There is a pressure in our society that is more extreme than it ever has been. We live our lives like gold fish in a bowl.. but goldfish have the benefit of being able to forget everything roughly every 7 seconds; whereas we have an un-enviable ability to torture ourselves in the pursuit of perfection and then beat ourselves up with constant rumination where we didn't quite measure up.
The focus of Mental Health Awareness Week this year was on ‘stress’ and the impacts it can have.
Over the last few months I have taken the time to reflect on a few things. And I have been wondering about the triggers that can sometimes negatively influence how we feel about ourselves, our families, our friends and our colleagues. The things that can create stress.
With my curiosity, I was listening to the audio version of the book 'The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F***' by Mark Manson. As the title might suggest to some it can provide some very useful pointers for living your life in a bit more of a, well, relaxed way. This really resonated with me because I feel that we live in a time where we expect levels of perfection in ourselves and in others. Mostly based on a perception of others being perfect; from what we see and read on social media and in the mainstream media. So, I am coining a new phrase: not ‘fake news’ but ‘fake perfection’.
Why? Having expectations of perfection in ourselves or in others, with whom we interact, can lead to a life of permanent disappointment; thus making everyone miserable. It can dramatically reduce creativity and innovation because these require a safe environment in which to test, learn and fail before we ultimately succeed - personally or professionally. Because very few people are willing to go out on a limb for fear of looking silly or coming up below par... so it ultimately holds us back.
The strange thing is, people wear this weakness like a badge of honour. I have. In many of my work profile assessments I have come up as a perfectionist and oh how everyone laughs! In job interviews when asked about my weaknesses I have talked about perfectionism being the main one whilst really believing it was a strength. Attention to detail is a strength, perfectionism, I would argue, is not.
Why? It is a vicious cycle because it can set the bar at unattainable levels that only create one thing: that being stress. And, as has been well proven, stress can lead to anxiety and depression.
But, where is all this pressure coming from? Well I believe from two main places:
1. Firstly, from ourselves and the things we covet that others may do or have; and
2. Secondly, from those we choose to have around us applying pressure from their perception and their world view of what we should be or do.
So, unwittingly then, we can then feel like actors in our own lives; trying to live up to others’ unattainable expectations. In lives that feel like gamified competitions against one another where there is always a fear-of-missing-out (FOMO). Where a perceived win or an opportunity for one-upmanship gives us or the other person a nice dopamine hit.... so we go back for more. When I think about it, and I do all this BTW, it sounds a bit mental. Good, I picked the right name for my page then!
Perhaps an unintended consequence, though, is that, by-and-large, our lives are lived out in high-definition; where we are 'face-tuned' to remove all the wrinkles and pimples. Putting only the very best snippets of ourselves on social media sites like this one. To show our friends and colleagues that we live amazing, happy and fulfilled lives. When, well, shhh(!), maybe we don't. I know that I don't. And, you know what, that is fine because we are all imperfect beings. It was recently reported in an article published in respectable newspaper that 40% of 18 - 24 year olds say they often feel lonely. In a world that is more connected than ever with technology one of the main audiences is feeling more disconnected than ever.
We all have the same flaws as the generations before us; with both our physical selves and/or with our personalities. I remember my nana always talking about having 'bad nerves' nearly 40 years ago. The added pressure of our current time comes from the fact that our lives are lived out like multiple instalments of the Truman Show. (If you haven't seen it, add it to your list.)
However, it’s not all bad. Remember, our flaws are what make us the people we are. I have grown to like and even love my imperfections. I am a perfectly flawed individual; and more happy than ever to talk about these things. This motivates me to be better. And, you know what, I find that people gravitate towards you more when you're more authentic.
Why? Authenticity begets authenticity, so you end up with people around you willing to share their imperfections. This has given me the encouragement to be better; and better is not a destination, it is a life long journey. Realising this is dramatically reducing my stress levels.
Everyone has their blemishes and imperfections.
Everyone struggles at times in their life.
Everyone suffers at some point with low self esteem or gets anxious about their self image. Even the most successful people in the world have the very best coaches behind them, picking them up when they fall down.
So, my friends, be kinder to yourself about your imperfections or the imperfect things you do. Accept and be thankful for who you are. Be kinder to those around you about their imperfections or the imperfect things they do. Then everyone feels better - including you - and it becomes self fulfilling.