The Tension Between Perfection and Reality

The Tension Between Perfection and Reality

Here is how it starts.

I’m standing in the kitchen; it’s early morning.

I have energy from a great night’s sleep, from the quiet hour I spent doing what I love.

I feel invincible.

I look at the dirty dishes in the sink, the ones I turned away from last night without a backward glance.

I mentally walk through my day, considering what I need to do, what I have to do, what I want to do.

I want to do it all.

I divide the list: work tasks, household chores, friends to reach out to, activities with the girls.

I think about how wonderful and accomplished I will feel at the end of the day when it’s all done… all the items on my work list marked off, all my best intentions about spending time with the girls fulfilled. I picture the sink empty and shining, the laundry folded and put away, the counters clear, the floors swept clean, the shoes in the mudroom lined up neatly, ready for tomorrow.

I imagine perfection.

Even as I imagine it, I know it’s impossible. I can’t possibly do it all. Not today. Not tomorrow. Not ever.

For a few minutes, though, I hold that tension, the one between all I would like to do and all I can actually do.

When reality sets in, I return to discipline. I return to discipline time after time, because it’s what works for me.

During my homeschooling days, I kept a binder with elaborate lists: morning routine, school schedule, afternoon routine, bedtime routine. Each list contained my best intentions for each part of the day.To get where I wanted to go, I would follow those lists like a sure route home.

Three young girls — our days took plenty of detours, meandering down one side road or another. Those lists, though, served as guardrails: they kept us on the path, kept us from falling off the edge.

I used the lists because they worked for me.

I get the most done and feel the best about what I’ve accomplished when my life is regimented and structured.

It’s been a while since the days I kept that binder and followed those lists. My two oldest girls have been in school now for many months.

A couple of weeks ago, I made a new binder with new lists. I pulled the old ones from their protective sleeves, tossed them in the recycling bin. I slid the new lists into place, smiling.

These new lists, like the old ones, will keep me moving forward, remind me of my most important priorities.

They are my sure route home, my guardrails, my marching orders.

I don’t follow them precisely.

I don’t even try.

Instead, I hold this tension between perfection and reality, between all that I would like to do and all I can actually do.

I do what I can. I don’t look back. I feel invincible.

Tell me something! What works for you? What are your guardrails? How do you stay focused on your most important priorities? What do you do to balance the tension between perfection and reality?

Filed As:  lists, discipline

About Becky Robinson

I am the owner of Weaving Influence and the leader of the Weaving Influence team. We help authors and thought leaders grow their online influence. I am also a wife and mom of three daughters, and I enjoy running, reading, writing, a good cup of coffee, and dark chocolate.

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What People Are Saying

  • One of the best (and first) pieces of advice I received from a mentor was “Sometimes, you have to give yourself permission to accept ‘good enough’.”

    While I don’t share your tendency toward perfectionism, I am in a seemingly endless process of “cleansing.” Stephanie Calahan from Calahan Solutions, whom I’ve mentioned before, has been a big help, yet there are still papers on the kitchen table (as a Mompreneur), lists, reminders, laundry in the dryer and dishes in the dishwasher. And I’m OK with that. Most of the time.

    My values keep me grounded. Next to my laptop I have a tiny pewter angel that reads, “Bless my family.” It’s a visual reminder to keep my priorities (driven by my values) straight.

  • I thought about your lists a couple of days ago when I was staring at my dingy white sink, wishing that it “shined”. Schedules and routine definetly keep me on track as far as homeschooling and meal preparation, but there never seems to be enough time for housekeeping. Housekeeping has never been a strong point for me, however.

    When it comes to the end of the day, I’m torn between keeping my husband company and doing one of the many things that are left on the to-do list. Then, there’s the small matter of sleep. If I tried to do it all, there would be no sleep.

    One thing that keeps me grounded in reality is asking God at the beginning of the day to help me be in line with His plans for that day. So I trust that He’ll give me the wisdom that I need to know what choice I should make when there is a conflict. I take great confidence knowing that He is going to accomplish His will in my life as I stay connected to Him.

    “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

    • Lisa, thank you for the reminder. I agree with you that it is important to trust God for all that needs to be done and to seek Him as I live each day.

      I appreciate your faithful friendship and I pray that God gives you grace as you homeschool.

    • Enjoyed both the blog and Lisa’s reply. Set my heart in a good place for the day! Thanks.

  • “My lists are the gaurdrails “- wonderful metaphor Becky! One insight I take away from this is there is a difference between the structure and routines we create and a to do list that can all too easily overwhelm us. For me what works is a clear intention and a few very simple, clear goals to focus on. Still a work in progress!

    • Thanks for taking the time to comment. It really is a work in progress, and every day is a chance to try again!

  • I call this “creative friction”, it is in itself an everyday, mundane reality that we are all constantly emerged in. From an anthropological perspective, it is what Victor Turner would call “liminality”.

    The term is used to describe a right of passage, the point at which a participant “stands at the threshold between their previous way of structuring their identity, time, or community, and a new way, which the ritual establishes.”

    I tend to think of my life, my work, as a series of “everyday rituals”. In that sense I feel tension between perfection and reality, or creative friction, is us experiencing a state of liminality, of constantly being at the threshold.

    As much as we try to perfect life, we never quite get there and this is what keeps up going, moves us forward. And now I curiously ask, are we not more productive when things are not quite (yet almost) perfect?

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