Present over Perfect Book Club: Lessons in Lightness

Living in lightness—physically, emotionally and spiritually is my goal for this year. Part of that journey is accepting that I’m not perfect, my life is not perfect and that it never will be perfect.

The big lesson for me is that I am enough. My life is enough. It’s better to present, rather than always striving to be perfect.

This book has so many lessons for me to put into practice and I’ve wondered why I didn’t learn these lessons years ago.

Why did I allow myself to get so exhausted and burnt out before I did something?

I think the questions were bubbling underneath in disguise as bitterness and frustration and anger and exhaustion and getting-on-with-it. I didn’t listen to the emotions and figure out where they were coming from.

I know that the lessons from Present over Perfect will transform my life into a more peaceful, passionate and present way of living.

How do I know that for sure?

Because I’ve gone from an exhausted, anxious, depressed, foggy-brained and depleted existence to a more rested, peaceful, healthy, considered and sustainable way of living over the last few months.

Circumstances haven’t changed—I have. The lessons from Present over Perfect have given me a framework in which to live my life.

I’ve made practical changes to my day-to-day life that help me to set the course of the next season of my life in a way that I’ve never done before.

Jesus said, ‘For my yoke is easy and my burden is light’. I don’t think he meant that things would never be hard or heavy, but that there is a way of living that helps us to live beyond the circumstances.

What I’m learning is that even when circumstances are difficult, even when things happen that upend your world, that if my core is strong,  I will weather the storms. And the in-between times, the everyday will be framed by love, connection and honesty.  I can lightly and purposefully in ways I never have before.


Thank you, Shauna Niequist for sharing the lessons you learned. You’ve changed our lives, and even though we may never meet, you’ve become a friend to us all.

Thank you, dear readers, for following the journey and sharing your lessons with us both in the comments and in personal messages.

JodieAmanda and I have appreciated your honesty, vulnerability and willingness to learn alongside us. Until the next book club, much love, Elaine xx


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  1. Posted March 1, 2017 at 5:20 pm | Permalink


    I love your thoughts here, and I think you sum up the effect this book has had on me perfectly when you say ‘there is a way of living that helps us to live beyond the circumstances.’ I love that verse in the Message translation; ‘the unforced rhythms of grace.’

    So wonderful to do another great book club with you and Amanda, as always it has ended up a life-transforming experience.

    Until the next one xx

    • Posted March 1, 2017 at 9:27 pm | Permalink

      Hi Jodie, it’s been a great experience to do book club with you guys again. The unforced rhythms of grace are beautiful.

  2. MJ Gibbs
    Posted March 2, 2017 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    This is great, Elaine. Me too! I’m on my second read of Present over Perfect now and it’s been like a refreshing pot of tea; life changing and perspective defining, chilling out more and more, noticing the beauty around me every day, breathing deeply, swimming daily… is good.

  3. Sandie
    Posted March 7, 2017 at 10:45 pm | Permalink

    Hello! Is anyone still there?

    What have I learned?

    Well, firstly, I think I should open this post with, “Hello, my name is Sandie and I am a hustle-aholic…”

    Over the last month or so I read the book and engaged in the book club in airports and departure lounges and training centers and hotels and friends’ homes and waiting rooms and even my own little house in Fremantle! I’ve done it in Perth and Dhaka and Singapore and Kathmandu. I’ve done it in between packing and re-packing, I’ve done it in winter with a hot water bottle at my feet and in summer with the aircon on trying to counter the heat.

    “Hustle” isn’t a word I typically use, but Shauna Niequist uses it and it is a very appropriate word to describe my life.

    There are some parts of Shauna’s story that resonate so powerfully with me, parts where she puts into words exactly how I’ve been feeling and unable to articulate so clearly that it is striking, and then there are parts of the book that I can honestly say are not me. What I love about the fact that someone took the time to put her story into print is that I know I am not alone, my story is as unique as hers, as Elaine’s, as Amanda’s, as Jodie’s, as anyone else who joined us for this…no one has exactly tread our paths before…yet there are similarities and convergences and by sharing how it feels and what we are trying to do about it we give each other strength; strength in knowing we are not the only person not feeling like we aren’t winning all the time, we are not the only one messed up, tired, unbalanced and we even spark ideas for how to deal with the challenges life throws us. The issues covered in the book are not easy to discuss, they expose your inner most struggles and to do this with people who, up until now, may think you are doing just great and who may not be ready to admit their own struggles is exposing and risky and scary.

    I’m still processing. I am really glad I have a hard copy of the book, I’d love to lend it out but it is so covered with underlinings and scratchings and notes I am not sure I can.

