Present Over Perfect: an excerpt :)

By Posted in - General on July 20th, 2016 33 Comments

POP cover

Hello & so much love from the lake–we’re only here for a few more days, but we’re soaking it up like crazy: boat rides instead of bedtimes, peaches and blueberries from the Farmer’s Market…okay, also kettle corn and homemade pizza, too.

Part of the reason we’re headed home soon is because release of Present Over Perfect is right around the corner–August 9th!–and we’re so excited!

A book release is always fun-slash-nerve-wracking, but to be honest: I’ve never felt this way about a book. A friend texted last night and said, “Shauna, this is a…manifesto.” She’s right: this is the deepest, most honest, most passion-fueled thing I’ve written–get ready for ranting and raving and dreaming and confessing. This one’s kind of a wild one. And I can’t wait to share it with you. 

For absolutely everything there is to know about the book–about the release, about giveaways, about how to pre-order, how to order a limited signed edition, here’s a page that’s all things Present Over Perfect.

And here’s an excerpt from the book–the title essay, in fact:

Present Over Perfect

And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.                —John Steinbeck

The phrase present over perfect was one I first held tightly to a few Christmases ago. I remember the moment: the table was a train wreck of wrapping paper and unfolded laundry, half-eaten cookies. My mind was running with all the remaining tasks that needed to be done—gifts bought, cards addressed, bags packed, deadlines reached.

To put it plainly: my desire for beautiful, sparkly Christmas moments was edging out my ability to live well in my own actual life, and I recognized this feeling as one I’d grappled with all my life. I want things to be spectacular, epic, over the top, exciting and dramatic. But in order to force that beauty and drama into otherwise ordinary moments, you have to push and tap dance and hustle, hustle, hustle.

I was faced with a dilemma—one so many of us face quite often: I could either wrestle my life and my kids and my house and our Christmas into something fantastic, something perfect . . . or I could plunk myself down right in the middle of the mess and realize that the mess is actually my life, the only one I’ll ever get, the one I’m in danger of missing completely, waiting around for fantastic.

That Christmas I chose to be present over perfect, and that’s still what I choose today. Some days I do it better than others—it’s still a tremendous temptation for me to spin out into achievement or efficiency or performance instead of dwelling deeply in life as it presents itself each moment. Indeed, sometimes I can get a little obsessive about pursuing non-perfection just perfectly. But the endeavor itself is transformative: my marriage, my parenting, my friendships, and my connection to God have all been enriched in countless ways along this journey.

This isn’t about working less or more, necessarily. This isn’t about homemade or takeout, or full time or part time, or the specific ways we choose to live out our days. It’s about rejecting the myth that every day is a new opportunity to prove our worth, and about the truth that our worth is inherent, given by God, not earned by our hustling.

It’s about learning to show up and let ourselves be seen just as we are, massively imperfect and weak and wild and flawed in a thousand ways, but still worth loving. It’s about realizing that what makes our lives meaningful is not what we accomplish, but how deeply and honestly we connect with the people in our lives, how wholly we give ourselves to the making of a better world, through kindness and courage.

Let’s talk for a minute about perfect: perfect has become as near a dirty word to me as hustle, prove, earn, compete, and push. Perfect is brittle and unyielding, plastic, distant, more image than flesh. Perfect calls to mind stiffness, silicone, an aggressive and unimaginative relentlessness. Perfect and the hunt for it will ruin our lives—that’s for certain.

The ache for perfection keeps us isolated and exhausted—we keep people at arm’s length, if that, and we keep hustling, trying trying trying to reach some sort of ideal that never comes.

I’ve missed so much of my actual, human, beautiful, not-beautiful life trying to force things into perfect. But these days I’m coming to see that perfect is safe, controlled, managed. I’m finding myself drawn to mess, to darkness, to things that are loved to the point of shabbiness, or just wildly imperfect in their own gorgeous way.

I’m drawn to music that’s more earnest than tidy, art that’s more ragged than orderly, people who are just a touch more honest than is strictly appropriate for the situation. I’m finished hustling for perfect. It didn’t deliver what they told me it would.

And so, instead: present. If perfect is plastic, present is rich, loamy soil. It’s fresh bread, lumpy and warm. It’s real and tactile and something you can hold with both hands, something rich and warm. Present is a face bare of makeup, a sweater you’ve loved for a decade, a mug that reminds you of who you used to be. It’s the Bible with the battered cover, the journal filled with scribbled, secret dreams. It isn’t pretty, necessarily—it isn’t supposed to be.

Present is living with your feet firmly grounded in reality, pale and uncertain as it may seem. Present is choosing to believe that your own life is worth investing deeply in, instead of waiting for some rare miracle or fairy tale. Present means we understand that the here and now is sacred, sacramental, threaded through with divinity even in its plainness. Especially in its plainness.

Present over perfect living is real over image, connecting over comparing, meaning over mania, depth over artifice. Present over perfect living is the risky and revolutionary belief that the world God has created is beautiful and valuable on its own terms, and that it doesn’t need to be zhuzzed up and fancy in order to be wonderful.

Sink deeply into the world as it stands. Breathe in the smell of rain and the scuff of leaves as they scrape across driveways on windy nights. 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. Perfect has nothing on truly, completely, wide-eyed, open-souled present.


When I was slipping out of my heels and pencil skirts—my armor for a frantic professional world—in search of a cozier, plainer, simpler way of living, I bought a pair of white Converse All Stars. Practically speaking, I needed a pair of shoes to wear to a camp. And I needed desperately to go to a camp—to reconnect with nature and silence and water and people who knew me well.

The Chucks, then, became a symbol of the transition from one season to another. They have become the shoes I wear when I want to feel truly grounded: low-key, low-drama, my plain old self. They’re like the jeans you’ve had forever, the college sweatshirt you can’t throw away, the baseball cap that outlasted the boyfriend and has now become part of your own story, part of who you are.

When I see them in my closet, I remember that I want to live both feet firmly planted on this gorgeous green earth, that I want to be right here and right now, that I am loved and known and that I don’t have to hustle or perform.

I know that’s a lot to get from a pair of sneakers. But sometimes, especially when we’re in seasons of great transition, we cling to a couple things very tightly—physical reminders of deep inner revolutions—and I’ve held tightly to these white Chucks.

They’re not my first pair—didn’t everyone my age have a pair or two in high school or college? I certainly did, along the way—green ones, red ones, black ones. So these feel familiar, like a return to an essential self, like I’m traveling back to reclaim something, which is exactly what I’m doing, in many ways: I’m retracing the steps I’ve taken across the last several years to find the woman I used to be—she’s definitely nowhere near perfect, but I like her better, and I’m determined to find her again.

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