Come the holiday season, do you find yourself on a hamster wheel of perfection? The pressure to look (and act) your best while making sure everything goes to plan and keep everyone happy can be EXHAUSTING. No wonder so many of us could use a vacation come January.
Author Kelly McNelis thinks we should stop the madness, curb the quest for perfection, and embrace our messy, imperfect selves.
We caught up with her this week.
SDTC: How and when did you come to the realization that embracing the mess was the way to be truly happy?
KM: After my divorce, I took an honest look at my life’s experiences, such as sexual abuse, a chaotic childhood and young adulthood, struggling with body image and self-doubt, and clinging to the idea of perfection. In getting real with myself, I realized there was great value in fully owning my story, my “messiness,” and my raw vulnerability as a woman, so I followed my gut instinct to start Women For One, a global platform for women to share their raw, uncensored truths and wisdom. I’ve learned so much on the journey, so I wrote Your Messy Brilliance: 7 Tools for the Perfectly Imperfect Woman as a roadmap to help women embrace their messiness as a path to joy, purpose and passion.
Why does the ideal of perfection still hold so much power in our society?
We live in a society that has swung to the masculine end of the spectrum, to an extreme. This means we collectively place a lot of value on logic, order, action, and most of all, control. Control over what we say, how we’re supposed to feel, what we should look like, and what it’s acceptable to think or believe. This is the micromanaging taskmaster part of the mind that has gotten totally out of control. But we are beginning to see that break down.
We are starting to see more people talking about the power of genuine connection and living your best life by being your most authentic self and doing away with all these idealized images. But old habits die hard, and because we’ve lived in a control-based society that uses things like shame and secret-keeping to keep people in line, connecting to our more “feminine” sides can feel challenging, even for women! But the truth is, we need both our masculine and our feminine sides in order to function as whole, happy people. I think our society is in a place where we are figuring out how to get back into balance, and doing away with perfectionism is a part of that.
What would you say to women who are terrified that exposing their messiness will make them vulnerable?
We are more isolated than ever, so creating opportunities for us to be in community where we feel safe sharing with one another is so important. When we get together in communities that deeply honour the power of our stories and individual truths, we take our power back and claim our voices. We can recognize, own, and release the stories that grip us a little too tightly and step into new ones that uplift us. In this way, we also build the courage to step out into the world at large and honour our vulnerability rather than shield it. This is how we gain the strength to share and tell and hold the stories that might be challenging or painful.
When we support each other and light the way for each other as women, we feel less alone and we rise together into our true power. We become comfortable with our vulnerability, and with offering, as well as receiving, raw honesty from the people in our tribe.
In terms of embracing your inner messiness, what’s your favourite tip?
It’s probably “Trust your gut.” Intuition is one of the tools in my book, and it’s one that I practice daily—simply by breathing and really checking in with myself, especially when something in my world feels off, even though I might not be able to put my finger on it.
I’ve made a lot of choices that have probably looked wild and crazy to external observers, but the truth is, I’ve honed my intuition a lot over the years and I know from firsthand experience that I can absolutely trust it. Not comparing our personal truths to anyone else’s is one of the cardinal rules of embracing your messiness, and listening to what your body is telling you (because your intuition is always much closer than you think) is a great way to check in with yourself to see if you are being true to YOU.
How can we not pass on the perfection myth to our daughters?
Young women are routinely judged for everything from their appearance to their ability to be docile and “nice.” As parents and advocates for our daughters’ well-being, we need to turn the conversation around. There is so much pressure to be accepted by others that young women are seldom encouraged to look within and figure out who they are on their own terms. I think it’s important to support young girls to explore their identities while seeking out solidarity with one another, because when they have this kind of support, it is immensely powerful.
Kelly McNelis is the founder of Women For One and the Messy Brilliance movement, which aims to drop the dead weight of perfectionism for a more fulfilling and rewarding life. Her new book, Your Messy Brilliance – 7 Tools for the Perfectly Imperfect Woman, is not just another self-improvement book idealizing some standard of how to live. Instead, it offers an engaging, customizable roadmap to the authentic you.