I’ve been beating up on myself pretty hard lately. Judging my business efforts, judging my personal efforts, judging my parenting efforts – it’s been pretty all-encompassing – which is usually a pretty good signal that it’s not really about any of that.
I have been measuring myself anywhere that I can and bemoaning, scolding, raging at the disparities between what I think SHOULD (oh, that word) be happening and what IS happening. I didn’t even really realize I was doing it. A few coach friends and my seminarian tried to tip me off, and I kind of got part of it – the ease up on yourself part, but I missed the point. This is the way that it works sometimes. Sometimes we need to hear a message many, many times before it really gets all of the way in. Those of us who are layered up (oh yes, like an onion) can take even more time.
This Sunday my minister preached on the promises and perils of utopianism. And while he was discussing perfection as a goal for society, he quoted another minister and the message got through. He quoted Elizabeth Nguyen who works for the Unitarian Universalist Association who said: “We are already saved from perfection.”
Now Ms. Nguyen was talking about our society, our culture, our country, our world and the point is that perfection is really probably not possible, because humans. Being who I am, I heard it on the personal level as well.
YOU, you are already saved from perfection…
Especially if what we’re talking about is a perfection that cries out for good behavior, excellent manners, well-dressed children and a spotless home; a thriving business and an engaged community presence; a committed adult relationship that is always supportive, nurturing, and fulfilling.
You are saved from perfection because humans.
Humans are messy.
Humans are complicated.
And so often, humans are scared.
Scared about what will happen when the jig is up and our imperfection is made plain,
Scared about what will happen when we don’t achieve the things we are striving for,
Scared that we will be left lonely and heartbroken when people see what’s inside.
But friend, you are already saved from perfection.
See, I know that you aren’t perfect like that. And really, if you think about it, you know I know it. We ALL know it. There are no secrets about any of us being “perfect” like that. We’re all onto all of it. And that endless effort to get closer to that kind of perfect, sometimes shoots us straight past the realization that we are already good, great even, that the “imperfect” way that we do things brings gifts that are unimaginable in a spotless house with clean children and an overflowing work schedule. When we keep aiming for that magazine perfect, we fail to see all of the ways we are already doing good, being blessed, having opportunities all around us.
How do we get there? How do we get to see all of that goodness? We have to stop being blinded by the perfect. How do we do that? We become, as Christina Pratt calls it, unseduceable. We become so grounded in our own values, our own sense of what is important, and so clear about who we actually are that we cannot be taken in by the glowing perfectionism that gets sprayed at us everywhere we look.
Sounds pretty good, right? How might you do that?
The first step is almost always the same. The first step is breathing. Breathing in and out slowly and letting the stress of chasing the perfect flow out of your mind and out of your body, releasing it. This is a really great step and can make everything a lot better, so it is quite tempting to stay there, especially because the next step is not quite so comfortable.
The next step is to see what IS, to see ourselves, to know ourselves – to see who we actually are, which is glorious and perfect INCLUDING all of the flaws, idiosyncrasies, and individual quirks and tics; because of and including the “mistakes” of the past, our bad decisions, the things we’d love to go back and do differently; even with our scars and sore hearts and insecurities. We have to be willing to see all of that and stay with it long enough that we move from discomfort to acceptance, from self-loathing and self-criticism to self-love (or at least self-like).
And I say this is a step as though you do one thing and then you do the next and then you will be done with that, but those of us who’ve been active participants in this particular game know that cultivating self-acceptance and self-love is not a one-time deal, not a one stop shop. It is a practice, a devotion, a way of being in the world that becomes easier with time, but may never become completely reflexive.
But doing that, becoming more accepting of who you are will allow you to see what is important to YOU, what you actually believe in, what you want from this life, and how you want to be in the world. When you can accept yourself and figure out what you really want, the magazine version just really doesn’t matter anymore, at least not very often.
You are saved from being perfect, or at least you can be, if you choose it.