I don’t know where I learned it but somewhere as a child I started to believe that “perfect” was the goal. A perfect score on the test meant that I was OK, read: not flawed, excellent, deserving of a prize. I think somewhere someone well meaning had taught me that we should always strive for perfection and the rare moments when I hit the mark filled me with a deep relief that I mistook for joy: “I AM good enough”, I would think. As I grew, such a mindset pushed me to excel, but it also pushed me into a kind of deep unhappiness and state of panic.
I only jumped into things that felt like I had a chance of perfecting–if it was truly hard or my progress was slow, well I gave up and put my attention to the areas where I was naturally talented and where perfection was more “attainable”. I shied away from things I was bad at, sat on the sidelines if I could. And I carried great shame about the things that I struggled to master.
And I carried that shame a lot. Because of course, in 99.9% of the things I do, I am not perfect. Not even close.
I am happy to report that I for many years now I have been on a mission to let go of the story that I need to be perfect. In some areas, I have found it easy to be gentle with myself. For instance it was easy to make the choice to let go of having a perfect house when faced with the choice of doing that so that I could spend time with Max. But its been harder for me to let go of perfection in my work. Even though it made me crazy at times, I gained a lot of self-satisfaction from being so GOOD at it. It was only after I realized that the projects that were good worked just as well as the ones that were perfect that I realized I could actually enjoy the work and the process, versus enjoying the fleeting 30 seconds after I finished something supposedly perfectly.
But the greatest gift of letting go of perfect, has been allowing myself to really dig in and try things that I am not naturally talented at and will never be perfect at, but I really enjoy. Like art, and music. Like playing my guitar. My guitar playing is sloppy and my hands are slow to learn. It has taken me almost 3 years to play an F chord clearly–and still, you got it, its not perfect, but there are few things I enjoy more than banging out a Pogues song or strumming a little Dylan.
Letting go of perfect has freed me up to take risks. I will never have the perfect words to say to a friend who is struggling, but its OK to just sit with them and hold the space, or better yet, imperfectly and awkwardly stumble through words that might bring comfort or a new perspective. I am willing to try something completely new for the sake of experimentation with no attachment to being able to do it well. Like picking up iceskating after more than 20 years or learning to swim. Or speaking a new language in a new country or playing at an open mic, despite my disasterously messy playing. I am bit by bit allowing myself to live more fully, more authentically and more joyfully.
Of course, I am not perfect at this practice either and I can find myself slipping into real unkindness toward myself when I don’t hit the mark when I think I should do better. Like communicating with my loved ones. Or in disciplining Max. I am practicing this kind of self compassion every day. Its the practice, not the mastery that matters.
I love that Brene Brown is holding a Perfect Protest and encouraging us all to throw off the heavy weight of perfection to more freely live into our own lives. I can’t wait to read her book, The Gifts of Imperfection.
Click over here to play along with this beautiful woman and lets create a most imperfect revolution.