Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue

Give Up on Being Perfect

In “Being Perfect,” bestselling author Anna Quindlen advises high school and college graduates to work from a clean slate … to give up on being perfect. I keep the gift book beside my computer (with Miguel Ruiz’s “The Four Agreements” and many other books, information hoarder that I am) as a constant reminder to be myself.

Here are some excerpts from Quindlen:


When I try to recall the girl I was decades ago, at my high school graduation, I seem to have as much in common with her as I do with any stranger I might pass in the doorway of a Starbucks or in the aisle of an airplane. I cannot remember exactly what she wore, or how she felt, or what she said, or ate, or read. But I can tell you this about her without question: She was perfect….

Trying to be perfect may be inevitable for people who are smart and ambitious and interested in the world and in its good opinion. But at one level it’s too hard, and at another, it’s too cheap and easy. Because all it really requires of you, mainly, is to read the zeitgeist of wherever and whenever you happen to be and to assume the masks necessary to be the best at whatever the zeitgeist dictates or requires. Those requirements shape-shift, sure, but when you’re clever you can read them and come up with the imitation necessary.


But nothing important, or meaningful, or beautiful, or interesting, or great, ever came out of imitations. What is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the world of becoming yourself.

More difficult because there is no zeitgeist to read, no template to follow, no mask to wear. Terrifying, actually, because it requires you to set aside what your friends expect, what your family and your co-workers demand, what your acquaintances require, to set aside the messages this culture sends, through its advertising, its entertainment, its disdain, and its disapproval, about how you should behave….

Begin with that most frightening of all things, a clean slate. And then look, every day, at the choices you are making, and when you ask yourself why you are making them, find this answer: Because they are what I want, or wish for. Because they reflect who and what I am.


This is the hard work of life in the world, to acknowledge within yourself the introvert, the clown, the artist, the homebody, the goofball, the thinker. Look inside. That way lies dancing to the melodies spun by your own heart….

Perfection is static, even boring. Imitations are redundant. Your true unvarnished self is what is wanted….

Give up the nonsensical and punishing quest for perfection that dogs too many of us through too much of our lives. It is a quest that causes us to doubt and denigrate ourselves, our true selves, our quirks and foibles and great heroic leaps into the unknown. Much of what we were at five or six is what we wind up wishing we could be at fifty or sixty. And that’s bad enough.


But this worse: Someday, sometime, you will be sitting somewhere. A berm overlooking a pond in Vermont. The lip of the Grand Canyon at sunset. A seat on the subway. And something bad will have happened: You will have lost someone you loved, or failed at something at which you badly wanted to succeed.

And sitting there, you will fall into the center of yourself. You will look for some core to sustain you. And if you have been perfect all your life and have managed to meet all the expectations of your family, your friends, your community, your society, chances are excellent that there will be a black hole where that core ought to be.

I don’t want anyone I know to take that terrible chance. And the only way to avoid it is to listen to that small voice inside you that tells you to make mischief, to have fun, to be contrarian, to go another way. George Eliot wrote, “It is never too late to be what you might have been.” It is never too early, either.

Artwork by the talented Anya Getter.

  • Kelly Menzies

    Very well said.

    We are what we are and when we truly accept this we set ourselves free.

    The best lesson to teach our children.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Carol Thompson

    Thank you for posting this beautiful reminder!

    This is somethings I’m finally learning to do, one day at a time!

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Me

    Why are some days OK and then all of a sudden, but slowly you feel you’re falling into the dark hole? I am now. I know all of you know exactly what I mean, though I don’t think anyone in my ‘normal’ world has a clue when I get like this. But then neither do I. I keep reading your excerpts, Therese, because you’re something I can hold onto. I don’t want others to feel this way, but it also helps to know that I’m not alone.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Yeoman

    Wow. Fantastic piece, and just what I needed to read this morning.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Anne

    Hi Therese,
    Just wanted to say that I was thinking about you and hope that you are feeling better. Hang in there and lean heavily on the Lord. He’s the only constant in this life of change. And, we’re here for a blink of an eye. It’s not much more than that.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Nancy

    I’ve been to that black hole. It’s very scary.

  • Jan

    “Coping through life” — so very true. Each day I have to make the decision, is this a pajama day or a get up and shower and move day. Oh to be normal….

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment cb

    Yes, I suppose there is some merit in this piece about the negatives of striving for what may be the elusive “perfect”. I know I’ll never reach “perfect” but I’m going to keep trying cuz it beats the h*** out of mediocre.
    I’ll maintain my weight cuz I like the way I look in size 4 clothes. The moisturizer goes on my face 2x a day. If my hair isn’t perfect I stick it under a hat…a really cute hat. I am bilingual spanish/english but I never stop improving upon my skill level. My car windshield has to be clean everytime I get ready to drive off…bug guts are unacceptable. I always make sure I arrive for any appointment/work site/class 20 minutes in advance…nobody will ever accuse me of keeping people waiting. These are the practices that I hope will contribute to a more perfect existence.

Previous Posts

Seven Ways to Get Over an Infatuation
“Bewitched, bothered, and bewildered am I” wrote US songwriter Lorenz Hart about the feeling of infatuation. It’s blissful and euphoric, as we all know. But it’s also addicting, messy and blinding. Without careful monitoring, its wild ...

posted 12:46:43pm Feb. 19, 2014 | read full post »

When Faith Turns Neurotic
When does reciting scripture become a symptom of neurosis? Or praying the rosary an unhealthy compulsion? Not until I had the Book of Psalms practically memorized as a young girl did I learn that words and acts of faith can morph into desperate ...

posted 10:37:13am Jan. 14, 2014 | read full post »

How to Handle Negative People
One of my mom’s best pieces of advice: “Hang with the winners.” This holds true in support groups (stick with the people who have the most sobriety), in college (find the peeps with good study habits), and in your workplace (stay away from ...

posted 10:32:10am Jan. 14, 2014 | read full post »

8 Coping Strategies for the Holidays
For people prone to depression and anxiety – i.e. human beings – the holidays invite countless possibility to get sucked into negative and catastrophic thinking. You take the basic stressed-out individual and you increase her to-do list by a ...

posted 9:30:12am Nov. 21, 2013 | read full post »

Can I Say I’m a Son or Daughter of Christ and Suffer From Depression?
In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, we read: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” What if we aren’t glad, we aren’t capable of rejoicing, and even prayer ...

posted 10:56:04am Oct. 29, 2013 | read full post »


Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.