Simple Lessons on Living from Shauna Niequist’s Present Over Perfect

Shauna Niequist seemed to have it all. She had a successful career, a loving family, and wanted for nothing. But, despite how good her life looked on the outside, she was exhausted and deeply unhappy. She spent her entire adult life working longer, pushing harder, and striving to meet the expectations set by the world around her… or, rather, the expectations she thought had been set by the world around her.

Niequist knew that she couldn’t continue living the way she was. The path she was walking was destructive and grueling, and it turned her into a person she didn’t want to be. Something had to give.

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In her book Present Over Perfect, Niequist has compiled a series of essays documenting her personal journey from trying to be the perfect person to being simply and exactly who she is, what she calls a “sea-change,” and how much happier and more fulfilled she’s become as a result.

Lessons from the Sea-Change

Rather than read as a pure self-help book, Nyquist’s essays are more of a memoir with nuggets of wisdom sprinkled throughout. It is through her personal experiences that gave her the wisdom she shares in Present Over Perfect, in the hopes that her thoughts and feelings will resonate with people who feel as disenfranchised as she felt.

Here are 5 of our main takeaways:

1. You are in direct control of how busy your life is.

Niequist tells the story of the church of her pastor friend’s church, once small and quaint, suddenly gaining new followers. Longtime attendees were growing discouraged by the population spurt, concerned that the community was losing its tight-knit feel, and the young pastor felt the growth was completely out of control. But, as an older pastor would point out to him, he was the one that kept putting up more chairs.

2. The only thing you can ever be is yourself, so you better do it well.

Calling this our “essential self,” Niequist explains that everybody has a core self, the purest form of everything we are, our most fundamental sense of being. She says that, like God only creates and means for snow to fall, so too were we created and meant to be ourselves, imperfect as we are. It should stand to reason, she argues, that we should put all our energy into excelling at it.

3. Self-care isn’t a sign of weakness, but a sign of wisdom.

“Fussy-fancy” is how Niequist describes her original feelings on self-care and everything it stands for. She considered herself a work horse who never needed to slow down and rest. She didn’t even own pajamas, choosing to sleep in work clothes and jeans! Over time, she realized that taking the time to rest and replenish the body wasn’t just for the weak-willed. In fact, not taking time for self-care was arrogant and foolish. Even God took a day off.

4. Declutter your space, declutter your mind.

One of the things Niequist most craved for her everyday life was the slow, simple living she experienced during her yearly trip to Lake Michigan. She couldn’t figure out where the disconnect was until she took a good, hard look at her living space and all the stuff in it. Once she did, she realized how unnecessary most of it was, and how little she truly needed. She got by just fine with a few meager belongings at the lake, after all; why not at home as well?

5. You matter because you exist.

Niequist is a devout Christian whose faith is a crucial part of her identity. During the lower points of her life, she relationship with God had waned significantly, which left a void in her sense of self that nothing could seem to fill. Her drive to please the people around her had completely obscured the truth from her: She didn’t have to prove anything. She was already good enough simply because God had created her.

Recognize Three Things

When Shauna Niequist was living to please everyone around her, she was unhappy. She never felt like she was good enough, worked hard enough, did enough for her loved ones, but in reality, it was that persistent need to please that was driving her away from the people and things she cared most about. Once she recognized three things—her value, her humanity, and her control over her own life—the ball was set in motion for her to clear away the noise and let her live exactly the life she wanted: Simple, happy, and surrounded by the people she loves the most.

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