Why Perfect is Boring.
Photos by Nate Poekert
Let me just start by saying that I really don't like having my picture taken. That's why you won't find many pictures of me on this blog – being in front of a camera makes me cringe. A few months ago, I found myself in need of a headshot for a friend's blog (she was kind enough to write a post about me) and I literally had no decent, current pictures of myself. Our good friend Nate Poekert happened to be over at our apartment and overheard me discussing this with Brandon. Nate's a really amazing photographer and he said: "Let's just shoot some photos now!" I did a double take. "Now?" I was in my typical work-day attire: jeans, T-shirt, no make-up, glasses, and hair in a messy bun. He said, "Go get yourself ready and we'll take some photos!"
I protested a few times but finally realized that arguing was futile – like it or not, I needed a few shots of myself and he was offering to take them! I changed clothes, put on some makeup, and Nate started snapping away. I initially felt horribly awkward, but over time (and after a few glasses of Prosecco!), I relaxed and decided just to have fun with it. I put on my big red sunglasses and a trench coat and we headed out into Soho.
I carried a bag full of vegetables and tulips (as though it were the most natural thing in the world!) and tried to pretend like I knew what I was doing. And you know what? It ended up being a blast! I turned off my inner critic and told myself: "It's a gorgeous day! You're in NYC! Enjoy the moment!" And I did.
I recently turned 33, and it's been revolutionary. For the first time in my life, I'm starting to really like being me. The real, live, messy version of me – not some idealized self who always has something witty to say, who eats healthy all the time and runs marathons and does yoga every morning and who's always in a good mood. (I should also share that the "perfect" alter-ego Anna writes cookbooks and lives in a spacious loft with a big kitchen and has 2.5 adorable, perfectly behaved children. HA!) Instead of measuring myself against this ridiculous ideal, I'm learning to love the real me – who's shy deep down, who's a total carb addict, and who is lucky to fit in a run once a week. I'm learning to accept the fact that I haven't written a cookbook (though it's still a dream!), I have a postage stamp-sized kitchen, and I don't have kids yet (and frankly I'm kind of terrified by the thought!). BUT I do have an amazing husband, two adorable cats, a cozy fifth-floor walkup apartment that's perfect for us, the best friends I could hope for, and work that I love. I feel remarkably blessed, and I've decided to focus on being thankful for what I have, rather than wishing for what I don't.
I've been mulling over the subject of identity for awhile now. It's amazing how our identity is so often wrapped up in doing rather than being. I'm reminded of this daily with that ever-popular question, "What do you do?" For the longest time I felt really insecure whenever that question was posed. "Um...I write, and I cook," I would say. A blank stare would usually follow, as I scrambled to try and validate my life's work – and, in my mind, my own worth. I'd secretly wish I had something concrete to tell them: "Oh, I'm an editor at so-and-so magazine," or "I'm a cookbook author." Trying to describe something as nebulous as a freelance career made me feel incredibly inadequate.
Brandon loves to tell a story from when we were first dating. We were on a jog, and were talking about the whole myth of perfectionism. He shared with me how he sometimes felt that unless he was perfect, he wouldn't be loved. I told him point-blank, "Well I don't want perfect – perfect is boring." I'm amazed that I had that wisdom five years ago! I feel like over the past few years we've switched places: he's become more secure in his identity and I've fallen into the snares of perfection-seeking. Running after this lie has not only exhausted me, but it's robbed me of so much joy.
Being a part of the blogging world has been both inspirational and dangerous. Looking at beautiful photos and reading stories of others' lives can certainly be inspiring, but the version of reality portrayed is usually pretty idealized. It's easy to feel inadequate when scrolling through picture after perfectly edited picture. There have been many times I've looked at other food blogs and have gotten so discouraged about my own. There's always someone that's a better cook, a better writer, or a better photographer (or all three!). But then I step back and ask myself: "Why are you doing this? Is it because you love it, or are you looking for validation and recognition?" I've realized that the moment I start blogging (or writing or cooking) for any other purpose beyond the sheer joy it brings me – and hopefully brings to others – it ceases to have meaning. I started The Yellow Table to share my passion for simple, healthy cooking, and to celebrate the community created around the table. When I return to the roots of my message – and reflect on its greater purpose – my joy floods back and I can't wait to write another post.
All this said, I want to share with you a few decisions I am intentionally making going forward – ones that I believe will make my life more joyful and fruitful, and hopefully yours as well!
*I am done comparing myself to others. I am unique exactly as God created me, and I will celebrate who I am, as well as the gifts and talents of others.
*I am done striving for a standard of "perfection" that doesn't actually exist. I will focus my energy on being thankful for what I have, rather than being jealous of what others have.
*I am done berating myself for not being a better wife, friend, sister, daughter, writer, blogger, cook, (the list could go on...). I will extend grace to myself, and in doing so, will better be able to extend grace to others.
*I am done feeling guilty for all the things I "should have done" or "should be doing." I will leave the past in the past, and focus on living today to the fullest. My identity is not in what I do, but rather in who I am becoming.
*I am done living in fear – fear of disappointing others, fear of failure, fear of rejection. I will live in the freedom I've been given.
*I am done acting out of obligation. I will follow my heart and pursue my calling with joy!
I just want to close this post by saying that you, my friend, are so unique. No one else in the world has your incredible combination of life experience, personality traits, relationships, and dreams. You have a story unlike anyone else's, and nothing – and no one – can take that away. Though it's easy to compare yourself with others (and goodness knows I've spent most of my life doing it), this habit is deadly. Because no matter how beautiful, talented, smart, or successful you are, there's always going to be someone more (fill-in-the-blank) than you. And guess what? Who cares?!?! The greatest gift you can offer to the world is being exactly who God made you to be. Authenticity is a trait that's in short supply these days. So pursue your dreams, know your gifts, and seek to use them to make a difference in the world. Love deeply and give freely. And most of all be yourself – your real self. Because perfect is boring.