Several days ago, when I illumined my 26 year old daughter with the truth that “life is just really hard” she barked at me, telling me that I was a real pessimist. I was stunned because, to me, this is one of the most liberating truths that women can have. Why? Here’s what I tried to explain to her.
When we come to accept that we won’t always get the job we want, the husband who satisfies all of our dreams, have the figure that we believe we should have or live in a home which is gorgeous, life gets really good. That seems like an oxymoron, but anyone who has embraced this truth knows exactly what I’m talking about. We women have succumbed to believe that we need perfection in every area of our lives in order to feel satisfied, be genuinely happy or finally feel that peace that we desperately crave.
In my book, The Ten Habits of Happy Mothers, I address this drive of perfectionism which plagues just about every mother I have ever met. Dr. Brene Brown from the University of Houston has done a lot of research on women and happiness and her findings, which she discusses I her book, The Gifts of Imperfection line up with my own. We both agree that our drive to morph into that vision we have in our minds of ourselves as the perfect woman, sucks all the life out of us. For many years, I lived with a mental picture of myself cooking beautiful meals from scratch, never yelling at my kids, performing wonderfully as a physician and of course- maintaining a 23 year old state of physical fitness. When I allowed this woman to live in my mind, I was miserable because no matter what I did, I fell short. Not only did I fall short, worst of all, my husband did, my patients, kids and friends did as well.
Somehow, when I came to accept that my husband will always work compulsively and not appear at social functions, when my cellulite was going to stick to my thighs, my carpets were always going to look like a horse just trampled them, well, I seemed to be happier. Dr. Brown would say that’s because living with perfectionism acts as a shield against life. When we strive to be perfect (or have only perfect people around us) we are trying to shield ourselves from the pain of blame, judgment and shame. She’s right on.
Giving up perfectionism feels so good because we get rid of the shield. So when I told my daughter that “life is just hard” I was telling her that inner freedom begins when we accept that life is going to beat up each one of us and make us feel like painfully imperfect folks. And- imperfection is a really great thing. Now, when I read a magazine article praising stars for getting their bodies back quickly after having a baby, I don’t feel guilty, I feel sorry for them. Too much pressure and no fun.
Staring imperfection in the face is a pretty great thing. If you haven’t already, I’d suggest that you give it a try. I can guarantee one thing; once you do, you’ll never go back.