It was only when I started having panic attacks that I realized my efforts to order my life with exacting precision were an attempt to make me feel safe in a world that felt threatening. No amount of organizing, planning, or sacrificing sleep for productivity could keep people I loved from dying or help me learn to love myself.
All the volunteering and detailed homeschool plans, the freshly baked muffins and constant cleaning could not shelter me from the reality that I was imperfect and so afraid. That I didn't believe I had what it takes.
It took a trip to the emergency room and a thoughtful doctor for me to admit that I was not truly in control at all. That my efforts to hold on tight, to control or even manipulate, to suppress all my feelings, were stopping me from truly living.
Perfectionism was simply one of the ways, among many, that I self-medicated. It robbed me of joy. It held me back from even dreaming about the work I longed to do. It kept me hidden and ashamed. And yes, it did hurt the people I loved most in the world.
And once that self-protection opened up, the pain hit fierce and fast. But it was only then that I began to truly live.
Because here is the truth: I am imperfect and I am beautiful.
Life is scary and sometimes painful but it is also dripping in breathtaking beauty and possibility. And we cannot have one without the other.
To the perfectionist mom feeling like a failure today: you are more amazing than you think.
It is not perfection that makes you lovable.
It is not your ability to perform or keep up that determines your worth.
And all the times you have yelled or panicked or prioritized appearance over relationship— they do not diminish the truth that you are also a wonderful mom. Imperfect and beautiful.
If you could only see yourself through the eyes of these people who love and need you most, you would understand. They don't judge you for your flaws or need you to be perfect.
They are ready to forgive and offer you the same grace you pour out for them when they fall. They see what you don't see: You are amazing.
There is no magic pill for learning to walk free of perfectionism. It requires showing up each day and practicing. But there are a few shifts that have helped me along the way.
I made the decision to love myself: all the beautiful and the broken bits. To treat myself, speak to myself, with kindness and compassion. I want my kids to see that I delight in them for who they are not what they achieve, but this must begin with me.
I began to get honest about my addictions and my fears and to ask for what I need. This has been hard work and I am still learning vulnerability, embracing my limitations, and practicing healthy ways to calm anxiety.
I (tentatively) learned to trust the journey. Looking back, I can see how far I have come and how so many of the most amazing gifts in my life are far more beautiful than I could have ever planned for myself. I begin and end each ordinary day with gratitude and show up each day with joyful curiosity.
Landing in the emergency room that day, hooked up to heart monitors, was not a failure on my part. All the times since then, that perfectionism had me hiding under the covers, freaking out over messes, or doubting my ability—I am not a failure in these moments either.
I am in the game. Showing up each day. Choosing to fight for life even though I am afraid.
I am modeling to my children what it looks like to be an imperfect but beautiful human being who tries and fails, who risks and soars. A mom who forgives and asks forgiveness as many times as is necessary; who grieves and wrestles but does not give up.
You are not a failure either. And you are far more amazing than you think.