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Messy, not perfect

It’s hard not to become fixated on getting things perfect. It may not be in all areas of our lives, but for almost all of us, we have skills, relationships and responsibilities where we want to show up as perfect. As Dave and Hester Vaughan ( often say, “Messy, not perfect!”

This is a great reminder that we mustn’t fall into the perfectionism trap. If we do, we will find piles and piles of frustration. As the Economist wrote in a recent article (by Josh Cohen), society bombards us with instructions to be happier, fitter and richer. Why have we become so dissatisfied with being ordinary?

As a result, we’ve become fixated with ‘never enough’. We never seem to have enough money, time or material possessions, and we feel like we can’t start big projects because we’re not ready.

From Emerson’s provocative defence of “self-reliance” in 1841 to the rise of the self-help industry in the 1930s and the emergence of our own selfie culture, selfhood was regarded as our highest value and the object of our striving. Educational, aesthetic and financial betterment and the need for validation from others are the elements that form the perfectionist air we all now breathe.

Cohen writes that perfectionism “makes for a thin life, lived for what it isn’t rather than what it is”.

The imperative toward perfection remains as potent and pervasive as ever. In an article in 2017, two British psychologists, Thomas Curran and Andrew Hill, ascribed an exponential rise in perfectionism among the younger generation to the “increasingly demanding social and economic parameters” within which they struggled to make their lives. They also blamed “increasingly anxious and controlling parental practices”.

Social media creates additional pressure to construct a perfect public image, exacerbating our feelings of inadequacy.

This impacts how we make and communicate financial decisions. If we don’t look to understand the emotions and meaning behind our money, we will never be able to uncover the truth of messy, not perfect. Instead of embracing our true values and passions (called “ordinary” by the world), we perpetuate a culture where we are likely to grow dissatisfied with what we have and who we are. 

Managing our money and integrating it with a happy life requires us to recognise and accept that a happy life is messy, not perfect. Remember, the kid with the muddy clothes is the one who had the most fun.


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