Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Saying Yes to Being Present by Kyle Elliott, MPA, CHES (Guest Blogger)

Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist

Each page of Present Over Perfect is like a tender, yet nevertheless painful slap to the face.

Niequist asks those aching questions that you don’t want to answer, but know you need to: “Am I loved? Does someone see me? Do I matter? Am I safe?”

Despite all of the difficult questions, Niequist’s courage motivated me to read the first 150 pages in a single sitting. I procrastinated reading the remainder of the book for nearly a year because those slaps to the face became too painful.

Shauna Niequist depicts a similar procrastination in attempting to write the last few chapters of Present Over Perfect:
I’m struggling instead to drum up the necessary energy to finish, because I’ve always been fueled by fear and anxiety. Once you stop using those fuels to power your life, it’s like jumping off a cigarette boat onto a sailboat: disorientingly quiet, steady, calm. Another way to say it: what powers our work when it’s no longer about addiction to achievement?
This was not the first time Niequist brings up fear and anxiety and addiction to achievement in her book.

From page one (well, technically page 15 given the beautiful foreword by BrenĂ© Brown), Niequist walks us through her journey from constantly attempting to be perfect – with her work, marriage, children, religion and every other aspect of her life — to being more present.

While I am not a Christian woman (Niequist identifies as one and this is clearly the target audience of the book), her journey is not dissimilar to my own.

As a child, I spent hours organizing my room. I was a perfectionist in the making.

Clothes had to be evenly spaced. Exactly one inch apart.

Picture frames had to be straight. Perfectly straight.

Knick-knacks had to be aligned. Flawlessly aligned.

Light switches had to be touched 11 times when turned off. Three times, then two times, then two times, then three times, then one time. Obviously.

Over time, I replaced the organizing and repetitive behaviors with work, school, coaching and a polished external shell. Long hours that allowed me to dull my emotions and mute my feelings.

I was attempting to achieve perfection in every aspect of my life. Perfect people don’t have to address their fears and anxiety, right?

I’ve spent my entire life trying to be perfect. I’ve also spent my entire life not wanting to be present. When you’re not present, you don’t have to face your anxiety, your pain, your trauma.

Can’t I just focus on being perfect and not address my pain?

While I realized very early on in life that the answer is a resounding no, I didn’t want to accept the answer.

I put off reading the rest of Niequist’s book – for a year – wanting I wanted to find a yes. I worked 100+ hours per week trying to find a yes. ONE-HUNDRED HOURS per week. I still couldn’t escape the pain.

As Niequist describes it, “I thought I would feel a deep gladness if I broke my back for work. I broke my back for my work, and all I felt was back-breaking pain.”

I felt pain in my life. And when I turned to work, I just found more pain.

I kept working because I didn’t want to face the answer I knew was coming – that I was afraid of being alone with my feelings. My emotions. My pain. Myself.

Through lots of therapy, self-care and self-love, I have learned to love my feelings, my emotions my pain and myself. While I am still working to be present – and still rebound to my perfectionist tendencies when I am anxious or overwhelmed – Niequist’s book was truly life-transforming for me.

I now know that I cannot hide my feelings and my emotions in my work.

I know that I needed those slaps.

I know that I am strong enough to be present.

And I have found a yes – saying yes to being present.

“Saying yes means not hiding. It means being seen in all your imperfections and insecurities.”


Kyle Elliott, MPA, CHES is the Career Coach behind He is also an Official Member of the invite-only Forbes Coaches Council. His words have been featured on Forbes, The Muse and Fast Company, among many other publications.

His goal is simple – to help people find jobs they LOVE (or at least tolerate). Kyle loves coffee (if you couldn’t tell), writing and eating the same thing at different restaurants. Follow him on LinkedIn where you’ll often find him talking about work, life, and Starbucks.


This blog post was curated and/or edited by The Ardent Reader, Esther Hofknecht Curtis, BSOL, MSM-HCA. The views expressed in this blog post are those of the guest blogger. Visit for more information.

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