The Perils of Perfectionism and the Joy of Being Ordinary

Scrolling down our various social media profiles may give us the impression that everyone that we know is having the time of their lives 24/7. Glowing smiles of newly formed relationships, exotic foods, sculpted flawless bodies all exemplify the perfection that they have achieved. One puts down their phone and is immediately filled with a sense of unease, envy and a punctured self-esteem. All this is compounded by the fact that the digital world has made it possible to constantly compare our day to day lives with almost anyone around the globe.

We then ask ourselves, why can’t my life be as exciting and glamorous as the celebrities, influencers or friends that I see on Instagram?

Of course, we know that their carefully constructed profiles are just a façade, yet we struggle to remember this. We fail to take a broader more nuanced perspective. While we are exposed to the good and positive aspects of their lives, we are excluded from peering into their difficulties, struggles and hardships – the things which ultimately make us humans. 

Our societies obsessions with positivity and happiness at all costs can conceal some of the fundamental truths about the human condition. Regardless of who we are or where we are born, we are all imperfect creatures. Life can be confusing at times, and difficult to navigate. Each of us has our unique set of defects.

This is not an exception, rather it is perfectly normal.

In the past, this idea was communicated to us in various religious traditions. Buddhism pointed out that life is suffering or unsatisfactory (translated as “Dukkha”). That is, we are never quite content with what we have, and are always craving for more. An endless cycle of ever-increasing desires. Further, Christianity’s notion of ‘original sin’ illustrates the flawed nature of the human being. Even if one does not subscribe to the metaphysical ideas of these doctrines, we can still nonetheless appreciate the fact that we will inevitably all go through periods of uncertainty, vulnerability and fragility throughout our lives. After all, no one promised us a rose garden.

Of course, positivity is a wonderful thing. My point is however that continually denying or suppressing our authentic and genuine emotions can only throw fire on the flames down the road. Positivity can become ‘toxic’ when we rigorously try to maintain an excessive ‘happy’ or optimistic attitude in all situations, regardless of the circumstances. We put on a mask to hide what we are really feeling, and who we really are.

Instead, it can be helpful to welcome these difficult emotions with a sense of acceptance, charity and curiosity. They can be a sign that some element in our lives is out of balance. It is a call towards greater introspection, self-knowledge and insight. It may indeed feel uncomfortable to explore these unchartered territories of our inner selves, but addressing these problems directly will allow us to avoid them escalating in the future. Moreover, denying or minimizing our emotions may only lead to increased stress and poor mental and physical health. Rather, we should aim to cultivate compassion for ourselves.

Perhaps we will never live the fabricated lives of the celebrities we see on magazines. This is OK. There is great beauty in embracing the wholeness of being alive. We can put down the veil of perfectionism and embrace the complexities, challenges and doubts we all face. This requires a degree of vulnerability and acceptance of our imperfections.

By being honest with ourselves we can truly begin the inner work of putting the pieces back together – one step at a time.  

We cannot change anything unless we accept it

Carl Jung

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26 thoughts on “The Perils of Perfectionism and the Joy of Being Ordinary

  1. “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I change.” ~~Carl Rogers. Beautiful words Andrew 🙏

  2. I love this part:

    There is great beauty in embracing the wholeness of being alive. We can put down the veil of perfectionism and embrace the complexities, challenges and doubts we all face.

  3. My in-laws witnessed a couple saying their goodbyes to each other over the phone. They both had covid, the husband is still in the hospital. It was a very intimate scene when the wife spent her last moments thanking her husband for their life, etc, and telling him she loved him. It was his response that was shocking. He said he didn’t know what to say, to hang in there, and he’d see her later before hanging up on her. He didn’t cry, he might’ve internally, but bc my in-laws know this man, they know it’s bc he isn’t in touch with his emotions.

    1. Thank you for sharing. Something I am continue to work on, it is difficult to be open an transparent about your emotions. But it of course helps in the long-run

  4. The first time I heard about “vulnerability” was when I watched the Ted Talk of Brene Brown. She speaks about “the power of vulnerability” to show our authenticity. We are all human beings with flaws and imperfections and we have to learn to accept and live with them without being afraid of showing them. This is actually our power.

    1. I thought of Brene when I read this post too. Nice job with a real post about being real, Andrew!

      Yesterday, I was quickly typing a reply to a comment and put “right” instead of “write.” When I saw it later, I totally cringed and thought about editing it. But it was such a little thing so I left it there as a token of my imperfection. 🙂

  5. Thank you for sharing this beautifully crafted piece.
    I like, “It may indeed feel uncomfortable to explore these unchartered territories of our inner selves, but addressing these problems directly will allow us to avoid them escalating in the future. Rather, we should aim to cultivate compassion for ourselves.”
    I believe in optimism. If incorporated with acceptance always helps me. Especially when someone close to me is going through a tough time, and I can’t help them in any way other than being there for them. I find if together we hang on to the acceptance coupled with optimism that although times are very tough right now and everything seems hopeless, there has to be “a light at the end of the dark tunnel,” life becomes somewhat bearable and a solution ultimately attainable.
    Remind me of the serenity prayer.

  6. Nothing quite brings out dismay in me like when someone tries to pump me full of Power of Positive Thinking porn.

    Sometimes life just sucks. Embrace the suck. In the mean time remember that good or bad, this too shall pass away.

  7. This is a very interesting article. I think there’s a fine line between ”fake it until you make it” and toxic positivity. I think it’s hard to face our own feelings instead of carrying on with our lives.

    Your blog is a gem! I’m so glad I found it. I’ve been trying to find a blog like this for a long time. I’ll definitely stick around and please, write more, thank you!!

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