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Escaping the “Perfect” Trap: How to Find Freedom and Fulfillment

Our desire and need for perfection is a belief, not the truth. 



Image Credit: Midjourney

The perfect trap.

“If I’m perfect, no one can ever criticize me.” 

Which isn’t true; we’ll still hear things we don’t want to hear. 

And when we hear things we don’t want to hear, it’s because we didn’t do something good enough.

We have to try harder.

Deeper and deeper into the perfectionism prison we go. 

We grow terrified of being seen and heard and hide behind the facade we believe will protect us. We don’t dare be seen as anything “less than.” 

We become terrified of putting anything out into the world, projects left undone or in a perpetual state of being worked on because they’re not quite “there.”

We live a life that’s not our own; it belongs to the beliefs of what it should be, and we watch helplessly as our world and our place in it diminishes. 

We hide in the open. 

But we double down our efforts because it’s got to work; striving for perfection is a good thing, right?

No one can fault us for not finishing projects because we’re aiming for a “worthwhile” goal. 

We live half an existence, pretending it’s whole and suffering in the disparity.

I’m using “we,” but really, this was my experience with perfectionism, something I still struggle with, and I know I’m not alone. 

“Perfectionism is a twenty-ton shield we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from taking flight.” — Brené Brown

I was imprisoned by perfectionism since about the age of 6 or 7. 

If I didn’t score 100 on every test, I wasn’t good enough or worthy. So began my journey into the prison of perfectionism. 

I was lucky; going to federal prison and essentially losing everything destroyed the illusion of perfectionism and taught me about freedom. 

The facade I’d worked so hard to fabricate was decimated, and I needed to start from scratch.

I didn’t want to recreate what I’d destroyed, even if the comfort of the known called to me. 

I longed to be free, not only from the physical boundaries of prison but from my mental prisons, perfectionism being one of them.

An offshoot of unworthiness, believing I wasn’t enough, and my fear of being seen and heard for who I am. 

Honestly, I don’t know how I would have broken free from perfectionism without going to prison. 

I don’t know if I would have had the awareness and courage to leave the comfort of the cell.

I know this, though: we don’t need to destroy our lives to break free, nor do I suggest it.

Looking back at the decade of rebuilding and reinventing my life, there were tumblers to open the combination lock on my self-imposed prison cell.

I share them here, hoping they help someone walk out of their perfectionism prison cell. 


I had an overwhelming desire to give meaning to the suffering my choices created, and one of the ways I knew to do that was to share my story. 

My goal in sharing my story was to help one person. That’s all I wanted, and it’s been my fuel for the past decade. 

A person in pain doesn’t care if a sentence is crafted perfectly; they just don’t want to be in pain anymore. 

Perfection doesn’t help them; honesty, rawness, and vulnerability do. 

And the path to these is paved with sharing mistakes and terrible choices, the antithesis of perfection. 

Serving a mission higher than myself meant embracing mistakes. 

It also transformed into a desire to make more mistakes; if I wasn’t making mistakes, I wasn’t going far enough.

Ending Self-Flagellation/Punishment:

I’d consistently deny myself small acts of joy (for example – watching TV in prison).

Both because I believed I wasn’t worthy of them and because I’d fallen short of my personal expectations of perfection – often unattainable expectations. 

Which creates a wicked cycle. 

The moment I gave myself permission to enjoy small acts like watching TV in prison, I demonstrated great compassion for myself, compassion that was granted in lieu of perfectionism. 

It was granted merely for me being me; I didn’t need to be perfect to feel good. 

Expansion over Contraction:

We can’t fully understand something until we experience its opposite. 

Prison allowed me to understand freedom.

I used to believe that perfectionism would grant me freedom – no one can touch me if I’m perfect. 

I’d be free from all negative judgment.

All the choices I made to create what I believed was the freedom I sought were fear-based. 

Fear is a double-edged sword. 

When I avoid the sharp edge, I shrink my world. 

When I move toward the sharp edge, I expand my world. 

I still avoid the edge, capitulate, and make fear-based choices because I’m human.

But if I degrade myself for doing so, I’m still a prisoner of perfectionism.

I choose expansion. 

Perfectionism is an insidious belief that will slowly shrink and decimate our lives. The first key to unlocking the cell door is hidden in plain sight.

Our desire and need for perfection is a belief, not the truth. 

When we drop the belief and operate from our truth, we change the course of our lives. 

Craig Stanland is a Reinvention Architect & Mindset Coach, TEDx & Keynote Speaker, and the Best-Selling Author of "Blank Canvas, How I Reinvented My Life After Prison." He specializes in working with high-achievers who've chased success, money, and status in their 1st half, only to find a success-sized hole in their lives. He helps them tap into their full potential, break free from autopilot, draft a new life blueprint, and connect with their Life's Mission so they can create their extraordinary 2nd half with purpose, meaning and fulfillment. Connect with him here

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How to Combine Stoic and Minimalist Principles for Optimal Living

By embracing Stoicism’s wisdom and Minimalism’s clarity, we can create a life that is truly meaningful



Image Credit: Midjourney

In our fast-paced, the principles of Stoicism and Minimalism have emerged as beacons of clarity and wisdom. These philosophies, while distinct in their approaches, share a common goal: to simplify our lives and cultivate a sense of purpose and contentment.

