Friday, February 25, 2011

For All You Perfectionists

"My imperfections and failures are as much a blessing from God as my successes and my talents, and I lay them both at His feet." -Mahatma Gandhi

Wow. When I read those words a few days ago, they stopped me in my tracks. I've been chewing them over ever since, but am still not quite sure what they mean to me.

First, do I believe that to be true? Are my imperfections and failures as much a blessing from God as my successes and talents?

Perfectionism is one of my imperfections. I'm not trying to be cute, it's just true. By perfectionism I mean the tendency to want something to be so good (perfect) that either 1) it will never be finished, 2) it will never live up to my unrealistic standards or 3) I will never begin it in the first place, knowing that it will never be good enough.

Is this a blessing from God? Well, having high standards does motivate me to work hard. I do reach for fairly high goals. I can relate when people share about being overwhelmed or stuck or unable to finish something, thereby making me more compassionate. Those seem to be blessings.

Another of my imperfections is a compulsive need to figure everything out. Exhibit A is this post, right here. Can't I trust Gandhi that this is true? No, I need to test it, probe it, take it apart. This can be a blessing--a healthy skepticism is an asset in many ways. So is questioning, which leads me to new understanding, to larger truths sometimes.

Failures have certainly been blessings from God. I was devastated--rather--my ego was devastated when I was not accepted to University of Pennsylvania's law school. Yet, now I see that I ended up exactly where I needed to be.

I love the idea of laying all of it at God's feet. There is only so much my limited brain, with my limited worldview can understand. I do believe that there is a sentient being out there, something greater than myself, who understands why things happen. I am not that being. But if I believe in its existence, which I do, then I can work on trusting that my imperfections and failures are a part of some larger plan. Which doesn't mean I can't work on them or try to improve, but for me, it means trying to love myself, just as I am in this moment. Maybe one of my vexing imperfections is doing someone a lot of good. Maybe like my doggie's googly eye, my imperfect nose is part of why others love me. Who likes someone who seems perfect? (Not me, another imperfection.)

The crazy thing about perfectionism is that by definition, human beings are flawed. No one is perfect. Never has been, never will be. So why should I think myself any different? (Giant ego, another imperfection.)

A quote that has helped with my perfectionism lately is this one by Emerson:

"Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense."

I love his certainty that some blunders and absurdities crept in. Yes! Ralph! How did you know? And his use of the word nonsense. It's much gentler than the words I can use with myself. Most of all, I love his idea that I have a choice. I can choose high spirits over the nonsense. What a hopeful and empowering thought.

Let's have an imperfection party. Who's got one to celebrate?

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