Perfection used to cause me perpetual suffering. I felt like I had to stay under the radar and I beat myself over things like mistakes because they brought attention to me. Being inconspicuous helped my family survive without incident when they were in the Japanese American internment camps during WWII and I just naturally continued that story.
Making mistakes, quitting (including even the thought of giving up) meant failure to me, not because my parents would berate me when I was a kid, but because I had instilled this program of being invisible and any attention to myself was a violation of that belief. To avoid making mistakes, control was key - key over things I have no control over. Quitting was a lack of character strength and therefore, a form of mistake.
I lived within a narrow box of familiarity and habit that never had a fresh breath outside of those walls. Going out of it, to try something, invoked a fear of making a mistake, showing people how unworthy I was to be in this space of life.
It kept me very, very small. It was me that made myself suffer by not daring to live freely which, on the flip side, has risks like making mistakes.
I did more and more and more, and do it right, so I wouldn't see how small, small, small I was. So many formulas that rarely yielded the expected results: More projects for visibility = self worth. More yoga to layer over stuff = peace. Forced smile over a dry well = happiness.
Doing all kinds of stuff to reach many definitions of perfection got me..really, really tired.
So, I decided to look at myself. This was super scary to me. What if I wasn't perfect, what if people found out I'd been wrong all this time, what if they knew I was stupid and didn't know the answer to every random question? What if...? That would mean that I was living my life all wrong and I would have to start all over. That would be the biggest mistake of them all. That was the clearest definition of my most tremendous fear.
Well, I did look at myself and it was initially just as terrifying and disappointing as I thought it would be. I was wearing a coat that wasn't even mine, and worse, it was too small, pinching my armpits and was very uncomfortable. It also looked really stupid on me. It sucked.
But, after Becoming, I knew I could change it, I got to the point where I just said, "Fuck this shit," and took that hideous coat off and pulled the root of the weed, rather than just clipping the leaves off.
To be honest with you, it wasn't that bad, either. The changing part was easy but getting to the point of making a committed decision, I realize, is what had stopped me for far too long.
I've come to see that the dragon of perfection was scarier than slaying it. And that has made all the difference in the world.
So now, I think that ideals, like perfection, are not really obtainable and in my case, caused deep misery because I could never achieve them. When that misery became more than I could sustain, I chose to view them as mere guideposts to help me clarify a vision but not the instructions on how to realize it.
I mean, I try my best in all things because I want to do good in the world, not harm anyone. But if I screw up, and believe me, I do....I can still become ugly for moments at a time, but then I remember, I am trying my best. Then I drill down to whether or not my intentions were true. If so, I'm nice to myself then move on. If not, if I acted from an unanchored and separated-from-myself place, I'm still nice to myself because I know being nice to myself lets this pass, too, allowing things to congeal into the right space much faster.
What this myth of perfection gave me from its scaly wake, is the gift of compassion for myself and others' imperfections.
And maybe that’s the whole point of these ideals….to give me something wonderful to imagine and the space to translate them into a beautiful reality that can be very unideal but totally mine.
My favorite quote of doing, even when it's not perfect:
I think it’s probably pretty ok to just learn in front of people.....I could not re-release that first album because that would be like lying or just being dishonest….
Neko Case, NPR’s Bullseye, 1/5/2016