Five Ways to Release Your Attachment to Perfection (and Enjoy the Chaos)

Photo credit: Sarah Colvin

“Perfection!” the photographer said when she looked at the digital display of the photo she had just taken of our family. We had gathered for my husband’s family reunion, and I took advantage of having all of our kids together to get an updated family photo. With seven kids between the two of us, several with significant others, it’s never easy to get everyone together in one place at the same time.

We had asked our kids to meet us on the beach behind the hotel. Everyone was to wear a white shirt, even if it was a simple white tee, and either jeans or khaki shorts. Not a complicated request. Still, my husband Tom showed up wearing a blue shirt, which elicited a remark from our oldest son JJ.

“Is that the closest thing to white you have, Dad?”

Then I noticed the second of our five sons wearing a cream colored shirt with, of all things, bananas all over it. I smiled to myself. After all, I had long ago let go of the notion that I could control anything, especially when it came to family. So why bother fussing?

Besides the beach was beautiful, with only a few people strolling along. The sun was lowering in the sky, streaking the blue background with gentle strokes of pink. The kids were smiling and happy to be together if just for the time it took to snap evidence that we really are a family unit.

The photographer clicked the camera with enthusiasm, as we followed her instruction.

“Okay, on the count of three. One, two, three!”

When everyone allowed their picture perfect smiles and stoic postures to relax after the posed shots, I suggested we do a couple of crazy pictures. Without missing a beat, everyone assumed silly poses and the photographer did her magic. When we headed back to the hotel afterward, everyone was laughing and making jokes.

It was almost two weeks later when I finally sat down to look at the proofs. The shots were wonderful, just like the photographer had said. But it wasn’t the perfect pictures that spoke to me. It was the crazy ones, where we were all being silly.

In my favorite photo, hubby Tom is making a monster face, while daughter Jessica sticks out her tongue. Son Nate is climbing onto the back of his fiancé Danielle. JJ, taller than everyone else, is flexing his muscles in the back, while his wife Bridget holds her hand out with a “What can I say?” look. Our youngest son Ryan looks as if he’s going to punch his brother Sergei in the face. Alex’s expression suggests he just won the lottery. As for me, I am teetering precariously in front of them all as if I’ve had one glass too many.

Whenever I look at the crazy photo, I laugh. Everyone looks ridiculous, but it was that photo my eyes kept going back to, not the picture perfect ones. Why? Because I appreciate what that photo represents — the chaos of our daily lives. Yes, the crazy photo is now the background for my computer. It’s the crazy photo that I’m smiling at right now as I type these words.

Let’s face it; perfection is overrated. Yes, my original intention was for all of us to be dressed in matching colors, stranding tall, smiles from ear to ear to capture the image of our family on the beach. But in reality, perfection is not real. Rather, it is always elusive. Perfection is a fairy tale. And for those chasing after it, there will almost always be disappointment.

Don’t get me wrong; I love the notion of perfection. I fantasize about my house looking Southern Living ready every day of the week. I dream about a perfectly manicured landscape, and the kids earning all As in school (and loving it). I dream about dancing like a professional whether it’s Argentine Tango or Slow Foxtrot. I daydream about finding a new BFF in the town where I’ve only been living for a year — 1,200 miles from where I left my longtime BFFs behind.

Perfection is a dream. It’s a navigational point that we will never reach, like the North Star. It’s good that we know what we’d like, because at least we know what to shoot for. It’s when we get so caught up with everything being just the way we dream that we feel frustrated.

The truth is that life can be so much more enjoyable if we release the idea of perfection and embrace the truth -– life is a chaotic, unpredictable adventure!

Five Ways to Release Your Attachment to Perfection

Releasing attachment to perfection is easier said than done. However, if you practice these tried and true tools, you’ll get there!

  1. Ask yourself what’s more important, perfection or the person. When things aren’t perfect, it’s usually because someone has not lived up to your expectation, often times a friend, coworker, or family member. Ask yourself if the outcome has greater value than the relationship with the person? When we value our relationships most of all, we find ourselves more flexible in other ways. So my hubby wore a blue shirt! Did I get angry and yell at him? No. I smiled and shook my head. Besides, my favorite color for him to wear is blue, so I focused on that instead.
  2. Celebrate closeness of the match. Okay, so things didn’t turn out exactly as you wanted, but you can acknowledge and celebrate the progress you made. I love our family pictures in spite of the fact that there were several violators of the dress code. And while the picture perfect smiles and poses were nice, meh… I’ll take a side of chaos please. We were all together on the beach, smiling and having fun and THAT is worthy of celebrating. Not to mention, I have the great crazy photo to remember the moment.
  3. Find the humor in reality. Seriously, if you can’t find the silver lining or the closeness of the match, search for something – anything to make you smile. Who said we had to go through life being so uptight? Take a deep breath and laugh a little, share a joke, and by all means smile. Really, you will be just fine.
  4. Practice curiosity. Let’s say you really wanted one job, but were offered a different one instead. With curiosity, you are willing to explore the offer you received with an open mind rather than feeling disappointed because you didn’t get the one you initially wanted. Who knows, the offer you received could put you on the road to a career experience above and beyond anything you could ever imagine! Wouldn’t that be worthy of exploring!
  5. Forgive yourself. There is no one harder on you than you. When things don’t go as planned, beating yourself up doesn’t make anything better. On the contrary it just makes you feel worse. Practice self-appreciation and self-love when you feel like you didn’t live up to your expectations. I know that I’m doing the best that I can, and I bet that you are too. When you learn to appreciate yourself for your good intentions and best effort, you’ll feel more content when things don’t turn out picture

Just remember that releasing an attachment to perfection requires a shift in mindset and that takes time. The goal is to gently acknowledge when you’re expecting too much of yourself and others, and mindfully release your attachment to the outcome.

Perfection, smerfection. Let’s get real; it’s a lot more fun!

 

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Sheila Callaham About Sheila Callaham

Sheila Callaham is an international best-selling author and motivational coach. She founded the Activate Your Braveheart TM program to help women identify hidden passions and find the courage to make them real. Sheila’s mission is to empower women through writing, speaking, and coaching. Visit Sheila’s website at www.ActivateYourBraveheart.com and claim your free gift Activate Your Braveheart TM Transformation Kit today.