Are you living a 20/Happy life? You may be wondering whether you are, or what 20/Happy really means. Either way, I'll break down this optometric metaphor so that you can begin to overcome perfection.
But first, I'll let you in on a little secret...
As a modern-day, holistic mama, military wife and female professional, "Recovering Perfectionist" is right there at the top of my list. I struggle everyday to uphold my authentic, true self in a seemingly perfect society. And to be ok with less than perfect. Heck, it took weeks of editing my first blog post before I even wanted to publish it.
Let me share with you a truth bomb...
It's not merely our imperfections which hold us back, but rather our feelings of inadequacy surrounding these imperfections which paralyze our actions.
Let that sink in for a minute.
Have you ever told yourself this lie before, "if I do this ------- then I will measure up"?
Or how about, "when I am --------- then he/she/they will think I am valuable"?
Essentially what you are saying to yourself is, "when I am perfect, I will be happy". And since perfection is a figment of the imagination, (ie. it doesn't actually exist), then you will never fulfill the desires of your inner
critic or achieve true inner happiness.
This perpetuates the cycle of striving for perfection, to not achieving it, to receiving criticism from those pesky inner voices, which pushes you even further away from your goal of perfection, (whatever that looks like for you).
Lies. All lies.
If you feel unworthy because you cannot stand up to your self-imposed expectations, I am here to tell you, Friend, that you are not alone and that you are more than worthy of a life full of happiness.
The Struggle is Real
Women are becoming professionals, entrepreneurs and CEOs now more than ever before in history and wearing. All. The. Hats. Others rely on our expertise, nurturing and delegating daily. We're faced with more decisions than ever before. But we're also wearing ourselves thin with our own expectations.
Too thin, in fact, because mental illnesses are on the rise:
1 in every 8 women experience depression in their lifetime. (1)
The incidence of depression is roughly twice that in women than in men. (1)
1 in every 4 new moms fall somewhere on the postpartum spectrum experiencing symptoms of depression and anxiety, (or a mixture of both).
Our increased obligations mean our efforts are spreading thinner and we feel as if we don't, (or will never be able to), measure up.
So, why do we feel the need to stand up to perceived social/self expectations? Why do we aim for that 20/20 self image or that seemingly perfect life? Do we think these things will bring us fulfillment and unconditional happiness?
I can assure you they will not.
But, we continue to do it anyways. And we end up in this vicious cycle of conditional happiness, saying to ourselves, "I will be happy when..." But happiness and joy “when” you do a certain thing, (like obtaining something of value, or experiencing a particular life event) is a false sense of security.
Now let's back up for a minute, because initially I mentioned a life of 20/Happy but now I'm referring to one that is 20/20, so let me break down for you exactly how these eye chart references translate to our lives.
What is 20/20?
It behooves me to first discuss the meaning of 20/20 eyesight. If you've ever had your vision checked on an eye chart like the one pictured here, you know that the further down the chart you can read, the better your vision is:
If you have 20/20 vision, then what the average person sees twenty feet away, you will also see twenty feet away.
The smaller the denominator, the smaller the letters on the chart, thus the smaller the eye can see.
Conversely, a higher denominator correlates to larger eye chart letters and less acute vision. (For example, the big "E" is size 20/400.)
Twenty-twenty often gets misconstrued for "perfect" vision, (although explaining why it is not can be saved for another discussion), but we will consider it as such for the purposes of this metaphor.
Now, let's compare 20/20 vision to socially driven expectations...
Striving for a 20/20 life could mean many things, depending on what drives you.
Maybe it's status, money, success or fame...that brand new car, or gorgeous home with. All. The. Decor. Or, maybe that 20/20 ideal is related to body image, fashion or wardrobe. Is it having a picture-perfect family with smiling kids, a doting husband, luxurious vacations? I could go on, but the idea here is that the search for achieving more or having more never ends because we never become truly satisfied.
Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that a growth mindset or any of these things are bad to manifest. After all, fame and fortune can be good in the hands of good people. But what happens when that 20/20 life isn't ideal, what we envisioned or worse, brings us sadness?
Enter 20/Happy Vision
As an optometrist, I learned early on in my studies the meaning of 20/happy: good vision that wasn't necessarily as clear as 20/20 but not mistakenly inferior.
