How to Create a Life Outside the Lines


I don’t know about you but, for me, the line between feeling inspired and inadequate is thin and vaporous, and I cross it repeatedly on every journey through my Instagram feed. The parts of me that struggle with comparison, perfectionism, and criticism can get obnoxiously loud and rude after swiping through a few beautiful posts.

Oh my gosh, this living room is eye candy—WHY CAN’T I DO THAT MY HOUSE IS A PIT. Wow, that quote is inspiring—WHY DIDN’T I THINK OF THAT I HAVE NO TALENT. Holy cow, her hair—WHAT’S MY PROBLEM I’M A DROWNED RAT. 4,200 likes?? —I’M A FAILURE.

Fortunately, Judgment Julie and her precocious comments don’t steer the boat around here anymore. She has in the past. Oh yes, she has. And she still attempts mutiny every hour of every day. But I’ve learned a few things that quiet her down and put her in her place.

Like, perfect is not perfect.

I mean, I’ve taken enough Instagram photos to know that the Target bags and junk mail are often lurking just outside the frame. A beautifully curated corner does not equal a flawlessly kept house (and some of my favorite Instagrammers let me in on that secret every now and then). I’m not saying anyone’s photos are fake. I’m just saying I’m no longer evaluating my housekeeping/design skills/personal worth based on a few square feet of someone else’s home.

Also, human is human.

Duh, right? None of us are Instagram-worthy all of the time. Or, if somehow we are (or we have a team of people to keep us looking that way), our cracks will probably show up elsewhere. We might have overdue bills. Or poor grammar. Or an outsized propensity for butter. We’ve all got our messes. But I am here to say that messes make us who we are. And those messes are the launching pads for some of our most amazing potential.

Thank God for the messes.

Sure, if you want to stick to your kindergarten coloring book forever, you’ll never make a mistake or veer outside the lines. But, you guys! We have to make some messes to get to our masterpieces. It’s required. If you want to try something new, you have to be a beginner. If you want to learn, you have to make mistakes. If you want to be creative, you have to work your way through The Gap. If you want to Marie Kondo your closet, you have to dump all your crap onto the bed. And if you want to grow, change, transform, become, and live, there’s going to be a mess.

Messes lead to more.

I’m not saying I love my messes. I don’t. I’d prefer to be an artistic prodigy instead of a crayon-challenged doodler. I’d love to have a full-time housekeeper picking up after me. I’d feel a lot better about myself if I never snapped at people I love or resented someone who can’t read my mind.

But the thing I’ve learned to love about messes is the opportunity they offer. Messes keep us humble. They force us to let go. They allow us to start fresh. They teach us to grow. They push us outside the lines and invite us into more.

Every one of the most transformational seasons of my life began with a big, frickin’, horrendous mess. A job loss, a relationship meltdown, a betrayal, a closet that spilled its contents onto my head.

It was the crawling out of those messes that brought me resilience, skills, self-awareness, and healing. And grace.

Perfect is paralyzing.

How often do we let the fear of a mess, or a mistake, or maybe just a less-than-perfect result keep us from veering outside the lines? If we can’t be an Instagram celebrity, should we just sit back and keep our creativity to ourselves? No, no, no! Because if we never ever let ourselves fumble and bumble and make silly or novice or normal mistakes, we will never progress.


And also because the world needs every brand of creativity available, and that includes yours.


One more thought about Instagram: I make regular sweeps through my feed to weed out accounts that leave me feeling less-than or not-enough or paralyzed by perfection. To clarify, none of these accounts are bad or wrong or even unrealistic. It’s just that sometimes I need to protect myself from the constant barrage of Judgment Julie criticisms. I know myself, and I know I do best when I follow plenty of encouraging, down-to-earth, real-world, offbeat, beautifully imperfect accounts. These are the folks who keep me feeling inspired and get me excited to reach for more.

P.S. Perfect doesn’t exist.

I mean, really. Let’s be honest. What does “perfect” mean anyway? What you think is perfect is probably not the same thing I do. The beautiful truth is we each get to decide what “perfect” is. Being a cookie-cutter carbon copy of someone else’s style is not “perfect.” For me, perfect is often stepping over a basket of clean laundry that I’m choosing not to fold (yet) and snuggling up on the couch with a steaming mug of tea to watch the latest episode of Schitt’s Creek. That’s my perfect, and I love that it’s not everyone’s.

What if we each brought our version of perfect to the world?

Let’s do it.

Image source


Julie Rybarczyk is a freelance writer, fair-weather blogger, and well-intentioned mom who almost never remembered to send lunch money to school. She’s perpetually the chilliest person living in Minneapolis—so most of the year you’ll find her under layers of wool, behind steaming cups of tea. Or at  shortsandlongs.net.

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