How to embrace your imperfection (and why it’s really important to do so…)
I had an epiphany: its actually ok to be imperfect
One week from today Ill be 28 years old. When I look at my friends lives I feel like Ive fallen behind. Most of my friends are either married or engaged and living with their significant others in apartments that look like something out of the Crate and Barrel catalogue.
Me? Im years away from being engaged (sorry Mom and Dad!), and am just now moving out of an apartment I shared with friends and into my own place. And I plan to decorate with Ikea stuff.
Feeling as though my friends have surpassed me used to make me wildly insecure. I felt like there was something wrong with me, like I was somehow imperfect, and that I needed to catchup.
But at the end of 2013, after a post-speaking-tour-breakdown, I had a revelation: I realized that its totally ok to be imperfect. In fact, its essential to be imperfect. Simply put, if you are human you will never achieve total perfection. And thats ok. In fact, in its own way, its kind of beautiful.
Why do I mention this? Because most emerging leaders fall into the same trap I had fallen for: they obsess over their imperfections to the detriment of their work and life.
To truly lead, you have to be cool with imperfection. At a practical level, if you sit around trying to perfect your work, youll fail to pull the trigger on your next amazing project. At the existential level if you fail to accept your imperfections you risk becoming neurotic, depressed, cruel to yourself, or irritating to be around. In fact, many perfectionists become all four.
To lead, you have to let yourself off the hook and embrace imperfection. Heres how:
Surrender to the reality that the human experience is a messy experience (and then notice its beauty): Hearts get broken, dreams fail to come to fruition, friends fall out, you forget an important meeting, someone farts in the elevator, the dress doesnt fit right, you waste the day away on Facebook and Netflix, or the promotion goes to someone else. In an ideal world, perhaps everything would have clean edges. But we dont live in that world. We live in a world filled with imperfection. However, if you look closely, there is immense beauty in imperfection. Magicians will often make tricks look imperfect as it creates a more satisfying experience for the audience (see the too perfect theory), and an entire branch of Japanese aesthetics is dedicated to the beauty of imperfection (see Wabi-Sabi).
Remember: no singular person holds up the world: I often meet entrepreneurs, leaders, employees, and students who tell me that if they take a day off, everything in their organization will collapse. Hate to be rude, but thats simply not true. Doctors, Presidents, and police officers all take days off and call in sick. Sometimes they call in sick for really important stuff too. If they can do it, we can too. Take your work seriously, but dont fall for the illusion that you have to be perfect or the world will collapse. Release yourself from that stress. Its an illusion. Which brings me to
Its ok to drop a ball from time to time: thanks to smart phones and high speed internet, pretty much everyone has more demands on their time and attention than they can actually handle. I used to try to be perfect. I wanted to keep 100% of my commitments, answer all emails and calls within 24 hours, never make a spelling error, show up exactly on time, exceed every clients expectation (even if its just a 5 minute phone call), keep on top of my social media, and remember every friends birthday.
But of course, thats ridiculous. No one can do that. More so than ever before, its ok to drop the ball from time to time. There is a fine art to dropping the ball. The trick is to drop the balls that dont matter as much. Its ok not to respond to every email immediately, to cancel plans youre not excited for, and to ignore social media. The important stuff relationships with people you love, work that you care about or pays the bills, physical and mental health make sure you pay careful attention to that. Everything else though? Its cool to drop the ball from time to time.
Stop focusing on whats wrong, and realize that youre already friggin awesome: people who get hung up on perfection tend to be hard on themselves. Thats what happened to me. I was focused on my friends having different lives than I do, while completely ignoring all the cool stuff Ive done that they hadnt. If youre really obsessing over whats wrong or imperfect, I suggest you sit down right now and make a list of ten great things youve done in your life. Read it daily. Keep adding to it from time to time. Youll see that youre way more awesome than you realize.
Relaxation is not a guilty pleasure or a sign of weakness. Its essential: most emerging leaders act as though exhaustion and busyness are status symbols and treat relaxation as though its something to be embarrassed about. Truth is, taking the time to relax isnt a bad thing at all. Its essential for your physical and mental health. Besides, if all you ever do is work, youre building a boring life and setting yourself up to fail. Good leaders understand how to create internal balance in their lives so that they rarely if ever burn out. Dont fall for the trap of believing that exhaustion and being super busy is the same as success. Its not. Its a sign that youre not loving yourself well enough. Trade in your exhaustion for some well-deserved R&R.
Realize that its ok to be imperfect
Work to improve yourself, yes, but dont stress over being imperfect. You can be overweight and beautiful. You can be a successful 28 year old without a partner or well decorated apartment. You can still be a critical part of a team after taking a day off. You can recover from a dropped ball (even if it seems really important). Embracing imperfection isnt just important for leaders and individuals who want to create something beautiful, its essential to the human experience.
Now if youll excuse me, Im going to go eat some pizza, even though Im currently trying to cut weight at the gym.
So how have you accepted your own imperfections? What were the results? Leave a comment letting me know.