Many of us struggle to find contentment in our lives because we are sure there “has to be more.” Whatever we have achieved or accrued, no matter how satisfying in the moment, loses its luster when we consider what we might have accomplished if we had tried harder, studied more, turned right instead of left, bought this instead of that, done it a different way, etc. We have been convinced by savvy advertisers looking to prey on our insecurities and the culture of re-touched, airbrushed, social-media-ready photo opportunities that happiness is achieved by having, being and doing the right things in the right way at the right time: So casual! So relaxed! So effortless! in order to achieve the maximum number of likes or whatever other emoticons we are hoping to generate in response to exposing ourselves to the glare of the public spotlight for our five minutes (or seconds?) of fame before our “friends” (many of whom we have never, and will never, meet in person, ever in our entire lives.)
The unicorn is a mythical creature that exists in legends alone. Perfection is similarly mythical, because the moment you introduce the human element into a situation you shatter any potential for perfection. Human beings are messy, unreasonable, opinionated, subject to cold and hunger and whims and illness, complete with biases and fears and personality quirks that render us completely unable to be objective and rational and calm under all circumstances. We tend to fear what we don’t understand, avoid what is difficult, shun those who are different, and prefer instant gratification and simple answers to the arduous process of making sense of a complex and ever changing world. We are capable of great good and great evil all at the same time. We mean well and in the meantime, are steadily destroying our planet and each other.
Chasing the ever elusive unicorn means we end a good relationship for the ideal of a perfect one, quit a decent job in search of a more prestigious position, buy the bigger house even though the one we live in is grander than a large percentage of people on the planet can even imagine (and we can’t really afford the new mortgage), keep criticizing ourselves/spouse/children/friends for not being thinner/richer/funnier/smarter/more successful, keep shopping for the right clothes/shoes/accessories to make ourselves feel thinner/richer/funnier/smarter/more successful, and don’t enjoy or appreciate the moment when our spouse makes spaghetti for dinner because we worked late (instead of osso buco with the corresponding vintage merlot), our child reads her first word (but hasn’t composed a symphony yet; come on, Mozart was only 5 years old when he wrote HIS first one!), or don’t notice the sunflower that bravely blooms in our backyard season after season (because our hothouse roses keep developing rust and powdery mildew despite our, and possibly our gardener’s, best efforts). We miss what is because we are so focused on what isn’t (or at least not yet).
Our unicorns may be related to areas of vulnerability where we have experienced shame, failure or rejection. We may make a vow, whether conscious or unconscious, that we will never allow ourselves to experience the pain or humiliation of not having the right answer, pants length, hair style or friend group ever again, and go about re-inventing ourselves in a more socially acceptable way, completely ignoring the value and worth of our individual uniqueness. Instead of devaluing who we currently are and what we currently have or are doing in favor of the ever evolving improvements that await us, we can embrace the imperfect, messy, flawed, beautiful moment we find our imperfect, messy, flawed, beautiful selves in, and just be in it, letting it unfold however it is going to, and enjoying it for whatever it is, with peace and contentment, and even joy, because this moment will be over in a flash, never to return again. Even a painful or dark moment offers us an opportunity to grow, to learn, to be curious about how we can transform hurt into healing for ourselves, and then others.
When you stop chasing the unicorn, you may find she comes to you: in the flash of a smile from someone you cherish, in the brilliantly hued autumn leaf that falls just as you are walking past, in the shreds of a favorite song that catches your ear before the elevator door sighs shut, in the acceptance of yourself: at this weight, wearing this size, with this purse, in this relationship or job or house or place in your life, because this, right now, at this moment, is enough.