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Why You Should Lower the Bar on Your Life

Ditch perfectionism and make your fifties your slacker decade


by Sarah Mahoney

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I just had a birthday, and as I have done for the last several years, I celebrated by looking for new ways to lower the bar: This year, I didn’t even pretend to bake for the holidays, smiling as I served guests pie right out of the box.

That’s because I’ve declared that my 50s are officially my slacker decade, and with each birthday, I make a conscious effort to reduce my standards. So far, I’ve given up gardening, most dusting and book groups. They’re all fine pursuits, but they don't mean much to me anymore. Instead, I’m trying to focus more on adding more enjoyment: More hiking and yoga. More travel and exploring. More half-finished books, because if I’m not enjoying it, why force myself to continue? It’s not like I’m giving up on fun, just on perfectionism.

See also: Present Over Perfect

Of course, I haven’t always been a cheerful slacker. Like a lot of us, I grew up believing that excellence really matters. I worked hard to do my best, whether that meant getting gold stars, As or promotions. If there was some currency that said that I was, at least on some level, better than average, I wanted it. Average was an insult, a second cousin to mediocrity. Who wants to get a B-minus in life? That also meant that for the early part of my life, I was disappointed in myself most of the time.

In fact, the first time someone jokingly said to me, “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly,” I actually got offended. I was in my 20s then, and putting in long hours, hoping to get recognized for my workhorse behavior. And it meant that I sniffed judgmentally at anyone I perceived as less dutiful, devoted or loyal. And while I worked with all kinds, I fixated on the people who had the highest standards, usually nutty editors who shrieked at others’ ideas, and one design director so obsessed with fonts that he, honest to God, cajoled us into starting articles with his favorite letters. (Ws—lovely; Es—objectionable.) 

By my 30s, I had grown wiser, and learned how to lighten up at work. So I turned my overachieving heart toward motherhood, the next project on my life list. And while I will always say raising kids is the most delicious work I have ever done, I figured out pretty quickly that being an excellent parent is next-to-impossible. It’s hard work to even achieve a “good enough” rating.

See also: How Letting Go of Perfection Can Bring you Bliss

As I moved into my 40s, my kids entered their sullen years. My parents aged and died. And while I had plenty of joy starting my own company and in a second marriage, on many days, excellence was not an option. In fact, keeping the bills paid, the kids fed and the dogs walked felt like a monumental achievement. If my 20s taught me it was OK to be average at work, and my 30s that it was acceptable to be a mediocre mom, my 40s revealed that no matter what delusions I have about myself, I was born to slog through like the rest of the world, cherishing the shiny-bright spots, and sucking it up during the dreary days.

And as for my 50s? It’s the decade where I’m determined not to fight it anymore. I’m lowering my standards, coasting more, and realizing that most of the time, being average is good enough. It’s more fun.

Photo Credit: Martin Barraud/Getty