    Some of my reflections are that hustle is a state of mind as well as a practical reality. As Elaine says, “circumstances haven’t changed – [she] has.” And while I have become more aware of the need to put practical changes in place in my own life, I am less clear about exactly how I can do that within the real life constraints. But I am trying to be calmer and more focused internally and reduce that inner hustle at least. Wonderfully, we are not the same and what works for one of us doesn’t work in exactly the same way for the others. I think I believe that for me sometimes hustle is OK, some times it’s necessary and sometimes it can even be beautiful (think a well executed quick step on the dance floor) and sometimes it is a chaotic, clumsy and dangerous lurch. I like to think I am getting better at knowing the difference.

    I’ve also been thinking about bravery. Sometimes the brave thing is to say “yes” and sometimes the brave thing is to say “no”. It all depends on what you are agreeing to and where you are with everything else. Saying yes and saying no are both really hard for me right now….they have been for a while…I long for the right request, the thing that makes my heart sing loudly with a YES…where there is nothing else to do but say YES…but until that thing comes, balancing precariously on the fence with requests unanswered is something I find incredibly, intensely stressful. This is an uncomfortable position to be in when my work is freelance and I am faced with requests on a weekly basis.

    Being present is also a wonderful and challenging concept for me. I don’t think I struggle with being present when I am with you. The thing is, seriously and practically for my work, I am often away from home and what that has come to mean for me is that I return (almost always tired and having lost a couple of nights sleep on the journey to and from my destination) perceiving the same demands to be present as I would have if I was here all the time squished into a shorter time frame. I don’t quite know how to deal with this, as Amanda says, “…I wish I could escape the present and not embrace it.” I found myself at times reading the book and trying to construe it to give me a Godly license to say no to people and commitments that fit into the social/extended family side of life but that I know don’t refresh me and build me up in the way I need.

    The book also got me thinking about living with intention. Sometimes intention is about building something slowly and deliberately over years, a life, a dream, your marriage, how you parent your children, a career. And sometimes, even when these intentions have come through, changes have taken place or there were consequences of all your deliberate actions that you didn’t foresee, maybe because you didn’t see broadly enough or maybe simply because your intentions butt naturally up against the reality of others (your child, your spouse) and the world in general. In many ways I have the life I very intentionally created; I travel to fascinating places and I do work I really believe in. BUT, but I have a sense, an unsettling feeling, that what felt so right to strive for in my 30s may not be quite right for me in my late 40s. So we need intention, but also re-invention.

    Something I need to think more on is my relationship with the idea of the Protestant work ethic that I realize is deeply ingrained in me. I have some kind of twisted notion that, because I am so lucky, because I am so richly blessed, because I have never gone a night in my life worried about how my family would be fed, or clothed, or sheltered I should say “yes” when I am called upon and I should work as hard as I can, squeezing every last drop of whatever skills and capacities I have to do the thing I am asked to do.

    I learned not to beat up on myself while I’m figuring some of this out. Remember the analogy on p32, early in the book, when Shauna says her life feels like she is driving 100km an hour, screeching to a stop at a 7-Eleven, gulping down red Slurpee directly from the machine and then running back to the car, slamming it into reverse and taking off wit the music blaring? I get that feeling. But right now I am going to try to make some changes, some choices, the things within my control now I will try and adjust…so, in terms of the metaphor, I can’t stop the journey right now, but maybe I can take a green juice instead of a Slurpee, or at least I could use a cup and a straw for the Slurpee, and I could pause and sit for a moment to drink it, and I could smile and greet the shop attendant and take just a little care not to bump into any other people and cars…and I could turn the volume down.

    I would like to thank you, Elaine, Jodie and Amanda, so much for the time and effort you put into this book club. It meant a lot to me.

    • Posted March 8, 2017 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

      Hi, Sandie! Welcome back from your travels. Thanks so much for joining in the book club. It’s been great to have you join in the conversation.

      Hustle is an interesting word with different connotations, but I can say my life used to be lived like that. That is, until I had too many big health crashes and learnt that I needed to develop more rhythm in my life rather than being pulled from pillar to post, saying yes to things willy nilly.

      Learning to say yes and no has been part of my journey. Saying yes to the important and no to the things that take me awayn from my central purpose.

      Refining my life is how I’d put it. Some of those nos took more courage than any yes. It was a process over years, and I relapsed many times. Building the life I have now took many intentional steps, as well as making sure that at transition points, I stuck to my intentions.

      Instead of beating myself up for the relapses I’ve just had a gentle talk to myself and made some adjustments to get back on track.

      Great comments, Sandie!!

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