While self improvement is healthy, we also need to learn to accept our flaws and understand that we are perfect just as we are.
I consider myself a reasonably good person. I pay my taxes, follow the law, and generally try to apply the hippocratic oath (or per Homer Simpson, the “hippopotamus oath”) of “Do no harm” in my daily life.
But by no stretch of the most fertile imagination, am I even close to being perfect. I have many, maaaany flaws – impatience, stubbornness, bossiness, and laziness amongst them.
Yes that’s right, I am both bossy and lazy – all too good at directing other people in getting things done, but often lazy when it comes to actually doing things myself. You can catch me taking a snooze after successfully delegating all major tasks.
By the way, I love this take on bossiness:
Also, I love learning but I HATE being told what to do. I need to ask a million questions first and then decide to do it. As in, if I had to describe myself in one word, it would be:
Well, those are just a few examples of my imperfections. Enough to give you a general idea of the sort of person I am and to give you time to retract that Facebook friend request.
But the imperfections that often bother me the most are not these more obvious flaws. “Wait...”, I hear you say,…”there’s more?!” Yes, unfortunately!
But these imperfections centre around the things I lack. For example:
- That I am not more confident / funny / interesting / normal.. etc:
- For example, as I’ve gotten older, it’s true that I’ve gained more confidence. But when I’m in a social situation, I still struggle to find my voice, let alone entertain the masses with my wit and humor as I’d like to. I am far better being invisible – it’s my party trick!
- That I do not feel more happy / content.. etc:
- I have my first world problems, but this is no excuse for not enjoying the privileged life I lead. So why do I have so many moments of stress, sadness etc? And then I become frustrated with myself for not feeling happier, leading to a deepening cycle of discontent – argh!!
- That I do not have more success / financial security.. etc:
- The pressure to be more “successful” was something that I felt when I was working in the corporate world. But in general, career / money / relationship “success” is often how people define themselves and judge others.
I’m sure you have your list of things you feel you lack. And more likely than not, you have an inner voice that reminds you of them. That is, an inner critic that pipes up with something along the lines of:
I think we all have to deal with this inner voice at times, some of us more than others. Too often we get caught up in our imperfections and the feeling of not being good enough.
The Meaning of Perfect
Let’s take a look at how a person such as myself could be considered perfect. The definition of “Perfect” in the Oxford dictionary is as follows:
1. having all the required or desirable elements, qualities, or characteristics; as good as it is possible to be.
I can see you reading and re-reading the definition, squinting, frowning and trying to figure out how it could possibly be that a lazy, stubborn, bossy and impatient person who turns invisible at parties could be considered perfect.
Look again at the definition and now focus on the following two words – “required” and “desirable”.
The definition of perfect centres on whether I have the required or desirable qualities according to.. well according to me.
There is no other judge that matters. I’m not going to be entering into the “Most Perfect Human Competition”. Not this year anyway.
Despite the fact that there are many things I would like to improve, and that I have many less than “perfect” qualities that I’m not looking to change (I like being bossy – don’t tell me to change! You change!), I enjoy being imperfect me. I wouldn’t want to be any other way. A “perfect” version of me wouldn’t be me.
The reality is that no-one is “perfect” in the sense of having no flaws or defects. No-one can be perfect. You don’t have to be perfect by an objective, pin-up billboard standard (which doesn’t even exist). You just have to be desirable by your own standards.
Therefore you can be perfect, if despite your imperfections, you consider yourself desirable being the person you already are.
“To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself.”Thich Nhat Hanh
Learning To Accept The Imperfect
As “perfection” in an objective sense does not exist, we can either:
- (i) accept that “perfect” should only used in a theoretical sense to describe unicorns and Hugh Jackman (who’s pretty much perfect); or
- (ii) accept that our “perfect” or better said “desirable” selves are going to include imperfections and flaws.
By accepting that having imperfections is inevitable, we can then learn to accept that they are not a reason for feeling that we are not enough and for not liking the person we are.
