Present Over Perfect

I recently finished Shauna Niequist’s Present Over Perfect. I listened to it on my runs, which might have proved the best way to take it in. Niequist reads the book, giving her the chance to sound more like a friend you are having coffee with vs. someone reading a manuscript.

The premise is Niequist’s journey from frayed, over-committed, hustling housewife, mother, author extraordinaire, to someone’s whose life is far more laid back, available, and focused. 

I identify with the need to live a life that is in line with our values and not dictated by what others say it should be. 

Part of being an adult is taking responsibility for resting your body and your soul. And part of being an adult is learning to meet your own needs, because when it comes down to it, with a few exceptions, no one else is going to do it for you.

Shauna Niequist

What I appreciated about Niequist’s premise, which is in and of itself not new, is that it is not a self-help, grit your way, top ten list, routine driven book. She doesn’t give you easy tips or make it about you at all. The heart of Niequist’s book is that she realizes it is in listening to that still small voice, by returning to the rhythms that cultivate rest, but analyzing the gods of hustle and production and calling them what they are – that one finds the ability to be present.

Niequist writes honestly about the routine-ness of her life. She spends half a chapter on their basketball hoop in the front yard. But it is in these moments of ordinary, in the small acts we do to ground ourselves and perhaps build connection, that real rest and peace are found.

It is not in the grandiose, in the performing, in the gold star achievements – and yet, how many of us hang our hats there? It is far too easy to get pulled into the culture of competition, the lie of hustle and grit. If we are not careful we sacrifice our time, energy, sanity, and life on the altars that only leave us tired and unfulfilled. Niequist invites us to stop that race. 

The book was an easy listen. I often felt my heart react to what she saw saying. While I cannot identify with some of Niequist’s struggles as it relates to busy and over-committed. I can relate to the undertone of hiding and letting life pass you by as you ride a train you do not even enjoy. I get that feeling of seeing the you you long to be standing on the platform as the train you cannot escape leaves the station yet again. 

I believed that work would save me, make me happy, solve my problems; that if I absolutely wore myself out, happiness would be waiting for me on the other side of all that work. But it wasn’t. On the other side was just more work. More expectations, more responsibility.

Shauna Niequist

The book is an invitation to listen to that still small voice that is calling out for attention. It is the choice to turn from production and learn about surrender. It is a call to put down the masquerade of control and value and let God be both for you. 

I will admit the book lumbered a bit too long. It feels like Niequist had to write the ending before she was totally sure of it herself, so spends the last part of the book of fluffy, filler writing that kind of detracts from what she said before. 

Instead of being willing to admit that maybe she had not reached the next guidepost and so is still a fellow traveler on the climb, Niequist reaches for a conclusion that felt forced and compact. The last part (or two) could have been cut or edited. They are repetitive and do not add depth to what was already said.

Overall, Present over Perfect is a good “invitation book.” It is a safe way to start the conversation of how what promises to fill us only leaves us more empty. Performance will never do it. Chasing perfect won’t either. So be messy, and simpler, aim for a quiet life of presence vs. a hustled life of tired overwork and never enough. 

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