Updated: Jun 29, 2022
Those of you who know me might well have noticed that I am a bit of a perfectionist. Certainly my education, both at home and at school, encouraged high standards of achievement. This is a feature I also observe in almost all of my students: a tendency to expect more of yourself than you would expect of anyone else, and to be an unforgiving task-master. Of course, this isn’t to say that there are no benefits to being a perfectionist; most tend to have an impressive work ethic, a real passion for what they do, and a sense of true commitment. However, these qualities, useful in moderation, can lead to over-work, exhaustion and burn out if unchecked.
I‘m not sure exactly when it was I first came across the idea of accepting yourself exactly as you are. In many ways this idea is cliché and unoriginal, and I‘ve probably come across it in films and conversations many times - but I was in my early 20s before I think I actually felt that way (I’m sure I did as a very young child as well, but not in a conscious way). Again, there are pros and cons to this: on the one hand, accepting yourself as you are is a major step towards happiness, confidence and self-esteem; on the other, if unchecked it can lead to self-indulgeance, a fear of challenges and difficulty and a lack of progress, learning, or growth.
Now whether you want to call it perfectionism, self-improvement, learning-culture, mastery-mindset, or the ‘going-pro‘ mentality, this state of striving towards a goal is often highly criticised by the community of self acceptance, self love, ’simply being’. And like-wise, goal orientated people are often very wary and critical of the « you’re perfect the way you are! » concept.
Now whether the self-improvement, learning culture is often highly criticised by the community of self acceptance. And like-wise, goal orientated people are often very wary and critical of the « you’re perfect the way you are! » concept.
So how do we find a middle way?
After all, life is all about balance!
A thought that occurs to me as I write this is that these ideas are not necessarily opposing, perhaps they are not even in opposition to each other. Acceptance can be directed towards the past « I accept what was » or towards the present « I accept what is » but acceptance towards the future is somewhat impossible. We may be able to project a future moment of accepting the present, but we can’t really accept something that isn’t (yet). We can also differentiate between goal-setting and striving: goals provide direction which can impower our actions now in the present whereas perfectionism and striving has a certain sense urgency, a desire to be better now.
In between the two is some sense of process. Treating life as a research project, as an exploration.
When you write a piece of research, usually you divide the question into parts and explore each part in depth in order to fully understand the parts that make the whole, before trying to understand the whole in it’s entirety. If our life is a research question, and everything we think and do is part of the answer, then each goal is perhaps a chapter. Nothing that you choose to do is irrelevant in the research question of your life, so it doesn’t matter so much what the goal is. What matters is the content of the chapter, the process of working towards the goal and what you learn by asking the question.
So next time you’re working towards something (and I say this as much for my own benefit as yours), worry a little less about failing to achieve what your teacher has set for you and focus your attention more on what experience you are gaining from the process of trying to learn. How do you feel? What are your thoughts? What emotions does this process create for you? Why? Immerse yourself in what you are doing fully and try to accept and embrace this.
So accept the past, sure. There’s nothing you can do about it anyway.
Continue to set goals for the future, and please fight for change to make the world a better place.
But don’t forget to live mostly in the present, experiencing the journey consciously. Only by doing this can you accept and embrace each step of your path, and feel fulfilled.
And if you work out how to do this... let me know! Haha...
Please feel free to send me your thoughts, and challenge these ideas based on your own experiences. Don’t take my word for it. Live it.