Presence, as Opposed to Perfection, Within

Admittedly, while writing I go through some “perfectionist” motions. In editing and proofreading, my own inner critic chimes in and thoughtfully adds, “is that really true? Here’s an example where it might not be the case,” or, “that doesn’t entirely add up.” I struggle myself with perfectionist thoughts and desires, and as a result this may have taken me a lot longer to pull together than intended… There likely are perfectionists who would argue when I say that perfectionism doesn’t help. I will maintain that striving for true perfection is a self-defeating path. It seems cliché to say “nobody’s perfect” and that perfection is unattainable. I would argue that it is more than just cliché (and true); that the goal of perfection causes undo harm to ourselves (and in the next blog post, potentially those around us.) Because in a nutshell, the more we strive for something that is unattainable (assuming the cliché is true), or far out of reach (if the cliché isn’t quite true), the more we allow room for feelings of disappointment to emerge. However, there was a time in most of our lives where there was a place for perfection: school. Being a student is quite possibly the only environment where perfection can be sought out and attained (though, my 4.0 GPA and the work that accompanied it might look very different than yours, so as you can see, even this example might not work completely). Work may be a place for perfection, but it is rare that a job requires such a level (maybe in types of employment that involve numbers, and lots of them). And when we are adults in such an environment where perfection is encouraged (implicitly) and we enjoy that kind of work, it likely is because we were never able to shed the perfectionism pressure that we instilled in ourselves growing up, so it is congruent with our mindset. But it might also set us up to think that there will be other environments just like this as we make our way through the world, and the behavior of seeking out perfection can become engrained, especially if the behavior continues to receive forms of validation. There is a “plan B.” That, instead of striving for perfection, what about “presence”? A quick pass through Google would give us that “presence” means: the state or fact of existing, occurring, or being present in a place or thing. Instead of striving for something beyond ourselves, we are striving for something that is already there, within ourselves, but unattainable because we don’t allow ourselves to be with ourselves; the notion that being present with oneself might be “not good enough.” As mentioned, if we construct a goal for ourselves that is (logically) unachievable, we set ourselves up for disappointment. For example, if you ask a friend or loved one to do something for you that they’ve never, in their history of knowing you, been able to do, you are more likely to be disappointed in that person. The same can be said about ourselves. However, in the case of setting a goal for ourselves, we are capable of striving for something beyond anything we’ve done before. We can push our comfort zone. That is different than perfection. We are recognizing our capability, and going for something that may be just beyond our reach, while recognizing that we are doing so. That last italicized part is also a part of presence: We know what is going on for us, and so while something may be beyond our comfort, recognizing that ahead of time makes us more likely to forgive ourselves that first time we taste defeat. However, if we have no presence, we will only beat ourselves up for not achieving a goal beyond our comfort zone (and that goal was likely way outside of the zone when there is a lack of presence.) How do we become more present? Maybe we could rephrase that: how do we start to become more present? This shift also makes the goal achievable and process-oriented! While I plan to follow this post with more on the topic, I would suggest to a client who asks this question to start by conducting a body scan. Maybe close your eyes, putting both feet on the floor, sitting upright, and notice any sensation that comes up in your body. When you do notice this, don’t try to do anything to it, or make it go away. Instead, by saying “hello” to that something you are allowing it to just be there in whatever form it is, and you are being present with it. “Perfection” in this body scan would be when you sense something uncomfortable and instead of a gentle “hello” you decide that because it is uncomfortable, it must go away; you must get rid of it. The more we become able to say “hello” to uncomfortable experiences within us, the more presence we attain, and the more we become able to then do this with the people in our lives that present us with uncomfortable situations.