The positive of imperfections
We tend to view imperfections as something inherently bad, that should be “fixed”, or at least hidden from view. But imperfections are not just an evitable part of being human, they have a positive side as well.
Firstly, our imperfections are an important part of what makes us unique and interesting, as well as endearing to others. The perfect, flawless person who never has a bad day or vulnerable moment may be admirable from afar, but doesn’t have much to offer up close.
We often feel much more connected with someone after they reveal a vulnerability or imperfection. Then we realize “Oh, they are human – just like me!“.
If we constantly strive for “perfection”, that is fixing or hiding our weaknesses, we are missing a chance to be our unique selves and to connect with others.
Secondly, our imperfections are often the other side of a strength.
For instance – being bossy means I know how to take charge, being a perfectionist means you’re really good at details.
That is, having a strength means accepting corresponding weaknesses (or imperfections). A weakness is often a counterbalancing limitation on a strength going too far. The two complement each other and it is unrealistic to expect to separate them and leave yourself only with strengths.
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t want to improve our weaknesses. But we should accept that having weaknesses is a natural and valuable consequence of having strengths.
“Without darkness, there is no light.”
The desire to be better
It is of course great if you want to discover your best self. However, while self improvement as a goal is a healthy activity, it is also a perpetually ongoing process. It’s (highly) unlikely that you’re going to reach your version of “perfection” in your lifetime.
“Yippeeee… nothing left to improve! Now to enter the Most Perfect Human competition! I hope I get to meet Hugh Jackson!”
The important part is the process, not the end result.
Too much focus on doing things well and improving oneself becomes perfectionism. This is a closer to an obsession that a genuine desire to reach one’s true potential.
As a result of the overwhelming need to do everything perfectly (an impossible goal), a perfectionist finds it hard to be present, appreciate themselves and connect with those around them. Perfectionism results in anxiety, insecurity and unhappiness.
Perfectionism prevents us from enjoying our lives and living in the moment.
Perfectionism is a cover for the fact that deep down we don’t consider ourselves worthy. Instead, we need to continually “prove” our worth to ourselves and others. We tell ourselves we would like ourselves more if only we had a better job / stronger body / were funnier / more successful etc.
But the reality is, these factors won’t change how we feel about ourselves. True self-acceptance has nothing to do with external achievements, what we do or what we have. It is learning to accept yourself as you are.
“Does the rose have to do something? No, the purpose of a rose is to be a rose.
Your purpose is to be yourself. You don’t have to run anywhere to become someone else. You are wonderful just as you are.”Thich Nhat Hanh
“I would rather be whole than good.”Carl Jung
When we learn to accept our imperfections, we become whole. We stop needing to deny or hide parts of ourselves. We also stop needing to project our shortcomings onto others or criticize, judge and blame.
When we become whole, we accept that all humans are “both / and” instead of polarizing the world with “either / or”. Everyone has both good and bad in them. It is not a question of being either a good person or a bad person.
In embracing our imperfections, we learn to love ourselves unconditionally and without self-criticism. In turn we develop the potential to love others unconditionally.
“When I’m loving all of me, all of my perfectly imperfect self, I become whole.”John Bradshaw
You Are Perfect Already
It’s great if you are working on improving yourself. But at the same time, you are enough exactly as you are, here and now, with or without the “more” that you might be working on.
What do you lack in order to be you? Nothing.
Don’t get caught in the trap of telling yourself you are only likeable or worthy if you “perform” at a certain level, “look” a certain way or “have” something more. Recognize when you’re doing something out of a genuine desire to improve or the need to cover up a sense of unworthiness.
If you do not feel worthy as you are now, your work is in learning to love and accept yourself, not in chasing the false illusion of perfection.
Because you are perfect already. Perfectly imperfect. Perfectly you. 💛
“If there’s any definition to being perfect, you’re perfect at being yourself.”Zendaya