Denmark is the happiest nation in the world—according to studies—and researchers attribute Danes’ happiness to having low expectations in life. In other words, Danes have a non-idealized way of looking at the world. The happiness killer isn’t having ideals. Rather, it’s the power we give them. We can either be inspired by or imprisoned by our ideals—and the choice is ours.
The word ideal can be defined as:
1. Existing as a mental image or in fancy or imagination only; broadly: lacking practicality
2. A standard of perfection, beauty, or excellence
3. Of, relating to, or embodying an ideal
Since the age of twelve an ever-widening chasm between my life ideal and my reality has loomed over me. The daughter of successful parents with a mother who fed me motivational quotes and self-help books as if they were milk, I’ve always been a dreamer, a goal setter and a somewhat obsessive list-maker. Deep-seated insecurity has been the fuel driving many of my lofty, unmet goals.
In middle school I daydreamed of high school—of having a tall, baseball-playing boyfriend who drove a blue ’69 mustang; of being the standout soccer player and the captivating object of all the guy’s affection. Instead, my short boyfriend dumped me for a close friend who ended up being the star player and I was perpetually single, insecure, self-loathing and as awkward as a girl could get.
In high school I dreamed up my picture-perfect sketch of college: playing soccer for a preppy East Coast university, watching division one football games, gallivanting with attractive college guys dressed in hoodies and backward hats, and acing my college courses. But in reality, my ideal collided with the reality of being rejected by my dream school, being hospitalized multiple times for severe depression, gaining nearly forty pounds and not making it as a walk-on, transferring colleges three times, and barely passing a few of my classes.
It didn’t turn out how I pictured it. Me. My life. My ideal.
My life turned out messy. Jaded. Broken. With marks of beauty in between.
From the time we were little girls, many of us have fashioned up a better, more ideal version of ourselves.
She’s 20 pounds lighter, reads The Economist and runs marathons.
She’s captivating, intelligent, and hilarious and steals the center of attention at any party.
Our ideal self is characterized by the unique ideals we hold in high esteem: athleticism, beauty, style, intellectualism, personality, philanthropy. But the danger with having an ideal self is that she robs us of contentment in the present. She makes us feel as though we are never quite enough and that we haven’t yet arrived. The truth is, your ideal self isn’t coming to the party. She wasn’t invited because she doesn’t doesn’t exist. But you do. With your quirks, insecurities and seemingly insufficiencies. And that’s a beautiful thing.
Thankfully, my life no longer resembles the setbacks I shared with you. Yea, I still have my hard days, but my life is delightful, rich and fun, and I wouldn’t trade it for anyone else’s.
Don’t let your ideal expectations rob you of your present joy—you are far too valuable, too lovely and absolutely irreplaceable for that. So, I dare you. Throw in the towel—break up with your ideal self and love the one you are. Because you’re the only you you’ve got.
How are you going to live your one valuable and irreplaceable life as the real, completely un-ideal you?