About a month ago I came across Shauna Niequist’s book, Present Over Perfect, while perusing the shelves of my local library. I fell in love with her message of “leaving behind frantic for a simpler, more soulful way of living.” Here’s my interview with her.
In her book Shauna tells her honest narrative of being “burned out on busy” and how this affected her relationships, her health and her overall well being. In my own life I have experienced waves of similar challenges in my efforts to stay balanced and grounded while living a life of purpose and connection. At many levels, Shauna’s story narrates a common struggle for mothers in our modern society. So many of us are, in her words, “longing for connection, meaning, depth, but settling for busy.”
In the book, she offers personal accounts of the changes she made in her own life and she invites readers to “leave behind the pressure to be perfect and begin the life-changing practice of simply being present, in the middle of the mess and the ordinariness of life.”
Rather serendipitously, while I was reading the book I was approached in connection with my writing work to interview Shauna. Be inspired from her perspective, insight and recommendations:
Q1: Shauna, tell us what inspired you to write Present Over Perfect?
A: I hit a point in my mid-thirties when I realized there were all these words I wanted my life to be: connected, warm, spontaneous, meaningful, graceful, rest-filled…but my actual life was rushed and frantic and isolated and exhausted. My work schedule and responsibilities were ruling my life. I was an extremely busy, productive person, but I wasn’t the friend, wife, or parent I wanted to be, and I realized that the trade-off wasn’t worth it. It just didn’t matter to me anymore that people thought I was very responsible and very capable; I wanted to reclaim a life of connection and play and rest.
Q2: As a busy mom, I relate to your description of your experiences of “fake resting.” Please share with our readers what “fake resting” means.
A: For me, fake resting is when everyone else in my house is actually resting — watching TV, playing games, resting their minds and bodies — and I look like I’m resting, too, because I’m near them and I’m in my pajamas, but I’m actually still hustling: I’m trying to get all the sheets changed, trying to get all the laundry done, trying to get all the dishes done, trying to get the kids’ closets cleaned. Then I look back at Saturday morning and think, “There we all were, being so cozy and snuggly in our pajamas…so why am I exhausted?” I’m exhausted because I didn’t actually rest in any way.
Q3: How can mothers start “real resting?”
A: For years, I was always looking for ways to pack minutes with tasks. And now I’m always looking for ways to find little pockets of time and use them for processing and prayer and finding my center again. Instead of going five days in a row screaming through life without even a thought toward anything in my inner world, now several times throughout every day, I’ll take just five minutes and ask myself:
Am I on track? Am I living according to my values? Am I doing the most important things or just the busiest, most urgent things? Am I tending to my soul in such a way that when my kids get off the bus I’m going to have something to give them?
My goal is to be a person who sees people, hears their voices, asks good questions, and devotes herself to the most important things: God and people.
Related: Top 5 Self-Care Strategies for Moms
Q4: How has letting go of perfection and being more present affected you and your relationships with others?
A: I’m more content than I’ve ever been. I’m more at peace with who I am and who I’m not, and what my life is and what it isn’t. I sleep well at night. And I’m so much more connected to my husband and my children than I was when I was so busy.
Q5: What advice can you offer moms who feel overwhelmed?
A: It really helped me to talk about this change process with the people I’m closest to. Telling others about your goals forces you to stick with them. When you start explaining to your best friend, for example, that you don’t want achievement and responsibility to be the most prevalent markers of your life anymore, and that you want to play more, rest more, and experience the beauty of the world in a deeper way, then she will lovingly help you get back on a path when she sees you choosing busyness over connection.
Q6: Anything else?
A: The invitation of present over perfect is to live with abundance and joy even if you’re in a season where your circumstances are not necessarily what you would choose. A lot of us put our lives on hold and our desires on hold and our spiritual development on hold. But I’m choosing to connect right now, in the meantime, and to live deeply and well anyway, right in the mess and middle of everyday life.
Shauna Niequist is a bookworm, a beach bum, an enthusiastic home cook and a passionate gatherer of people. She’s married to Aaron, and they live in Chicago with their two boys, Henry and Mac. She is the New York Times best-selling author of Present Over Perfect and a featured speaker on The Belong Tour. Connect with her online at ShaunaNiequist.com.