The tyranny of the perfect day

“What does your perfect day look like?” seems like a sensible question. After all, it compels you to consider the different aspects of your life, prioritise them according to your preferable criteria and sequence them in the most ideal manner. It is an open invitation to create a mythical island of order in the treacherous ocean of chaos that is Life. The answer you give to this innocuous question can be liberating—unlocking insight and direction—but it can also tyrannise, imprisoning you in a quest for uniformity.

Here’s an example. A while ago I discovered my “perfect morning”. I liked to rise before the sun, meditate for a while, read whilst drinking a few cups of coffee, then write for a few hours. After that, I’d squeeze in whatever else my relationships, commitments and ambitions demanded of me. So, I thought, why not try to make every morning like that? I tried and it was surprisingly successful. But it also made me fragile. If I didn’t get up early enough then I felt the morning was lost. If my meditation session went terribly then it threw me out of rhythm. If I couldn’t focus whilst reading I felt annoyed. If I sat at the keyboard and nothing came to me, I’d wind myself up into a hybrid state of anxiety and fear. I was seeking uniformity in my mornings and Life was giving me the middle finger, thwarting my quest in mostly consistent, but sometimes unexpected, ways.

Imagining a perfect day and actually striving for it has much of the same effect. It implies that the problem is your lack of control, the absence of order in your affairs, rather than your ability to function in multiple shifting states and environments.

Now, I still periodically ask myself what my perfect day looks like. But I don’t fall into the trap of thinking that my perfect days should be uniform and repeatable. Instead, I labour under the assumption that perfect days can only be revealed in hindsight, not planned or prepared for in advance.