One of the first things you learn in SCUBA diving is how to achieve neutral buoyancy. My certification instructor took me to the bottom of the ocean, planted the toes of my fins in the sand, and showed me how to get just the right amount of air into my BCD so that I moved with the water. Breathe in, move up. Breathe out, move down.
This wasn’t an easy thing for me to learn how to do. It’s not easy to be so still, to let the water and the current take over your motion like that. It requires calm. It requires surrender. But if you want to SCUBA, you have to learn it, and so I did. I let myself surrender, and I learned to love it.
But in the real world, I want to do anything but.
I am a feet planted firmly, always prepared, woman with a plan. I have lists and an agenda and next steps. I thrive with structure and routine and something to work toward but suddenly my agenda is empty and I am floating aimlessly. I don’t have a plan. I have vague next steps but I am not in control over them and I am forced to surrender to the unknown. I am moving with the waves. Breathe in, move up. Breathe out, move down.
I have always had high standards for myself, and that has led me to achieve things I’m really proud of. Over the last few months, though, I have realized that my standards have continued to increase to the point of crippling perfectionism. I’ve cried about this in my therapist’s office (and in my bed late at night and on the couch with my mom and…) so many times. I set impossible goals and then I don’t reach them and I’m devastated. I have been striving for something that literally nobody has asked of me. And I have worked myself to the point of breakdown trying to get somewhere I don’t need to be. To get somewhere I’m not even sure I want to be.
An old friend recommended I read a book called “Present Over Perfect” by Shauna Niequist (Amazon link: x). It is an “invitation to consider the landscape of your own life, and what it might look like to leave behind the pressure to be perfect” and start to live for presence instead. I cried through my entire first read, then I loaned it to my mom, but I am dying to get it back and read it again. Every word resonated deeply with me, these ones especially:
This is where life is, not in some imaginary, photo-shopped dreamland. Here. Now. You, just as you are. Me, just as I am. This world, just as it is. This is the good stuff. This is the best stuff there is.Shauna Niequist, Present over Perfect, 130
What am I losing in my pursuit of perfect? My own mental health, for one thing, and sleep and appetite and relationships and time doing things I love. Chasing perfection is making me miss out on real life. What a loss, to try to skip past my twenties and all the opportunities in front of me so I can end up… where? Tired and burned out and unhappy? When did I convince myself that that was the life I deserve?
My life isn’t ideal by any means and I have plenty of things to occupy my mind but being perfect is not one of the problems I ever have to solve. I do not need to have a plan all the time. Right here, in the wide-eyed present, this is the good stuff. The way my family laughs all the time, singing around the piano with my sister, sharing meals and catching up with old friends and snuggling my cat and appreciating my strength and my soft hair, this is the best stuff there is.
It is important to achieve neutral buoyancy when you dive because every movement you make consumes oxygen, and at the bottom of the ocean, you have a limited supply. Everything you do is careful, so as not to spend too much energy on the unnecessary. It feels unnatural at first, but it allows you to stay underwater longer, to enjoy an entire world that is otherwise hidden from you. Surrendering to the movement of the ocean keeps you safe and it reveals some of the most incredible things I have ever witnessed. It’s arguably one of the most important skills you can learn.
On my birthday, in the Dominican Republic, I spent a lot of time floating on my back in the pool. On the surface, arms above my head, staring into the clear blue sky, I practiced neutral buoyancy. I surrendered to the water, and to everything that 25 is going to bring me. Breathe in, move up. Breathe out, move down.