14 March

The Myth Of The Perfect Life

by Jon Katz

I grew up and have lived in a world that promotes the idea of the Perfect Life.

This idea varies, from amassing a lot of money to having a secure job or loving family, or living in a beautiful place without hard work or too much responsibility.

The people who control our country advance the idea of the perfect life from birth to grave, some call it the American Dream. It might be your own home, or a well-funded and “secure” retirement, or enough money in the bank to buy a boat or trips around the world or beautiful new cars. In our culture, it usually involves money.

The American Dream is good for the people who run banks, build houses, make movies and TV shows. We are fed stories about the perfect life almost from birth. I know so many people who dream of it all the time. it makes a lot of money for a lot of people, that is the Perfect Life for them.

In this fantasy, we have sweet dogs, perfect wives, cars that run forever, houses that never leak. jobs we can depend on. We are never angry or frightened, we never stumble, we are close to our unfailingly loving families, we live a long time and die peacefully in our sleep.

I often get messages from people who say they envy me because they believe I have attained this life, this Perfect Life. I have Maria, my dogs, my farm, my blog and pictures. They see the photos of my farm, the wonderful animals, and sometimes think, wow, does he have it made.

And I am a lucky and happy man, I am grateful for the many riches that I have.

But I always cringe when someone says this to me, because the very idea of the “perfect life” is, to me, the cruelest of myths, spawning more fear and sadness and disenchantment than almost any other bit of illusions that I know.

My life is far from perfect, and I am grateful for that.

We are born believing, wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson. Eery man, he said, bears beliefs, as a tree bears beauty.

The challenge is what to believe in. The pursuit of the Perfect Life is a hoax, a trap, a tarpit. I yearned for it a long time, until I realized it was actually the antithesis of happiness.

It would suck the true life out of me if it were real, setting me up for a lifetime of disappointment and lack of fulfillment. The person in search of the perfect life is someone who hasn’t failed yet.

Why want something I can never have, and that doesn’t even exist? The Perfect Life is not about happiness, it is about manipulation.

The real meaning of life for me are the things I can find – love, sharing, acts of kindness, nature, creativity animals – that help guide me through the rises and falls of life, the imperfection of life, if you will. A life of fulfillment is difficult, unpredictable, it is hard work.

I never kid myself into thinking that people with lots of money and beautiful houses have perfect lives. I spent too many years as a reporter knocking on those nice doors and learning about what was happening inside.

If you believe in the traditional  notion of God, you know that God never saw us as perfect, never made us in that way, he or she was always dissatisfied with us. We are supposed to be human, and that is a far cry from being perfect. Why, I wonder, did this this kind of God create people knowing that so many would end up in Hell?

I have a similar response when I see people carrying around Cesar Millan’s book How To Get the Perfect Dog, I wonder at how much money people will be willing to spend to fail and feel poorly about themselves and their dogs. Do you know a perfect dog? Do you have one? Do you want one? Have you ever created one?

That’s how I feel about a perfect life.

I feel  for the people who tell me that I have a perfect life, because what they are really telling me is that their lives are hollow and wanting. To see any other life as perfect is to denigrate your own.  I never speak poorly of my life, it is always listening.

Every bit of growth and wisdom and fulfillment I have achieved in life has come from pain, disappointment, failure, or my many and profound mistakes in life.

Saints are perfect sometimes, people are not. It is the struggles that really matter, not perfection.

In meditation the other morning, my mind started to wonder to the mistakes I have made, and I had to stop, it was  a devastating train of thought.

My life is rich and full because it has been so imperfect, not because it is perfect.

I learn from the darkness, I love the light. A perfect life to me is a life without challenge, growth and learning. It is a dull and a meaningless life.

I know people don’t mean it as an insult, yet it is insulting and patronizing in many ways. Because it is not  true. Because it is not valuable. Because it is the very essence of shallow.

Every one of the great lessons of my life has come out of pain and struggle. What defines me is how I have dealt with failure and disappointment, not how I have avoided failure and disappointment.

Out of my painful divorce came Maria, the most profound – not perfect – relationship in my life. Out of the collapse of my publishing world came my blog and my photographs, two of the most creative parts of my life.  Of of the collapse and sale of my first beautiful farm came this farm, the right one for me and for Maria, at the right trouble.

Out of bankruptcy came the wisdom to know how to pay my bills and manage my money.

The imperfect life I led brought me to therapy, and the  recognition that I needed help, and the strength and will to go and get it. And help helped me to get closer to a good life, a rich life, a meaningful life. I didn’t want to end my life the way it was, and I haven’t.

I love my life, I cherish it every day, but am grateful that it never was and never could be a Perfect Life for me.

I pray to be spared a perfect life. What a mess it would be.


  1. Remember the movie “Pleasantville”? Day after day, the weatherman announces: “Well, it looks like we’re going to have another sunny day. High 72, low 72, and not a cloud in the sky.”

    1. As above, the is a near-perfect posting about how life isn’t perfect. Isn’t it interesting how in meditation the mind wants to go to a place to flagellate ourselves? The healing is in taking the mind out of there and creating a new path.

      My husband was a cop in an affluent town, what went on behind closed doors was sad. Intelligent professional people throwing pizzas in each other faces when they weren’t doing worse


  2. Perhaps we can only truly appreciate the good things we get in life when we have imperfections in life.

  3. Wow thank you for freeing me from that! I will count my blessings as my old granny used to tell me to do. Now if I can find someone willing to help me replace rotted boards on the porch or maybe I can do it myself if I am very brave.

  4. The more I think of this the more I realize what a deep truth it is. It has truly freed me. Thank you so much!

  5. Yin and Yang – the beauty of opposites, rather than “good and bad.” When we have experiences we don’t want, it helps us figure out what we do want, and work towards that. Someone once told me that my life looked easy. I was not flattered. I asked them, “I wonder what you would have thought of my life, if you saw it years ago, when I was a drunk and an addict?” I’ve worked at this easy life, and I’ve grown into this easy life. I continue to do both, to maintain this easy life. Learning from the darkness is quite accurate, Jon! Thank you for this post.

  6. Hi Jon,
    I couldn’t agree more with your thoughts on this topic. As I’ve owned and ran many businesses over the years I hear similar thoughts from friends and acquaintances. I could never really wrap my head around how they seemed to love and want my “success story”, but didn’t recognize the hard work, and hard choices, I’ve made to get to this place. Tom Hanks character once said in A League of Their Own, “It’s the hard that makes it great, if it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it.” Or something close to that. Somehow, people forget that bit in search of the “perfect” life.
    I’m attaching a video my 40 year old son sent me this week that talked about this same thing. Interesting perspective and well worth the 10 minutes to watch I think. You have already recognized the message he shares but it validates your, and my, thoughts here I think.

    If you have ever wanted to be financially successful, to get in shape, or to find love you have to see this video https://youtu.be/2eCLbZdjXRM
    Watch till the end!

    Thanks for all the years of joy and insight you’ve given me with your books and blog.
    Deb Witte
    Previous owner of Next Page Books in Cedar Rapids, IA

  7. My sister always says that if you are unhappy with your life, just remember, you are living someone else’s dream life.

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