Stop! Set aside whatever work/life/kid mess you’re currently trying to clean up and listen to this: it’s time to accept, no, embrace all that messiness and claim it as your own. Why? Because you’ll be way happier once you do. Kelly McNelis, the founder of Women For One and author of a new book called Your Messy Brilliance, says that our obsession with perfection is almost guaranteed to set us up to fail.
Letting go of those unattainable (and unimportant) goals isn’t always the easiest thing to do, but realizing that the things you actually want—the things that truly make you happy—aren’t the same ones we see in all those perfectly composed Instagram photos and Pinterest boards, is step one. We spoke with McNelis about embracing the messiness in life and got some advice on how to get started. Here’s why you should do it (like, today):
Because when we obsess over perfection, we forget who we really are
No one’s perfect—which means that trying to be comes at a real cost. “We end up losing the brilliant and marvelous totality of who we are and what makes us special,” says McNelis, “the good, the bad, and the ugly. It’s our greatest asset because it includes every single part of ourselves and leaves nothing out—and when we fully embrace all parts of ourselves, we discover our true power.”
Because those voices saying that you have to be perfect aren’t the ones that actually matter
Time to use your best middle school librarian ‘Shush!’. “On a deep level, many of us understand that idealized images—of the bikini body or the perfect life—don’t bring happiness. Only authenticity does. But perfectionism is a plague in our culture, so we have to get super aware of how we let it rule us,” says McNelis.
“This kind of thinking is the result of so many different forces in our society: the media, messages from our early childhood that got indoctrinated into us, and even ‘spiritual’ and personal development books that give us the idea that something is wrong with us, and we need to fix it.”
Because the things that make you awesome are closely connected to your faults and imperfections
This, says McNelis is all about self-inquiry and exploration. “Start by asking: What are my faults? What are my gifts? How are they connected? Self-inquiry takes perseverance and the willingness to ask bigger questions. We must get real with ourselves and define who we are, and who we want to be, if we wish to make life happen on our terms.”
Because imperfections are the space where possibility lives
Perfection has one major downfall—it lacks room to grow, change, and welcome in possibility. Possibility can only exist where there are flaws and imperfections. “I felt the proverbial rock bottom that so many people always talk about,” McNelis recalls, “As I was sprawled out on that bathroom floor, sobbing with feelings of guilt, regret, and hopelessness, something remarkable happened. I heard a quiet but decisive voice: ‘You are not a victim. You get to choose. And your life is going to be so much bigger and better when you do.’ For the first time, I saw possibility.It took an enormous amount of introspection, self-forgiveness, and love—but over the years, I learned how to take full responsibility for my life, my choices, and how I was showing up. Today, I know that it takes tools that we can come back to over and over, to make life happen on our own terms. And sometimes, you have to find yourself at rock bottom on a bathroom floor to understand that you have what it takes.”
Because embracing your flaws means that you get to decide what happiness is—on your own terms
“We don’t have to live up to anyone’s expectations; we are exactly enough as we are,” says McNelis. “One of the main benefits is that we learn how to cultivate self-care. We all know that we have to put our own oxygen mask on first, but women are only now beginning to really discover how important it is to take care of themselves, first and foremost. I wrote Your Messy Brilliance as a compassionate guide that teaches women to embrace their perfectly imperfect selves. ”
Because it’s not as hard to do as you think
McNelis’ advice: “Simple rituals and practices—especially the practice of getting curious and asking ourselves effective questions, which is the first tool of the book—can give us the kind of access to our messy brilliance that no guru ever could! I don’t always know how I feel in the moment, but since I’ve taken on the practice of checking in with myself, it’s become easier. Often, I write down my feelings. I identify my personal needs. I take lots of deep breaths and connect to the powerful woman I absolutely know lives within me (hint: she’s within you, too). Sometimes I practice speaking my truth out loud to myself. Most importantly, I own it unapologetically.”
Because an awareness of the messiness in your life and personality equals a better understanding of who you are
“In order to fully understand ourselves and what we want, we need to cultivate patience and that ongoing dialogue with our inner landscape. We need to dive in, because that’s where all the good stuff lives! ” McNelis explains.
Because our messy emotions are the source of our intuition and wisdom
“We’ve been taught that in order to be seen as loveable, worthy, beautiful, or successful, we need to put on a mask or hide our true essence and live up to what society has told us we need to be—which couldn’t be more false,” says the author. “The true feminine is messily brilliant and uncontainable, but these aspects of who we are have been framed as ‘negative.’ We have allowed these cultural perceptions to shrink our largeness and dull our shine. In order to live with our perceived imperfections—which are really just aspects of our brilliance—we have to learn to appreciate our emotions by slowing down and just being with them.”
Because it feels amazing
McNelis reminds us that we aren’t robots—mistakes are more than okay, all we have to do is accept the certainty that they’re going to happen every now and then. “Messiness and imperfection free us from the need to get everything right,” she advises. Word to chill out to, we’d say.