I've always known that I'm a bit of a perfectionist. In high school, a B was never enough. In college, being in the middle of the bell-shaped curve wouldn't do. While the do-everything-perfectly mentality has pushed me in my adult life to advance my career and start my own business, my Type-A personality hasn't always been a blessing. In fact, it's taught me much over the years, namely that not being perfect at everything is OK—even better at times.|
Earlier this year, I had one of the most difficult—and memorable—months of my life. I lost a grandparent, ran my first marathon, and found myself putting in 60+ hours a week during a challenging time at work. Within 30 days, despite the exhilaration at my marathon achievement, I was spent. Emotionally and physically drained, I kept working. Kept pushing. Kept running. I made the mistake of thinking that if I went harder and harder in all areas of my life, eventually I would push through to the other side, fixing my work-life balance issues, aching hips, and sagging energy levels. But that wasn't the case. The harder I pushed, the more my life pushed back, eventually crippling me for a full week of "why me?" crying and anger that I couldn't have what I wanted. I was an adult, acting like a child and throwing a total tantrum, complete with outburst, and arms and legs flailing in disgust at my own self.
After a week of this, I had what you might call an epiphany, or as Oprah might say, an "ah-ha moment." I realized that my dedication and drive for perfection, which I thought had been a good trait, was holding me back. It was stopping me from being happy, and that it was keeping me from accepting some realities: that my hip was injured and I would have to take time off from running, that my grandfather really was gone, and that working more hours wasn't (ironically enough) getting the job done. In a flash of a moment, I realized that I was making a huge mistake: I was fighting against what was. And I was paying the price.
I immediately made a pact with myself to not fall into this trap again, but to learn from my mistakes. I learned the power of taking time off, listening and respecting my body, going with the flow, being easy on myself and finding happiness in the present. I, in a nutshell, learned to embrace imperfection and to find a valuable lesson in my mistake.
While my story and what I learned is very personal and poignant for me, its lessons universal. Here are five takeaways from my experience that may also apply to you.
Take Time Off
All work and no play doesn't just make Jack a dull boy; it also makes us sad, unhappy and less productive individuals. In order for you to reach any goal, you need to take time to recharge those batteries and relax. That's why employers offer vacation days to their workers! Whether it's a night off from the gym to go see a movie with a friend, or a long, hot bath and the end of an even longer day, be sure to take at least 15 minutes each day to do something just for you. If you're the primary caregiver in your house, this may seem impossible, but it's true that you can't take care of anyone unless you take care of yourself, so block off some me time and have some fun! Also remember that even the most dedicated exercisers and athletes need to rest and recover, so build downtime into your workout plans if you hope to take your fitness to the next level.
Don't Force It
You can't force things to happen. No matter how much you want something or how hard you work to make it happen, sometimes you just have to wait it out. Whether it's your perfect job or those last 10 pounds, life is a process. Instead, try to trust that you're on the right path, and keep at it. Slowly but surely, you'll eventually get there. Don't work harder, work smarter—and figure out how you can get to your goal without risking your sanity or well-being. You know what's not productive? Burnout.
Respect Your Limits
I learned this lesson hard during and after my marathon training. Despite a nagging hip ache, I kept running and stuck to my training schedule. Then, for the entire marathon, I didn't just endure 26.2 miles, but 26.2 miles of pain that sidelined me for weeks after the race was over. I learned the hard way that listening to your body is so important. If you're really fatigued, take a day off. If you're sick and have no energy, rest. Pushing through physical pain, emotional pain, and fatigue is never a good idea. Listen closely to what your body is telling you, and treat it like you would your best friend. Be loving, kind and respectful.
Go with the Flow
Life is a journey that doesn't come with a map. You can't always see the destination or every curve, dip or detour along the way, so you might as well enjoy the process (and the ups and downs). So you didn't hit your weight-loss goal this week because the weather prevented you from your daily walks? It's time to get creative. Rent a fitness DVD at the library or devise your own home-based workout. And always be sure to keep that sense of humor and see the opportunity in the problem. When life gives you lemons, don't just smash them. Instead make yummy (sugar-free) lemonade and savor every sip!
Why wait for to reach your goal to be happy, wear that dress, or take that vacation? Life is too short. Feel good about yourself today and give yourself the permission and freedom to be completely happy with yourself and your circumstances right now. Try to be present in the moment as much as you can and appreciate life for what you do have. Love where you are and who you are. Don't wait for tomorrow or until you reach that goal to appreciate where you are. You're worthy and good enough right now, today.
Mistakes offer us chances to learn and grow, and in these failures, you'll find wisdom for reaching any goal, be it weight-loss, health, fitness, professional or something else. After all, as James Joyce once wrote, “A man's errors are his portals of discovery.” What can you start learning from your mistakes?