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Self-Care Sunday: Present Over Perfect

field and trees, central park

There’s a powerful perspective that many of us miss around the holidays and, of course, at other times too. It’s the idea of being present instead of being perfect. Because it’s so easy to get caught up, isn’t it? It’s so easy to get caught up in buying the perfect gifts, in wearing the perfect party outfits, in hosting the perfect dinner. In trying to be the perfect everything.

We strive for perfect, get exhausted and overwhelmed, and end up missing out on all the real beauty and meaning that surrounds us.

So today I’m sharing my favorite excerpts from Shauna Niequist’s beautiful book Bread & Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table with Recipes from her chapter “Present Over Perfect.” It captures the way I’d like to approach the holiday season (and 2016 as well). And maybe it might inspire you, too.

Bread & Wine book

“…I can show up with my perfectly wrapped grab bag gift and my perfectly baked cookies…and my perfectly resentful and frazzled self, ready to snap at the first family member who looks at me wrong. Or I can choose to rest my body and nourish my spirit, knowing that taking a grounded, present self to each holiday gathering is more important than the gifts I bring.

And so I determined to add nothing to the to-do list. I abandoned my well-intentioned but time-consuming projects. And in their place I’m making rest and space priorities, so that what I offer to my family is more than a brittle mask over a wound-up and depleted soul. My intention for this season is present over perfect.

“I cohosted a party, and one of the things I brought was frozen meatballs. I was planning, of course, to make them from scratch. But it was too much for me, too much time and energy I don’t have at this time of year.

And, of course, no one cared. That’s the lesson in this for people like me who sometimes get wound up about doing things perfectly: 90 percent of the people in your life won’t know the difference between, say, fresh and frozen, or handmade and store-bought, and the 10 percent who do notice are just as stressed-out as you are, and your willingness to choose simplicity just might set them free to do the same.”

“Either I can be here, fully here, my imperfect, messy, tired but wholly present self, or I can miss it — this moment, this conversation, this time around the table, whatever it is — because I’m trying, and failing, to be perfect, keep the house perfect, make the meal perfect, ensure the gift is perfect. But this season I’m not trying for perfect. I’m just trying to show up, every time, with honesty and attentiveness.”

There’s so much wisdom in Niequist’s words. In fact, her words sparked many questions for me, which we can use to explore how we’d like to navigate our holiday season. Here are 10 questions that might help:

  • What do you want to be present for?
  • Where do you need to relinquish your perfectionism? In what areas?
  • What do you want to pay attention to?
  • What does the holiday season mean to you?
  • What shoulds (as in “I should do X” or “I should be Y”) aren’t serving you and only stressing you out?
  • What are your priorities this season?
  • What do you really want to devote your time to?
  • How can you show up with honesty and attentiveness?
  • What do you need this holiday season (something that maybe you aren’t giving yourself)?
  • What does taking a grounded approach look like for you?

Stop running around for just a bit. Pause. Reflect on how you’d like to live this holiday season. Reflect on how you might be present (over perfect) this month — and maybe even beyond.

Self-Care Sunday: Present Over Perfect

Margarita Tartakovsky, MS

Margarita is an associate editor at She writes about everything from taking compassionate care of yourself at any weight, shape, and size, to coping healthfully with difficult emotions. Her goal is to give readers practical, empowering tips to better their lives, and to remind you that whatever you're struggling with, you're never, ever alone.

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APA Reference
Tartakovsky, M. (2015). Self-Care Sunday: Present Over Perfect. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 29, 2020, from


Last updated: 13 Dec 2015
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