Messy Is The New Perfect…

Messy Is The New Perfect

I live north of Atlanta and can access the Chattahoochee River Trails from my neighborhood. It is where I go to walk with my sweet dog Lucy, and to work things out in my head and heart. My husband affectionately says, “There’s a lot that goes on in that head,” which is why Lucy and I are out on those trails a lot!

Recently I was walking the trails in despair over the current life situation of a loved one. I was in despair over how I handled it, and in general despair about my own failures and shortcomings in this relationship; which is nothing new for me, thus the frequent walk in the woods. There is a particularly scenic and serene spot on the trail where I am typically inspired to stop and do a really melodramatic reverse swan and cleansing breath. That is yoga speak for lifting my arms in the air, looking intensely up to the sky, taking a really deep breath, followed by a dramatic sweeping of my arms down and a profound exhale of breath. The wood walks are intense. One has to exorcise the demons somehow!

By the way, I would be incredibly embarrassed if anyone ever saw me do this out in the middle of the woods. I recommend stealing a glance around you before launching into this move.

SEE ALSO: The 10 Rules Of Dharma


Yesterday when I reached that sacred spot and began my reserve swan dive, the moment my eyes reached the peak of the upward head lift, and I saw the branches and leaves of multiple trees intersecting in the sky, I was struck with what was a profound realization to me.

Cindy you live your life through a “perfection filter”.

Life is not perfect, and THAT is perfect! It is perfect that nothing on this earth is perfect!

Life is messy. It just is. That is what is real. Perfection is not real. I promptly sat down on a log on the side of the trail, that was clearly put there for reflection after a reverse swan, profound realization, producing moment. I repeated “life is not perfect, life is messy, and that is perfect” to myself. A smile crossed my lips and a small cleansing breath, minus the upswept arms, escaped.

Perfection Filter: The Kryptonite to Self-esteem

I have spent a lot of time over the years trying to diagnose why I have what I now can call this perfection filter. Is it because the joke in my family was that “Cindy was our accident”? I have also been known to hang it on the fact that I grew up as the daughter of an alcoholic.   

Maybe those are truths, maybe not. What IS true is that I now have a name for the thing that haunts me, makes me compare myself to others, makes me judge myself and others and makes me verbally and mentally bash myself – the “perfection filter”.

The perfection filter makes me criticize myself every day, sometimes by the minute! I judge my body, my teeth, my hair, my emotions, my thoughts, my opinions, my work, my clothes. I judge my house, my lawn, my dog. Walking in the mall, I immediately decide what is “not perfect” about everyone I pass. It wears me down. I work so hard at trying to find perfection that I occasionally break down in tears because I am so tired of trying desperately hard to be perfect at everything and every aspect of my life.

Despite the exhaustion, I have frankly always fought giving up this addiction for fear that if I don’t have a death grip-like hold over everything and everyone in my life, that it would all fall apart and I would end up curled up in a ball in my closet. I made some sense of this recently when I was struck by something I heard in a podcast. It was one of those moments when I was certain the speaker was talking directly to me!  

Glennon Doyle Melton (author, speaker, and activist) was talking about why people with diseases such as depression, anxiety or addictions often won’t ask for help. Melton explained that it is because we actually fear that some of our magic is inside the disease! That fire or fear that led me to this life of perfectionism is the same fire that has brought me some success. You see, seeking a world of perfect allows me to get more done in a day than the average person. It pushes me to work out 6 days a week. It makes sure that I am most often the first one to arrive at the office and the last one to leave.

Becoming Messy

Life is messy. Life is not perfect. Nothing is perfect. And that is perfect.

If messy is the new perfect, does this mean I can stop mentally beating myself and everyone else up when things aren’t perfect? That I can relax and let go? That I can smile at the imperfections in my life instead of judging them? I can view my chipped nail polish as a reflection of this amazingly messy, imperfect world versus a reminder of how I have “failed again” to be perfect. I can love my grease and crumb-filled kitchen countertops because they remind me that life is messy.

I can honor and acknowledge and empathize with a friend’s feelings about something instead of secretly criticizing her for feeling the way she does. I might even be able to lighten the load of the biggest emotional burden I haul around – my imperfection as a parent. Doesn’t that take the pressure off of everything? What if I could live my life knowing that nothing and no one is perfect? A huge weight would be lifted from my overly tired and sagging shoulders.

I am pretty sure I will be more forgiving and compassionate to myself and everyone else in my life. I can love more freely. I can be more gracious.

Lose the evil, Keep the Magic

So, what do I do with this amazing realization? I will work at looking at my loved ones, strangers, and most importantly at myself with a “compassion filter” instead of the “perfection filter”.  When I look at my messy house, my unkempt lawn, my dirty dog, my email with typos, I will work hard to use my “messy is perfect” filter! I will envision the branches intersecting in the sky and sunbeams finding their way through the leaves with the message “nothing is perfect, and THAT is perfect!”

I will do this all while working hard at not letting the fire inside of me disappear, but instead manage it and use it for good. As Melton advises, “convert the internal combustion and energy and learn how to use it to light up the world!” A smile crosses my lips and a cleansing breath escapes.


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Cindy Larkin

Cindy is the president of Horizon Leadership, Inc., a consulting firm that teaches leadership principles and helps corporate leaders learn…

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