I won first prize in a national competition, and nobody knew I cheated.

I was nine years old. I submitted a drawing of a flower to a national drawing competition, and I won first prize. I remember the blue dress I wore and the standing ovation I received at the award ceremony.

My parents were so proud. They took me to a special restaurant and let me order my most favorite chocolate cake.

Not one person in the whole world knew how much shame I felt. Nobody knew the truth: I had not authentically drawn that flower. I had placed my paper atop a page in a flower encyclopedia and traced it.

I felt like a fraud. I buried the secret in my heart.

Memory lane brought me back to this incident a few weeks ago when I dedicated one of my online sisterhood calls to the topic of perfectionism.

I shared the story with the beacons in my group, and we discussed ways to be perfectly imperfect. The other women also had memories of learning the message of perfectionism growing up.

So many of us are raised with this message. Get good grades. Work hard. Be a success.

Our parents did the best they could. They thought they were encouraging us. But they did not have the tools to differentiate between a painful message and a productive one.

Striving for excellence is a healthy and gradual process of growth, but perfectionism is an ideal state that we pressure ourselves to reach. Perfectionism is not the act of trying to improve. Perfectionism is the act of trying to get approval.

Growing up with the pressure to work harder and do better shaped us into women who are ashamed if we don’t come across as perfect: perfect moms, perfect wives, perfect daughters, perfect colleagues, perfect friends.

Let’s end this pressure now by asking ourselves a few important questions:

Where is my imperfection most visible?

Where can I improve imperfection?

Where can I let myself be imperfectly perfect?

Be imperfectly perfect by choosing self-compassion over perfectionism.

Treat yourself with the same kindness and love that you treat others.

Be imperfectly perfect by leaning into the discomfort of imperfection.

It’s much more comfortable to be perfect, but feeling uncomfortable is part of your spiritual journey.

Be imperfectly perfect by allowing yourself to be human, beloved.

Like Leonard Cohen sings in his song “Anthem”: There’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.

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