being so clueless I stole my dad’s razor and dry shaved. My legs were on fire for days.

I spent my twenties despising my body. I thought I was huge because I had a tiny roll of fat on my tummy. I look at pictures from that time and cannot believe how slim I was. The reflection in the mirror was distorted into a lie by the warped ideal of perfection in my head.

I spent a vast majority of my life comparing myself to other women. I’d look at females when I was socialising or shopping and assess myself against them. I’m ashamed to say that I saw them as competition and I envied them.

This is a long-term habit that hasn’t been easy to break. Even today, out in the sunshine, I envied the women who were sporting great figures in sun dresses and shorts. I then did a reality check.

I am now in my forties. I am overweight but over the last year I’ve lost a lot of weight. This wasn’t intentional. It came initially as a by-product of taking up running. As I became fitter and lighter, I started to look after myself better.

I still have a way to go but there is a freedom that comes from being older. Today I am wearing shorts for the first time since I was a young adult. This may not sound like much to you. For me, it’s incredible. Previously the thought of showing my cellulite and flab would have filled me with horror. I’ve even gone to the swimming pool and worn a swimming costume for the first time since I was a child.

Don’t make me a poster girl for body confidence though. I’m still aware of my lumps and bumps and they bother me.

I’m just moving down the table from reaching for the impossible summit of perfection to ‘I’m doing this and I’m bloody brave’.

The Perfect Mind

I’m not a thicko. I know things. I’m highly educated. That all said there are many things I don’t know and I’m not afraid to confess it.

My historical and geographical knowledge is lacking.

I’m okay with the Victorian era, which was part of my Masters studies, but everything else, apart from the 1980s, isn’t my forte.

Don’t ever ask me to point to countries on a map. I will confirm every blonde stereotype ever known.

I like to learn new things but if I don’t know something, I just don’t care.

The human brain can only know so much. I love learning and filling up my brain. I acknowledge that I am not an idiot if I can’t contribute to a certain topic of conversation. This comes from maturity.

I have made a complete cockwomble of myself in the past by pretending I knew what others were talking about. I made many a faux pas.

It’s so much easier to plead ignorance, swan off with a bevvy, and leave them to it.

The Perfect Taste

Learning Not Strive for Perfection - not perfectI watch shockingly bad television and make no apologies for it. Actually, scratch that. You might think it ‘shockingly bad’. I obviously like it but in a ‘it’s so bad it’s good’ kind of way.

I can be highbrow with my tastes in music, literature, television, and films if I want to. But taste is subjective anyway.

I could tell you I’ve read many classics but it doesn’t make me any better than you. I’ve also read thousands of commercial novels. There’s no room for book snobbery in my life.

Classical music is something I can appreciate but I’m often more at home with listening to cheesy eighties tunes. I think that’s pretty cool. Try boogying to Beethoven.

Taste is a false concept. People, particularly in media and advertising, dictate what is ‘good taste’. Choose whether you want to work hard to please those people who you’ll never meet or please yourself.

Never call your reading of chick lit, listening to Abba, or watching Love Island, guilty pleasures. You haven’t committed a crime. Fill your boots.

The Perfect Writer

Doesn’t exist.

Never will.

I’m so glad my previous perfectionism never impinged upon my writing life. I wouldn’t have written a single word or would have edited the first sentence for a decade.

I accept my novel is never going to be perfect because that doesn’t exist.

You will love, hate or be indifferent to my book. For me it will be the very best I can do and that’s refreshingly more than enough.

The Perfect Wife

I’ve never worked at being the perfect wife. My husband tells me regularly that I’m perfect…for him.

He has eyes and has to live with me and my ‘quirks’. That man isn’t stupid enough to think I am the archetypal expression of female perfection.

I am proud to be a wife. I love being in a marriage with the only man I would ever have considered as my husband. That in itself is the ultimate win. I don’t need to strive for anything more or be anything I’m not.

The Perfect Best Friend

Learning Not Strive for Perfection - born to be realYou could accuse me of being a rubbish best friend.

I can go for weeks without communicating with my bestie. There have been occasions when I’ve realised at the last minute one of her significant life anniversaries.

We’re best friends for a reason. That’s down to us both not seeking perfection in our friendship.

She’s been in my life for 24 years. Both of us have seen every flaw there is to be unearthed. These chinks make our friendship stronger because we accept each other, not despite them, but because of them.

She is crap at remembering to post my birthday cards. She’ll nod knowingly as she reads this. I think it’s funny and I am never offended.

She sent me a box of cheese when I finished the first draft of my novel. That girl is a keeper.

The Definition of Anti-Perfect

Having elements, qualities, or characteristics that make you happy and pleased with who you are or want to be in life; as good as it is for now and possibly okay to stay that way.

Over to You

How do you feel about the desire to be perfect in different areas? Has it affected you?

I’d love to hear from men as well as women. We are all struggling in our own ways.

About Lisa Sell

Lisa Sell is a fiction writer and blogger. When not wrestling with words she can be found showing the love for chocolate, cheese, coffee, the cat, and the Husband. Not particularly in that order.

6 comments on “Learning Not to Strive for Perfection

  1. This is entirely wonderful, and I love every word of it. It’s so hard to push back against that imagined need for perfection. Like you, I seem to not struggle with it so much in my writing (although that doesn’t stop me wrangling one annoying sentence for half a say when I’m editing, trying to get it to sound *right*), but in so much else that pressure’s always there. Thank you for the reminder that not only are none of us perfect, but there’s no need to be!

    1. I forgot that editing is a git for bringing out my perfectionism! I am learning to let go though, mainly because I cannot bear the thought of editing a novel for the rest of my life!

      Thanks for your comment. I had a feeling you’d get what I was writing about.

      1. Only too well, Lisa! And when I’m editing I think I start sounding like a dog trainer.

        “Leeeave it. Leave it! No! Stop that!” 😉

  2. When I first started out as a singer I would compare myself to so many others, not particularly the big names, I’m realistic in that at least, but local singers. I always thought they were better than me but then I started to realise that everyone has a unique voice, so it was ok that mine didn’t sound perfect. In fact everyone has a unique voice and I don’t just mean singing. Once I got over that I really enjoyed my singing, and I must have been doing something right after earning a living from it for 15 years. Now once I use that attitude for my writing, there’ll be no stopping me!

    1. Singing sounds like it’s really prepared you for being a writer. Any pursuit where we’re showing off our skills makes us feel vulnerable and we all compare ourselves to others occasionally. It’s human nature. It sounds like you’ve developed a healthy approach.

      Thanks for commenting, Debbie.

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