In this article, we will explore the great impact of Stoicism and Minimalism on our lives and the transformative benefits of incorporating them into our daily lives.

The Essence of Stoicism

Stoicism is an ancient Greek philosophy founded by Zeno of Citium around 300 BCE. It teaches us to focus on what we can control and accept what we cannot. At its core, Stoicism is about cultivating resilience, wisdom, and inner peace in the face of life’s challenges.

Emotional Resilience

Stoicism teaches us to acknowledge and regulate our emotions. By practicing emotional detachment and rational thinking, we can better navigate the ups and downs of life. When we understand that external events are beyond our control, we learn to channel our energy into mastering our reactions.

Living in the Present

Stoicism encourages us to live in the present moment. By letting go of regrets about the past and anxieties about the future, we find contentment in the here and now. This mindfulness fosters a deep appreciation for the simple pleasures of life.

Freedom through Simplicity

Stoicism’s emphasis on minimalism is evident in its approach to material possessions. By reducing our attachment to material things, we free ourselves from the burden of constant desire. This freedom allows us to focus on what truly matters: our character, virtues, and relationships.

“Stoicism teaches that we can’t control or rely on anything outside what Epictetus called our “reasoned choice” – our ability to use our reason to choose how we categorize, respond, and reorient ourselves to external events.” — Ryan Holiday

The Essence of Minimalism

Minimalism is a lifestyle philosophy that gained popularity in recent years. It advocates for simplifying our lives by decluttering both physical possessions and mental distractions. Minimalism is not about deprivation but rather about focusing on what adds value and meaning to our lives.

Clarity and Purpose

Minimalism helps us cut through the noise of consumerism and endless distractions. By decluttering our physical and digital spaces, we create room for clarity and purpose. We can better identify what truly matters and allocate our time and energy accordingly.

Reduced Stress and Overwhelm

In a world filled with constant stimuli, minimalism offers a refuge from the overwhelming influx of information and material possessions. Simplifying our environment and commitments reduces stress and fosters a sense of calm and tranquility.

Financial Freedom

Minimalism often leads to more mindful spending. By prioritizing needs over wants, we can save money, pay off debt, and achieve financial freedom. This financial stability provides peace of mind and opens up opportunities for experiences that enrich our lives.

The Synergy of Stoicism and Minimalism

While Stoicism and Minimalism are distinct philosophies, they complement each other beautifully, creating a powerful synergy that can transform our lives.

Cultivating Resilience

Stoicism’s emphasis on emotional resilience helps us navigate the challenges of adopting a minimalist lifestyle. When we encounter resistance to letting go of possessions or simplifying our lives, Stoic principles can guide us through the process with patience and fortitude.

Prioritizing What Truly Matters

Together, these philosophies encourage us to prioritize what truly matters in life. We learn to let go of the unnecessary distractions and material possessions that weigh us down, allowing us to focus on relationships, personal growth, and experiences that bring us joy and fulfillment.

Finding Contentment

The goal of Stoicism and Minimalism is to find contentment and inner peace. By embracing these philosophies, we can escape the cycle of constant desire and comparison that often leads to discontentment. Instead, we find contentment in the present moment and in the simplicity of our lives.

Practical Steps to Embrace Stoicism and Minimalism

  1. Start with Self-Awareness: Reflect on your values and priorities. What truly matters to you? What possessions or distractions no longer align with these values?
  2. Declutter Mindfully: Begin by decluttering your physical space. Donate, sell, or recycle items that no longer serve a purpose or bring you joy. Gradually extend this process to your digital life and commitments.
  3. Practice Stoic Principles: Study Stoic philosophy and incorporate its principles into your daily life. Learn to differentiate between what’s within your control and what isn’t. Practice emotional resilience and mindfulness.
  4. Set Minimalist Goals: Set specific minimalist goals, such as reducing your wardrobe or cutting back on digital screen time. Start small and gradually expand your minimalist practices.
  5. Seek Support: Join minimalist or Stoic communities, both online and offline, to connect with like-minded individuals who can offer guidance and support on your journey.

The impact of Stoicism and Minimalism on our lives cannot be overstated. These philosophies guide us toward emotional resilience, simplicity, and contentment in an increasingly complex world. By embracing Stoicism’s wisdom and Minimalism’s clarity, we can create a life that is truly meaningful, purposeful, and fulfilling.

Remember that the journey toward a more Stoic and minimalist existence is a lifelong one, filled with growth and self-discovery, but the rewards are boundless—a life rich in meaning, wisdom, and inner peace.

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