I’ve been a little sick this week (curses, hay fever!), but when I saw this passage from Anne Lamott (one of my heroes), it really resonated with me, and I wanted to share it immediately. Take a look…


There’s a whole chapter on perfectionism in Bird by Bird, because it is the great enemy of the writer, and of life, our sweet messy beautiful screwed up human lives. It is the voice of the oppressor. It will keep you very scared and restless your entire life if you do not awaken, and fight back, and if you’re an artist, it will destroy you….

…Oh my God, what if you wake up some day, and you’re 65, or 75, and you never got your memoir or novel written; or you didn’t go swimming in warm pools and oceans all those years because your thighs were jiggly and you had a nice big comfortable tummy; or you were just so strung out on perfectionism and people-pleasing that you forgot to have a big juicy creative life, of imagination and radical silliness and staring off into space like when you were a kid? It’s going to break your heart. Don’t let this happen. Repent just means to change direction—and NOT to be said by someone who is waggling their forefinger at you. Repentance is a blessing. Pick a new direction, one you wouldn’t mind ending up at, and aim for that. Shoot the moon.


Beautiful, right? We are too hard on ourselves. Read the full piece here, if you’d like.

P.S. An encouraging poem, and another hero: Tina Fey.

(Soap bubble photos by Norwegian photographer Odin Hole Standal)

  1. I just love it, Thank you for sharing this.

  2. very beautiful- inspiring on a very rainy grey day in London town

  3. thank you for posting this.

  4. This is so funny! My last blog post was on Bird by Bird. I could not Anne Lamott any more than I already do. She is just really wonderful. Everything she writes is so poignant. That whole chapter on perfectionism was just perfect. :)

    Hope you are feeling better.

    Lots of Love,

    Manolos to Asolos

  5. Timely! I just finished reading Operating Instructions last night. Love how her writing can be beautiful and laugh out loud funny at the same time.

  6. This has similar sentiments to the quote I keep on my computer: “Done is better than perfect.”

    Particularly when I get caught up with my work, this really keeps me grounded to the more important things in life, such as being in the moment, seeing the overall picture, and sitting back and actually enjoying the experience.

  7. M says...

    This is lovely! Thank you for posting. I’ve been a reader for a few years and haven’t ever commented, but this really struck home. It also reminded me of the recent (2014) commencement address at UNH by the Frozen director and screenwriter. It was a creative and wonderful speech about banishing self-doubt.
    Hope you’re feeling better soon.

  8. i just love it, thank you for posting it!

  9. lovely words of encouragement. thank you for sharing!

  10. Thank you for posting this! An automatic encouragement for my day. I sent to my sister, too, who’s struggling with some stuff right now. Hope you’re feeling better, as well! xoxo.

  11. Oh I LOVE Anne Lamott! I read everything of hers I can get my hands on :) Keep being a positive force on the internet! I love reading your posts everyday too :)

  12. thanks for being the bible of the web.
    I didnt really understand whats wrong with you these days if its being sicki-sh or doubting or whatever. You are a great value I wish you a prompt recovery, I love my cup of jo moments. take care

  13. Gosh, SO GOOD. Glad you immediately shared! I will have to do the same thing and take this inspiration to heart.

  14. Thanks for sharing this. I do agree that we are all too hard on ourselves. The focus is too much on pleasing others and trying to fit in, rather than stand out and create our own path. I hope I am on that path.

  15. How lovely! Thank you for this. :)

  16. Yes! I needed this.

  17. Bird by Bird changed things for me. I had stopped writing for a while, because it just got so frustrating. But reading that book made me write again. Now I even make a little bit of extra income doing freelance writing for magazines.

  18. oooh i really love this. what a great reminder. thank you joanna!

  19. thanks for sharing this! and for all the positive energy you spread through your blog. have a lovely day

  20. How interesting, that is the second time this week that this exact quote has shown up in my internet wanderings… coincidence… hmmm, I think not! Beautiful photo to go with such a lovely and thought provoking quote.

  21. I’m so glad you shared that, Joanna! I’ve been thinking a lot lately about doing less people-pleasing, and instead living more as I believe I was made to be…that big juicy creative life, as she calls it. :)

    I love that you called her your hero, and it gave me an idea: I’d love to see a series on your heroes and mentors. Consider it?

  22. jm says...

    This is such a beautiful post. It was a real wake up call for me.

  23. I deeply needed to hear/read this. Thank you.

  24. Love this blog!

  25. Ah! Yes! Perfectionism – my ultimate battle. I have a book in my possession called Perfecting Ourselves to Death. I think it’s about time I finally read it. Thanks for the nudge. :)

  26. Perfect timing- thank you (from a pleaser who is struggling).

  27. I’m still at work at 8:45pm and I took a break to check your blog and read this…and now I’m going home to drink a glass of wine and take a bubble bath. Work can wait until tomorrow. Thank you!

  28. I have never read anything by Anne Lamott, any suggestions for which of her books to start with?

  29. I love this. I have been thinking so much about the balance of creativity and making a living doing something creative. Comparison and trying to reach the unattainable is such a life sucker.

  30. Such an important message, especially these days with all the lovely images on Pinterest and Instagram. I love those sites, but I do have to remind myself that they’re meant to be enjoyed, not as a standard for comparison. I think a big juicy creative life sounds wonderful and I’m trying my best to get there.