Let me explain...
Some people don't have the ability to see 20/20 - even with their best correction* - while some have the ability to see even better. No matter the ability, the goal is always to give someone clear, comfortable vision that they are happy with - even if it means giving a "less than perfect" eyewear prescription.
That's 20/happy vision: having sight that may not be considered "perfect" on the eye chart but is functionally appropriate and satisfactory.
(*Side note: contacts, glasses or refractive surgery in particular may cause what are known as higher order aberrations, like glare and halo effects. These may have an influence on the overall quality of vision. Anterior surface diseases, like dry eye syndrome, may also negatively affect one's ability to see as can cataracts, macular degeneration or glaucoma.)
Breaking the Mold
Now let's translate this to our best life.
If we are living a 20/happy life, we are completely content with everything and everyone in it, regardless of whether these meet social norms. We don't get caught up in the, "I will be happy when..." syndrome. We also don't need overabundance to constantly stimulate us. We become mindful of who we let into our lives, how we spend our time and on what we choose to expend our energy.
Essentially, we are living our best lives when we are 20/Happy.
It's all in the Perspective
What I'm not saying is that we should forfeit all personal growth efforts. But, what if we stopped striving for 20/20, or so-called "perfection", and instead tapped into our authentic truths? What if we found contentment from within rather than searching outward for something or someone to bring us joy? I'll tell you that we would become more relatable to others and embrace our best lives instead of the cookie-cutter one that has been laid out for us.
I love the quote by Thich Nhat Hanh, "There is no way to happiness, happiness is the way."
So how do we begin the search inward instead of outward? We need to just be and make space for imperfection.
The 6 things Needed in Order to Make Space for Imperfection:
Although we are superhuman in our own light and we wear many hats, it's literally impossible to do it all with 110% results. Something has got to give. And when it does, accepting that life is just the way it's going to be for awhile and that we cannot do it all is how we will prevail. At times we may feel out of equilibrium, but we can remind ourselves that although the days are long, the years are short and nothing lasts forever.
Give your imperfect self acceptance, and you will live your best life.
Expressing gratitude has been shown to boost emotions almost instantly. It shifts the focus from ourselves to others. And when we make it a habit to be grateful, we can overcome even the worst of circumstances. Being grateful opens our hearts to love and when we love more, our 'happy hormones', (oxytocin, dopamine and serotonin), skyrocket. To love ourselves whole is to understand that we don't need to be perfect to gain love.
A good practice is to think of three things to be grateful for every morning before getting out of bed.
Be you - truly you. Flaws included.
There is so much ingenuity out there - just take a scroll through social media. Just remember that we were made to be unique and imperfect. Let the real you shine in the light and others will feel more relatable. Fostering relationships based on truth and authenticity boosts self-confidence as well as pure happiness.
Give grace to yourself and to others. But mostly to yourself.
Kids spill cereal all over the place? Give them grace. Partner is late from work for your child's dance recital? Give them grace. Forgot it was snack day at preschool so you stopped by the grocery store on the way but then you forget their lunches so you had to turn back home and were late again for drop-off? (Anyone else?) Giving yourself some grace will quiet your inner critic, aka "the judge", allowing for better acceptance of mistakes and thus contentment.
Less is more.
It can be tempting to accept project after project, filling your schedule to the brim. (I am completely guilty of this!) If you manage others' schedules in addition to your own, this can consume a lot of time and both physical and mental energy. Learning to say "no" will be the key to growth in this area: we make time for the important things and learn to cut out the things that aren't. The value of our time increases, and we truly feel more fulfilled.
This is the core of why Mindful Optometrist exists: to empower others to impart mindfulness into their everyday lives for better mental clarity, whole body wellness and inner vision to cultivate 20/happy living.
When we are mindful, we make better choices, think clearer and are more efficient, (compared to multitasking which is a false sense of accomplishment). It's easy to get carried away in the daily grind, but we can always bring ourselves back to the present moment by taking a few deep breaths and re-grounding.
The road to 20/Happy is just that - a road - not a destination. Joy is in the journey and your happiness is not a place to arrive. Practice cultivating mindfulness, gratitude & love, simplicity, acceptance, grace and authenticity with yourself and others. Then you will truly be on the road to living a life full of wellness, integrity, purpose and abundance.