Denmark is the happiest nation in the world—according to studies—and researchers attribute Danes’ happiness to having low expectations in life. In other words, Danes have a non-idealized way of looking at the world. The happiness killer isn’t having ideals. Rather, it’s the power we give them. We can either be inspired by or imprisoned by our ideals—and the choice is ours.

The word ideal can be defined as:
1. Existing as a mental image or in fancy or imagination only; broadly: lacking practicality
2. A standard of perfection, beauty, or excellence
3. Of, relating to, or embodying an ideal

Since the age of twelve an ever-widening chasm between my life ideal and my reality has loomed over me. The daughter of successful parents with a mother who fed me motivational quotes and self-help books as if they were milk, I’ve always been a dreamer, a goal setter and a somewhat obsessive list-maker. Deep-seated insecurity has been the fuel driving many of my lofty, unmet goals.

In middle school I daydreamed of high school—of having a tall, baseball-playing boyfriend who drove a blue ’69 mustang; of being the standout soccer player and the captivating object of all the guy’s affection. Instead, my short boyfriend dumped me for a close friend who ended up being the star player and I was perpetually single, insecure, self-loathing and as awkward as a girl could get.

In high school I dreamed up my picture-perfect sketch of college: playing soccer for a preppy East Coast university, watching division one football games, gallivanting with attractive college guys dressed in hoodies and backward hats, and acing my college courses. But in reality, my ideal collided with the reality of being rejected by my dream school, being hospitalized multiple times for severe depression, gaining nearly forty pounds and not making it as a walk-on, transferring colleges three times, and barely passing a few of my classes.

It didn’t turn out how I pictured it. Me. My life. My ideal.

My life turned out messy. Jaded. Broken. With marks of beauty in between.

From the time we were little girls, many of us have fashioned up a better, more ideal version of ourselves.

She’s 20 pounds lighter, reads The Economist and runs marathons.

She’s captivating, intelligent, and hilarious and steals the center of attention at any party.

Our ideal self is characterized by the unique ideals we hold in high esteem: athleticism, beauty, style, intellectualism, personality, philanthropy. But the danger with having an ideal self is that she robs us of contentment in the present. She makes us feel as though we are never quite enough and that we haven’t yet arrived. The truth is, your ideal self isn’t coming to the party. She wasn’t invited because she doesn’t doesn’t exist. But you do. With your quirks, insecurities and seemingly insufficiencies. And that’s a beautiful thing.

Thankfully, my life no longer resembles the trainwrecks I shared with you. Yea, I still have my hard days, but my life is delightful, rich and fun, and I wouldn’t trade it for anyone elses.

Don’t let your ideal expectations rob you of your present joy—you are far too valuable, too lovely and absolutely irreplaceable for that. So, I dare you. Throw in the towel—break up with your ideal self and love the one you are. Because you’re the only you you’ve got.

How are you going to live your one valuable and irreplaceable life as the real, completely un-ideal you?

Photo via A Daily Something



  1. thanks so much for sharing – this really spoke to me. my mantra lately has been “comparison is the thief of joy” and this article dives deeply into that. trying so very hard to stop living for the headline that someone could be writing about me…

  2. Thank you so much! This was beautiful and perfect. I live in the shadow of my ideal self and it is dark and gloomy here. I recently realized that I will never be her and it has been heart breaking. And even though I’ve made that realization, I still compare my real self to my ideal self, constantly finding fault and flaw and dissatisfaction. I want to frame some of the sentences you wrote and hang them in my bedroom and in my brain.

  3. So true!! As a dane, i find it very releasing to read this. I have always been a dreamer and found my reality very unsatisfying. And I always wondered how other people could just bed accept that. Well I guess they just live closer to east and don’t dream as much, so they won’t have any unfulfilled expectations to life. I cannot find out, if I find that admirable or sad?

  4. My God, this article is just what I need. Yesterday I just got over a long talk with my mom (one I haven’t had in a while) and put all crying aside, she told me that everyone has a value.

    I got so used to thinking what I can always do to make myself useful in any situation to live up to my “usefulness” ideals. If I don’t do something I deem as useful, I feel useless. I had long forgotten just to be, to be myself. The thought of doing nothing productive turns me into a destructive person to myself and to those around me.

    Thanks for sharing your story Allie … It reminds me that not only would we love to live out our fiction, our so-called ideal self, so many are willing to sacrifice their own souls for it and it isn’t worth the while …

  5. Reading this article is honestly like reading an article that I wrote myself. Your life is so similar to mine and reading this is so encouraging! Knowing that others go through the same calamities in life that I do is up lifting. Thank you for giving me hope, freedom and the power to love who I am today not who I may be tomorrow.

  6. Thank you so much for writing this!! I’m slowly coming to terms with my unreal expectations of myself and learning to love who and how God has made me. 🙂 Thank you again!

  7. Allie,
    Did you write this specifically for me?!?! It sure feels like you live in my head. Thank you for such a wonderful post!!! It is exactly what I needed to hear at this time in my life.

  8. Beautifully written. This article perfectly summarizes something I could not articulate for years. Thanks!

  9. Kim, I’m glad you were encouraged by these words today. I hope you wake up every morning with the reminder that you are GOOD ENOUGH.

    Val, I’m thinking of you as you’re headed into your senior year and hope that you can experience the joy of saying goodbye to the ideals that imprison us. You are good enough as you are and where you are is where you are meant to be. Stop beating yourself up and embrace the perfectly imperfect person you are.


  10. Allie, thank you so much for writing this article. You have no idea how much I needed to hear this right now. As I head into my senior year of college, I have been filled with much anxiety and regret about how my college experience has turned out so far. I can’t help but focus on how far off my reality is from what I first envisioned my college life and self would be like upon starting school three years ago. There’s so many regrets I’m filled with of things I wish I would have done differently and so much wasted time. Your article serves as a much needed reminder to live in the present and realize that these are the moments we will back on someday and wish we could go back to. I need to obsessing over who I wish I could be, and instead start loving myself for who I am at this present moment. Learning to fully embrace myself, flaws and all, is the first step to loving your life and yourself as it is.

  11. Allie,

    This article couldn’t have come at a better time. I needed this today, after many sleepless nights of worrying I’ll never be enough.

    Thank you!

  12. What a beautiful and brave post! I don’t know if I am a slave to my ideal self, but I definitely do something similar. I often think, if I can just FIX this one part of my life I will be happy and everything will be OK. I’m learning to be happier in the present,but definitely need to do it more, so thank you for the reminder.

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