The Pressure to Be Perfect: It’s OK to Not Be OK


not be ok

Parenting a two-year-old means you a get a regular dose of excitement in the form of what new phrase your toddler has learned in the past 24 hours. Sometimes it’s something cute and age appropriate like, “Lion goes ROAR!”. Other times it’s something embarrassing like your child belting out, “Rain drops, drop tops,” in the middle of Sunday morning service. But in the past month or so my daughter has picked up a phrase that I’m not too thrilled with. Although it’s not the F-bomb or any of his trifling cousins, as innocent as it seems, it’s more about the WAY she uses it. Lately I’ve noticed that whether she’s rolling on the floor watching Teen Titans or is mid-meltdown after her dad announces IPad time is over, when asked if she OK, her default response is, “I’m fine.”

Her father and I can’t help but laugh as we look at each other like, “Little girl you just flipped over the armrest and landed on your jaw. You are not ‘fine’.” But that’s the thing with language and learning. It’s all programmed responses to routine questions because at two-years-old when Mommy asks, “What sound does a cow make?” the answer is always, “Moo!” But my daughter’s default response did get me thinking about how often we as adults do the same damn thing. You walk into work and a colleague asks how everything is going and although you only got two hours of sleep, just used your last $5.00 to put two drops of gas in your tank and contemplated how many tequila shots you could take this morning and still be a professional, your answer is, “I’m fine.”

Well in case you didn’t know: I’m stuck in a 9-5 when I strategically plan the precise moment I’m going to use a personal day because I dread going every single day.  I’m going through a weird thirty-something type of puberty that includes way too much Netflix streaming and a dash of social anxiety I never saw coming. The guy this country chose as President tweets the workings of our American government like Keke Palmer when she’s PMS-ing with a point to prove. And I for one am NOT fine, and just in case you didn’t get the memo, it’s cool if you’re not fine too.

I’m actually a pretty transparent person, so being real about what I’m going through has never been a big issue for me. You won’t catch me crying on the bus driver’s shoulder about how sleep deprived I am because my toddler decided to play Twister at three in the morning in the middle of my bed, but when it comes to the people I’m comfortable with whom I know care for me, they usually get an earful. They’re the ones who get a detailed breakdown of my sucky day with plenty of nuance emotion words and full reenactments of situations that made me feel awkward or angry down to, “And that chick thought she was doing something in some damn sneaker pumps!”

Unfortunately, the sad lesson I’m learning is that many women hide behind “I’m fine” to make their lives appear much more put together than they actually are. You ever see someone on Facebook who has vacation albums for days or perfectly posed selfies with vague quotes about living life to the fullest but off-line they’re asking you to borrow $100 to cover their student loan bill? You don’t have to put all of your personal business on your status update, but if you’re going to give everyone a play by play, be honest and don’t just feature the highlight reel. And more importantly if you can’t be real with your family and friends, who CAN you be real with? “I’m fine,” does the opposite of making you appear perfect, it burns down the bridges between you and the people you are close to and leaves you to fight your battles on your own. When I have friends that can’t be real and only focus on what’s going right in their lives all it does is break down communication and takes away opportunities to bond and build authentic relationships.

I think most of us judge people on the very things we judge ourselves on. If we’re insecure about our hair, we’ll talk about other women’s weaves all day.  If we feel like the clock is ticking and our ovaries are slowly losing hope 28 days at a time, we bash Beyoncé and whomever resides in her womb. With many of my friends I’ve noticed a shift in attitude that I think is greatly affected by age: When you’re in your twenties  you’re supposed be a mess and finding yourself, but after thirty if you haven’t checked off the job with health insurance, engagement ring and grad degree items off your “successful adult” checklist, you’re clearly doing something wrong. So instead of confiding in those who care for us most when we feel like we might be failing, after thirty we isolate ourselves behind, “I’m fine,” because someone lied to us and said after your twenties you’re not allowed to not have you ish together ever.

Look whether the barista gave you a caramel latte instead of hazelnut or your credit score recently fell harder than Khloe Kardashian over a random shooting guard, I’m here to tell you it’s OK to take a break from being perfect and start having some real conversations about how life isn’t too kind sometimes. Don’t be afraid to stop hiding behind being fine when you’re actually feeling like a mess. You might be surprised to see most of us are a mess too.

Toya Sharee is a community health educator and parenting education coordinator who has a  passion for helping  young women build their self-esteem and make well-informed choices about their sexual health.  She also advocates for women’s reproductive rights and blogs about  everything from beauty to love and relationships. Follow her on Twitter @TheTrueTSharee or visit her blog, Bullets and Blessings.

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