I’m done trying to be a better person. Maybe that’s not the right phrasing. I still want to be a kinder individual, and I’m committed to that process, which, I can assure you, is a daily struggle. But I’m done trying to be a better version of myself. I’m done trying to be smarter, wiser, more productive, present, and aware. I’m done trying to maximize every minute of my day. I’m done searching for the perfect nutrition strategy, the optimal sleep pattern, the most efficient work day. I’m done searching for a more perfect version of Graham Averill.
Self-optimization seems to be the new religion for our times, or at least the new spirituality. We’re all supposed to be on this grand journey towards personal perfection, where we suck the marrow out of every minute in our day, and then make a glucosamine-rich smoothie that promotes joint health. We’re surrounded by it in the outdoor world, which is full of people who wake up early to meditate and end every evening with a cold plunge. You know the type. They only drink kombucha they make themselves because alcohol “causes inflammation.” They have “mobility routines” and they think you should have a mobility routine too.
“Seriously bro, just like 45 minutes a day. It will change your life.”
I have a neighbor who wakes up at 5am to pedal the Blue Ridge Parkway. He gets back home from his 50-mile ride at the same time I’m yelling at my kids to get out of bed for school. I know a guy who doesn’t believe in downtime so he’s constantly listening to self-help podcasts while doing menial tasks, so he can learn how to “be present in every conversation” while taking out the trash. Time management is his north star.
Naturally, social media is the worst. TikTok and Instagram are just streams of attractive people without day jobs showing you how they spend 12 hours every Sunday meal prepping, or walk you through a typical day which includes 4am birding sessions and two-hour leg days in the gym. They want you to understand the detoxifying properties of cucumber juice and insist you’ve been peeling boiled eggs wrong your entire life. Do you even know how much time you’ve wasted peeling boiled eggs the wrong way? With this life hack, you’ll save 18 minutes every month! Time you can devote towards your mobility routine!
I’m not immune to this sort of societal pressure. I spent the better part of the last two years experimenting with different ways to optimize my life, trying to squeeze more out of my day, realize more of my potential. I’ve tried developing an early morning routine, banished my phone from my bedroom, and tried waking up with the soothing sounds of birds chirping. I’ve detoxed digitally and literally. I’ve Juiced. I’ve obsessed about the ounces of water I’ve ingested. I’ve tried waking up two hours before anyone else in my house to tap into my innate creativity, tried meditating for energy, tried mindfulness, tried journaling, tried high protein nutrition plans, intermittent fasting, visualization drills, box breathing…all in the pursuit of a better version of myself.
Everything changed recently when I spent some time in the hospital, hanging out with my son as he recovered from a wicked case of appendicitis. Because I’ve been brainwashed by the self-betterment industrial complex, I went into the situation with grand plans of making the most of that forced downtime. I’d do thousands of pushups in the corner of the hospital room and lead my son through a variety of breathing techniques to better control his heart rate. We could download Babbel and put a dent in the French language. I could finally develop that elusive mobility routine. But my son convinced me that a better use of our time would be watching a lot of Mark Wahlberg movies. Like, a lot of Mark Wahlberg movies. Turns out my little dude is wise beyond his years. Watching hours of Marky Mark’s blue-collar, street-wise antics was an absolute joy and, dare I say it, a powerful bonding experience for the two of us.
Maybe the pursuit of perfection is noble, but I suspect it’s actually unhealthy. At a bare minimum, trying to be a better person is exhausting. I think a lot of us drive ourselves crazy trying to find perfection in our work patterns and sleep patterns and life patterns.
I’m not perfect. I’m never going to be. There are days when I only drink coffee and beer. I eat meals that are made up entirely of fried chicken. Sometimes, instead of spending 20 minutes playing cognitive games that are proven to enhance my long-term memory, I take a nap. Some nights I stay up later than I should watching Archer. And maybe that’s all okay. Maybe it’s okay if I’m not present in every conversation because some conversations don’t require my presence. Zoning out and cataloguing the best Mark Wahlberg movies in my head while pretending to listen to the check-out guy at the grocery store talk about why he decided to go vegan is an important coping mechanism.
I’m not saying I’m going to live a life of sloth and nihilism. I’m still going to do healthy things like eat the occasional vegetable. I’m not giving up mountain biking or skiing or running or even the gym. I like all of those things. But I’m done trying to squeeze every ounce out of every day. Maybe I won’t live the most productive life. Maybe I’ll waste precious minutes checking my email every 30 seconds. Maybe I’ll listen to trash detective novels when I walk my dog instead of podcasts about “curating daily habits that unlock my emotional maturity.” But maybe I don’t need to be productive all the time. Maybe naps make me happy. Maybe Mark Wahlberg film marathons make me happy. Maybe I’m not the best version of myself and maybe I’m okay with that. Maybe, in the long run, being alright is better than being perfect.
Cover photo courtesy of the author