In many ways, I loved this life — loved my husband, adored by kids, was so thankful to be a writer. But it’s like I was pulling a little red wagon, and as I pulled it along, I filled it so full that I could hardly keep pulling. That red wagon was my life, and the weight of pulling it was destroying me. I was aware that I was missing the very things I so badly longed for: connection, meaning, peace. But there was something that kept driving me forward — a set of beliefs and instincts that kept me pushing, pushing, pushing even as I was longing to rest.
Do you ever reflect on your life and see that you have every objective reason to be happy? And yet you’re not? You’ve got a good job, a supportive partner, a loving family, a comfortable standard of living… yet you also feel completely and utterly drained all the time? You’re not alone. And in Present Over Perfect: Leaving Behind Frantic for a Simpler, More Soulful Way of Living, author Shauna Niequist starts to explore why.
For my part, I want to have a successful freelance writing business, a popular blog, a few best-selling books, and a thriving YouTube channel, not to mention everything that goes along with a rewarding life as a parent, a foodie, a traveler… the list goes on and on. Of course I feel like I’m being stretched too thin, because it’s all so overwhelming. I’m pulling a little red wagon with too heavy a load, and yet I feel compelled to add more (I’ve considered a webcomic and a podcast too).
There’s always this desire to always do more when we should really figure out how to do less (but better). As Shauna Niequist puts it, we keep “pushing” when all that we are longing for is “to rest.” A colleague of mine recently reminded me that sleep is for the weak. To that, I replied that I’d gladly be weak if it meant I got some more sleep.
Years ago, a wise friend told me that no one ever changes until the pain gets high enough. That seems entirely true. The inciting incident for life change is almost always heartbreak — something becomes broken beyond repair, too heavy to carry; in the words of the recovery movement, unmanageable.
If you are in a position where you are utterly comfortable, there is no real impetus to rock the boat. You don’t want to mess up a good thing. And even if there are some small pain points, you tend to downplay them. “That’s okay,” you tell yourself. “It’s just a little cracked. It’s still good. It’s still good.” But those little cracks add up, until one day, you just snap.
Don’t let things get to the point where they are “broken beyond repair.” And at the same time, don’t allow the pursuit of perfection to cripple your enjoyment of the good. I know that I need to take better care of myself (and not feel so guilty about doing it). I know I need to slow down and be fully present. Embrace the little things and take a load off that little red wagon of yours.
In addition to Present Over Perfect, Shauna Niequist has also authored several other books, including Cold Tangerines: Celebrating the Extraordinary Nature of Everyday Life and Savor: Living Abundantly Where You Are, As You Are. She lives in Chicago with her husband Aaron and their two sons, Henry and Mac.