Live Better. Love Better. Work Better.

Embracing Imperfection

Matthew Cuddeback, LCSW

There are many things we need to be more attuned to in these difficult times that we face right now. A key piece of this self-care that keeps coming to mind is the importance of the ability to embrace imperfection. The better we are able to get comfortable with the unknown and by extension, imperfection, the better we will be able to get through these difficult times in a healthier way.
I am about to say something that may be difficult and unpleasant to hear, but first I want to emphasize that there is no value judgement place on this observation. You are not going to do most things very well right now. You might be only doing a serviceable job in your work. You might be keeping your home somewhat clean. Laundry is probably piling up. You maybe aren’t keeping in contact with your family as well as they would like. You might not be taking great care of yourself. Most of what you are doing right now is very much less than perfect. It may be uncomfortable to hear those observations and even more uncomfortable to feel them. However, it is important to take that in as a first step to staying healthy and try and do so without placing judgement on yourself for it.

For a huge portion of the world’s population we are finding ourselves in new territory. We are figuring out how to get our necessities, how do we isolate and get groceries? How much toilet paper do we need? How do I use Zoom for work meetings? What does it mean to punch in and out when I am working from home? How do I work from home and be a parent? How do my partner and I manage work when we are working from home together? The list goes on. There is no feasible way to know how to do all of these things with complete success because we have not had to do anything like this before. What this means is that you might take a little while to return grandma’s call. You might be late to meetings because you didn’t realize your WIFI doesn’t work in the bedroom. Maybe you are not making sure you aren’t indulging too much in something unhealthy, maybe you aren’t indulging enough in things that are.
Once we can admit that we may only be doing a serviceable job of managing our lives in such a difficult time, what do we do next? Now we work to be more forgiving of ourselves. If entire countries can’t come up with a good plan of how to manage these things, how can I expect myself to? Would I be mad at myself because I don’t know how to speak French fluently, even though I just started studying it two weeks ago? It is helpful to examine these kinds of thoughts and test how well they hold up to scrutiny. Once we have a more fair and accurate understanding of how we are doing it is worthwhile to take a look at the situation and ask yourself what “better” might be, and acknowledge that is the direction we want to be moving toward even if we are not ready just yet.

The bottom line is that we need to be more kind to ourselves, grace and compassion for self is always more effective than shame. Once we allow ourselves to admit nonjudgmentally that we are not perfect in how we are managing our lives during such an immense change in our understanding of how the world works, we are less likely to feel as much disappointment and shame in ourselves. When we do this, we are better able to understand what reasonable expectations are. This creates the space we need to better assess how we are doing and what we need to better care for ourselves, giving us much needed clarity and guidance in such a complex time.

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