  31. I just saw this yesterday and it could not be more perfect! I’m feeling motivated to go swimming and skip around and remember to live.

    Feel better, love!

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  33. This is awesome. My yoga instructor just shared this quote on facebook the other day :)

  34. elysha, i really love that. and how cool that you saw her speak!

  35. thanks, kimberly! it’s just hay fever, so no big deal, but i haven’t been sick for so long, i kind of forgot what it’s like! :) good luck on your essay.

  36. Bird by Bird is one of my favorite books. I was in the process of writing an essay on anxiety when I needed a break and started to read your blog. Even when you’re down you inspire me to keep on keeping on. Feel better.

  37. Hi Joanna!

    I know this photographer! He was my husband’s colleague in his previous work! How cool :) I love love love your blog, it is a source of inspiration for me as a mom, an individual and as a woman. Hugs from Norway!

  38. Great timing on this one! I’m likening it to parenting. I work so hard to keep the house neat and clean, my children playing with the right toys, taking the right classes, etc. Gosh, what a waste of time! I’ve been working on laying off the last few weeks, but it’s hard to break the cycle. Anne Lamott’s words definitely resonate with me. I’ve got to be okay with the mess, with the mistakes, with the wrong toys, then maybe I can actually enjoy playing with my kids!

  39. Thanks for sharing. Definitely resonated with me.

  40. I saw Anne Lamott speak (twice!) a couple of weeks ago. She spoke a lot about perfectionism and how life is hard and sometimes we just feel like we are failing at it so badly. Her answer to all of this? Drink a glass of water. Write another sentence- or just another word. Go and give someone else who is feeling down a glass of water. Be there for the people you love- and just keep living life. Best advice there is- help others and you will keep moving and it will be good. <3

  41. This is one on my mirror for those days when you feel like womp….
    “Promise Yourself

    To be so strong that nothing
    can disturb your peace of mind.
    To talk health, happiness, and prosperity
    to every person you meet.

    To make all your friends feel
    that there is something in them
    To look at the sunny side of everything
    and make your optimism come true.

    To think only the best, to work only for the best,
    and to expect only the best.
    To be just as enthusiastic about the success of others
    as you are about your own.

    To forget the mistakes of the past
    and press on to the greater achievements of the future.
    To wear a cheerful countenance at all times
    and give every living creature you meet a smile.

    To give so much time to the improvement of yourself
    that you have no time to criticize others.
    To be too large for worry, too noble for anger, too strong for fear,
    and too happy to permit the presence of trouble.

    To think well of yourself and to proclaim this fact to the world,
    not in loud words but great deeds.
    To live in faith that the whole world is on your side
    so long as you are true to the best that is in you.”
    ― Christian D. Larson

  42. I love articles like that. Sometimes we need a boost or a reminder and this one is perfect.

  43. Thanks for this post! Sometimes I need to hear this as a reminder.

  44. Ah thanks Joanna! Perfect reading for me. I’m one of those people pleasers who places others needs a bit too easily above her own. At least I’m more aware of this not so healthy way of going about life now. Sending you a cyber hug and a nice cup of tea and a tasty biscuit if you like. I hope knowing so many people are caring for you around the world buoys you a bit. This article sure did me. Time to start paying less attention to those not so supportive passive aggressive ‘friends’ I think and loving my inner being a bit more. After all if I don’t who will?! x

  45. I loved this, Joanna!
    This is funny, because when I’m feeling down your blog always manages to cheer me up! :) So in some ways you are bringing a smile to someone’s face even when you are having a not very good day yourself!
    Stay well! :)

  46. How funny, this must be doing the rounds, I read it on Brain Pickings (a site I totally adore and unreservedly recommend to anyone – I think there are a couple of posts other about Anne Lamott on there too.

    I really enjoy and relate to these vulnerable/inspiring posts Joanna and I’m not glad to hear you struggle, but it helps to remember that we all do, and sharing stuff like this can really help us all. X

  47. Thank you for sharing. I often give up on things before I begin for fear that it won’t turn out the way I expect it to. I need to read this everyday.

  48. Such a great thought to muse over today, I am indeed a perfectionist and I’m sure it has held me back from doing things – but I’d like to think that I’m still quite adventurous!

  49. abby, she really does. operating instructions is one of my very favorite books.

  50. hahaha, suzette, you are the sweetest and that is a great tip! :)

  51. Thanks for sharing! I always enjoy your posts– esp. seeing snap shots of Toby and Anton– always helps with saving the day. I’d say have a humongous burger, as much white wine as you can stand… fall asleep drunk and get back on the bike in a couple of days… (and yes most certainly have your loved nanny stay over full-time for the boys).

  52. Thanks for sharing. And you’ll be fine. Imagine what your 65 or 75 would tell yourself today. You touch so many hearts daily. (Love the picture.)

  53. I absolutely love this. Anne really gets it doesn’t she?!

  54. absolutely beautiful. as soon as i read this, i wanted to send it out to all of my friends & family as a lovely reminder. thank you so much for sharing!

  55. Joanna, that’s such a coincidence! We just posted this on our website (for my work) and it’s already made me feel more fearless. Hope you’re feeling better

  56. Thank you so much for sharing this. It’s just the reminder I needed this morning.

  57. This was beautiful, thanks for the pick me up!

  58. Wonderful! And such a lovely, contemplative photo. <3 xo

  59. I love it Joanna. It is something I will print and hang on my work wall. Thank you for sharing. xo.