"Perfectionism is a 20-ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it's the thing that's really preventing us from being seen and taking flight."
Our discussion of peace this month has orbited the concept of finding peace within ourselves so that we can share it with the world around us. But finding the peace within isn't always an easy task. There can be many barriers to inner peace, but as you walk the path of peace in your heart and mind, you'll be surprised how many of those barriers we put there ourselves.
The path of peace is one of contentment, of feeling that everything is just right. "But wait," says our brain, "thing's aren't okay! There's laundry to do, bills to pay, the car needs an alignment, the kids need new shoes and the boss wants that report by Monday and..." It's so easy to hear the voice in our head that tells us things aren't alright, and the last thing we should be feeling is peace.
My daughter drew her perspective on what is peaceful and what is not. "He is putting doors in front of him and pushing himself and that makes me not happy. That's not peaceful!"
"Because she is meditating and that makes me happy. She is letting herself flow and ignoring all the bad stuff in her head."
For better or worse, we go through life and decide that things should be a certain way. We hear our parents, teachers, friends, TV, news, advertising, and they all tell us what "perfect" is. We take that in, and build those definitions of perfection in our head. But what we don't know is that, by doing so, we are creating those barriers to peace in our mind.
Imagine for a moment that in your mind everything you know, all the elements of your life, is a series of islands, connected by short wooden bridges. Early in your life, you accept every island for what it is, and that makes them close and easy to navigate. Things are the way they are and that's okay, you're at peace with that.
But then comes those definitions of perfection I mentioned above. You're told your hair should be longer, you should be thinner, you should get better grades, you should be this, and that. And it's not just you; you hear the judgements about other people too. You hear so many judgements and you start to internalize them. This moves those islands farther apart, making them seem so far away and so much harder to reach. That dream you had, the one about writing a book, traveling, or becoming a chef, moves farther and farther away with each standard of perfection that gets added to it.
Eventually, in your own mind, you can barely see all the other islands of your life. You've moved them all so far away by accepting definitions of perfection, or by creating some of your own, that even within your mind you feel disconnected from things. That is where most of us are.
We have to bring it all back together. We have to be willing to accept those elements of our life for what they are, and shed the extra long bridges that we've built, discarding the adopted or created standards by which we judge things. You want to travel but see it as too timely? Maybe start small and see how that goes? Why does traveling have to be far to be perfect? Did you paint something and aren't satisfied with it? Why not accept it for what it is, love it for what it is, and try again another time? Why compare the painting to a standard that only exists in your mind?
For those of us that want to find a way to start breaking those barriers within and let go of all we think should be, embracing ourselves and life as it is, I recommend a great book titled, "The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are," by Brené Brown, Ph.D., L.M.S.W. My favorite quote from the book so far is, "Healthy striving is self-focused: 'How can I improve?' Perfectionism is other-focused: 'What will they think?" This quote reminds us that by pushing those islands in our mind farther away because of an adopted definition of perfection, we sacrifice our inner peace for the sake of outside approval.
As a parent of a six year old, I've already had to face the dreaded five whys stage. You know, the one where your kid asks a question and then responds to your answer with "why?", then again, and again, and again...ad nauseam. Well, it turns out, this is actually a very effective business strategy for getting at the root of a problem, allowing you to figure out the optimal solution. It's also something you can do when discussing the topics of this blog with your kids. When they're getting upset because they clearly don't feel like they're achieving something they believe they should, breaking out the five whys can help you help them step back and look at the situation. This can be useful when wanting to help them dissolve those definitions of perfection that stand between their - and your own - peace of mind.
For more examples of what kids can do to focus on peace, check out Kids for Peace, an organization that strives to "create peace through youth leadership, community service, global friendships, and thoughtful acts of kindness." They have some great videos with kids discussing peace, here is our favorite:
We hope this helps open your perspective to the idea that our standards of perfection are our biggest barriers to inner peace. Be aware of them. See them when you are walking across them and be mindful of how useful they are. Discard them if they keep you from walking your path of peace. Bring the islands of your mind back together, and you will find things are more peaceful.
So, when you take a moment to stand back from all the demands in your head and let yourself be as you are, how you would answer this question?
What does peace mean to you and how do you find peace in the moment?
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Have a great day!