If you saw me on Zoom, you’d know I’m the embodiment of unapologetic imperfection. I don’t wear makeup, and I’m fine with that. If the dog is barking, I don't say I’m sorry. If my husband is noisily washing dishes in the background, I’m definitely not going to stop him.
The same thing is happening on the other side of the screen. There’s a familiar chair, piled with laundry in someone’s makeshift bedroom-office. In a studio apartment, I spot dishes in the sink and a hastily made bed. Between mutes, I can hear kids playing video games or guest-starring on Zoom meetings.
And then there are all those vulnerable moments beyond what can be seen in the backgrounds of our video calls: anxieties, relationship tensions, culinary mishaps, being dumbfounded by basic algebra homework, and totally unprepared to take on homeschooling.
The truth is, the mess was always there. But it’s only now that we’re able to embrace it. Sure, there’s been some ambient pressure to make the most of our time right now, but there’s also an acceptance that it’s okay to do less, or even do nothing.
For all the paradigm shifts that we’re going to see in the aftermath of the pandemic — in the economy, the ways we engage with one another, how often we clean our homes and our hands — one of the biggest is going to be the acceptance that productivity does not always have to be our goal. And, perhaps especially for women, this feels quietly radical.
We’ve all known for a while now that the pursuit of perfection is a Sisyphean task, but as much as striving toward perfection is an impossible standard on a normal day, doing so during a pandemic is laughable.
No wonder we’re seeing more and more women setting perfection aside, saying, essentially: Screw it. And every time a woman does so, she’s showing herself a well-deserved bit of compassion in a crisis. And she’s giving other women permission to do the same.
It’s these little acts of compassion for yourself that make a difference in the long haul. They empower us to say no to the things that don’t really matter, and yes to those that do. It’s only by saying no to the small things — doing all the housework, wearing the perfect outfit, remember every birthday — that we can say yes to what we really want to do: Start a business. End a toxic relationship. Run for office. Or, what I did, start an international non-profit with absolutely zero experience.
In the long haul, all those little acts of self-love will make us happier — and not only that, but they’ll make us more equal.
Reshma Saujani, founder and CEO of Girls Who Code and author of Brave Not Perfect (paperback on sale today, 5th May).