I had a low day a few days ago.
Nothing specific happened that was bad, but it just wasn't a high-energy day. The sun refused to shine, nothing on my to-do list got done, I felt drawn out and tired like I was dragging my feet through tar; everything felt a bit flat.
It's so important to own up to having had days like this sometimes. It's very easy to pretend otherwise - but who are we serving by doing that? By pretending we are fine when we're not, we are damaging our own integrity. Integrity relies upon honesty and honesty is a form of blunt truthfulness that embraces the messy parts of life, not just the clean, simple parts. If we don't own up to having bad days and show others what the messy bits look like, we are in danger of perpetuating a terrifying society that glorifies perfection and makes every single imperfect person (i.e. all of us) think that everyone else is doing life better than them. This is dangerous, because it leads the imperfect person to believe that they are failing for doing nothing other than feeling low or having a bad day.
A toxic culture of overt perfectionism is dangerous, because imperfection is an innately human quality. In the words of Cheryl Strayed, "every last one of us will need to fuck up and be forgiven" - our imperfection is a certainty that cannot and should not be overlooked. Yet we find ourselves existing in a world of social media, where every single intimate detail of other people's lives are documented in little squares of airbrushed, filtered perfection; in this reality, the humanity of imperfection is easily forgotten. If we never own up to feeling low, or document the things that go wrong or feel hard in our lives (of which there are many), then we feed into this fake reality where nothing bad ever happens, where the 'perfect' are vilified and the imperfect demonized.
We must reject perfectionism if we are to embrace the beauty of being human. We must find a way of becoming comfortable with our imperfections, because maybe these are what truly make us who we are. If we were all perfect, getting it all right the first time, what an empty, colourless world we would all live in!
I should also confess at this point that I am very far from having things figured out in my own life - I've made a lot of wrong starts, building myself up in the wrong direction and then having to painstakingly knock it all down and start again. I am not sitting here writing from the perfect endpoint and looking smugly back to give my wisdom to others to follow. I am slap bang still in the middle of the storm, trying to point myself north without a compass.
I say this, because it is important to remember that every person you look up to as a leader, as someone who is lighting the way for you to follow, demonstrating what a perfect life should look like, is a human being too and has had to stumble alone through the darkness of uncertainty to get where they are today.
Perspective is key.
You may meet someone who is really far along their path, see them shining bright and think 'I'll never make it there'; but you have no idea what it really took for that person to get there. You don't see the years of failure, of self-doubt, of struggling to pay rent, of loss and pain. People don't openly share the things they are ashamed of, which means that we don't see the failures very often. We just see their light and their success in the present and think that it was easy.
Another thing to remember is that success and perfection are only qualified through perspective. For example, a woman who is CEO of a big company could be viewed as successful and perfect by someone who aspires to be in her shoes, or someone seeking a stable income and comfortable lifestyle. But if that woman's dream was to be a singer... from her perspective she is a failure. Never forget that we are all on our own paths to very different end points.
Ooof, that was a lot of big words and I lost my way a little bit in the telling of it... Let me try and bring myself back to a more cohesive point.
Imperfection is a fact of life, failures are common but we hide them in discourse with others. So. What can we do about this? Start documenting all our failures openly and painfully so that others can see we are struggling too?
If you feel that you can, openness is certainly helpful, but it's not for everyone. At least, not publicly. The most important step is to embrace your own messiness, your wobbliness and your dark bits, rather than feeling ashamed of them. Give yourself permission to fail sometimes. Take the pressure off. Remember that imperfection makes you perfectly human and all of your failures are actually helping to slowly lead you in the right direction. Every time we fail or have a bad day or struggle through something difficult, we gain the confidence and wisdom that will help us become strong. and do a bit better next time. In the words of Jen Hatmaker: "One step at a time may be slow, but it will get you somewhere." (This quote is from a podcast conversation that Jen had with Brene Brown. It's well worth a listen, and you can do so by clicking here)
Maybe tune into the narratives you are surrounding yourself with and start to clean out the people who are faking reality and making you feel inferior; replace these with truth-tellers and people who own up to their failures, instead of shying. away from them. But also - check in with your authentic truth, the voice deep inside of you that knows where you want to go and what you want to be doing and ask yourself: am I a business woman who really wants to be a singer? If you are, maybe think about what you can change in your life to steer yourself more towards your true north. When you are working towards something you believe in, it's much easier to dust yourself off from failure, pick yourself back up and keep driving forwards.
This is a big topic, so I might leave it here for today and pick it back up in my next post.
Sending you all love and imperfection!
"Cultivate an understanding that life is long, that people both change and stay the same, that every last one of us will need to fuck up and be forgiven, that we're all just walking and walking and walking, trying to find our way... that all roads eventually lead to the mountain top."