Imperfection can be outright beautiful. I didn’t know this for most of my life.
I still struggle. Part of me is a kind of imperfect I am not proud of. Part of me is very good but I always wish those strengths were stronger yet. There is no way to make that work. The only way to make peace is to let go, not to attain that perfection only seen in my own head.
There is No Perfect
I have a saying these days: “There is no perfect” (…except perhaps in tiny emotional moments.) The concept of perfection is not useful in living life. Discovering this was profound for me.
No person, place or thing can ever be perfect. Never. And really, isn’t perfection what manufactured items strive for? I’m no longer interested. I want to be handcrafted, not machined. As Joni Mitchell said in Big Yellow Taxi, “give me spots on my apples, but give me the birds and the bees.”
Striving to Avoid Criticism
That said, letting go of the possibility I can be perfect enough to never be criticized? It’s very hard. I work with kids and they seem to get grumpy and fragile about 6th grade. They try to blend in or at least look like the others, or the cool others (whatever seems cool at the time). It’s no wonder this is a time when they start making social judgements about what is good and what is undesirable.
I have a good handful of Godchildren. I’m not a traditional Godmother but we chat about standing tall. We discuss figuring out who we are and what we believe, then staying strong with those beliefs when others poke and prod and tease.
At least one kid came back to me with an example of how she took that lesson into her life and felt stronger because of it. I was delighted. One life a little more centered (especially in middle school) is a gift to not just that person but those around her. The child is now in her mid-20’s and still doing a great job of being her true self. (Photo of me with her at age 15, together in Montreal.)
‘Fessing Up: the Theory
I think opening up to our imperfections and mistakes is really hard. Starting in Middle School, it seems that we become so insecure of ourselves that we don’t want to have weak spots in our armor. Actually speaking out loud about those weak spots is scary!
Yet, look at the yarn bombed trees here. The pieces we had to cover the tree base below were imperfect at best. They were the right color but did not “match” in size or type. The shapes were odd. This photo was taken a few months after the initial installation, and the pennants at the base of the tree clearly were blown by some stiff winds. Yet, the tree still has its decorative sweater. It still is a sunny counterpoint to the monochrome winter colors around it.
I might even argue that its imperfection gives it more interest, more value. If it were “perfect,” it would not catch our eye. It would not look handcrafted. It would not have the desired energy.
‘Fessing Up: A Personal Story
I’m starting to believe that my becoming a true adult was when I learned to admit my mistakes. When I’d say “Wow, I wish I’d done a better job of this but I messed up. What can I do to help the situation as it stands now?” It never stops feeling fragile and scary to speak my imperfections out loud. However, when I do, at the end of the day I have no secrets and feel good about my integrity.
Once I made a very big mistake at work, one which required phone calls and paperwork to correct. A task I needed to do was so confusing I put off doing it past a deadline. I tried to hide it from myself and others, but of course the missed deadline was discovered in spite of me.
I’ve been reading BrenÃ© Brown, a woman who researches shame and wholeheartedness. Oprah asked her the difference between embarrassment and shame.
Dr. Brown says that embarrassment or humiliation might be saying and acknowledging “I made a mistake.” Shame, on the other hand, manifests as the belief “I *AM* a mistake.” Wow. I clearly was confused on that count at that job, when I didn’t know how to do this task. I felt ashamed to ask for help.
In that situation, I was gifted with the right boss. He knew I was not the mistake and treated me respectfully. He had me sit in his office while he made all of the phone calls to make it right.
I got to see what a person who wasn’t afraid of imperfection would do. I watched a grounded, fully-adult person ‘fess up to making a mistake and ask how to make it right. It was a powerful lesson.
Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage arenâ€™t always comfortable, but theyâ€™re never weakness.
— BrenÃ© Brown
Saying it Out Loud
I now admit my weaknesses to the room, though sometimes I wish deeply that I didn’t have them. I admit I can get loud (a good feature for a singer/teacher but not so good in offices or some mellower public spaces).
I admit I can be distractable. I tell classes that I can get so into teaching the material that I can forget to give them a break until late in the class. I let them know that they can ask for a break if they need one.
I admit that being on time can be very challenging for me (this is related to being distractable). These days I use my iPod to set off a series of alarms for me all day long, to make sure I change gears when necessary. Admitting this coping system might just help others who fight the same tendency.
Our Strengths are also Our Weaknesses
All of these weaknesses no longer define me. All of them are less of a challenge now that I speak them out loud. They are part of the package. Part of why I’m distractable is because I am passionate and creative. I see things everywhere that inspire and interest me. I also can get into a flow with a task so that I don’t think of the time.
Our best features are also our worst. Being bold can be perfect at a networking event, and a challenge at a funeral. Being focused on relationship is great for teachers and restauranteurs but a challenge for jobs where one works alone or has a constant stream of people coming through that they will never see again.
The hardest part still, is when I mess up things that impact my beloved Brian. Telling him that I messed up is still horrible. However, I’m glad our relationship is so precious to me that I am not willing to have any shame secrets in it. I may put off the telling for a little while, but I choose to let him know. I regard not telling as a “lie of omission.” I value our relationship too much to keep secrets. He needs the whole me.
The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.–Anna Quindlen
Except, ironically… you are perfect just the way you are. Stand tall, my friend, and go forth with truth and courage!
If you want more on Brene’ Brown, Oprah interviewed her two weeks in a row for Super Soul Sunday. I had trouble streaming the video after the fact, but it is worth the hiccups to listen. Highly recommended.