"You will learn a lot from yourself if you stretch in the direction of goodness, of bigness, of kindness, of forgiveness, of emotional bravery. " Cheryl Strayed
PERFECTIONISM KEEPS US SMALL
Perfectionism keeps us small and scared and gets in the way of kindness, forgiveness and emotional bravery. Perfectionism is militant, demanding from others and diminishing our potential for greatness. Anne Lamott puts it this way: "Perfectionism will keep you cramped and insane your entire life."
The other day, I got lost in my thoughts about how I was as a little girl. A part of me lived shy and invisible, but another part of me popped up on occasion and took risks with little thought of the outcome. I remember being in grade one, telling my mom I wanted to play the guitar and sing "Mary Had A Little Lamb," to all the classes in my school, including grade sevens. I cannot imagine the protective thoughts going through my mom's mind, but she agreed and encouraged me. I don't think I'd ever played the guitar in my life, in fact, I don't even think I owned one. But it never occurred to me I could not do it. I assumed people would love my performance. I borrowed a teacher's guitar, and with mammoth confidence and enthusiasm, went around to different classes and sang. I was brave and unafraid, and to my recollection, nobody said or did anything unkind. I wish I had bottled up that fearlessness so I could crack it open now and use it when worry holds me back or keeps me from taking risks and failing more.
PERFECTIONISM IS A TASK MASTER
Perfectionism is a taskmaster, insisting we live in the past or the future, realities that no longer exist. When we live in the past, guilt becomes our poison and when we live in the future anxiety becomes the lethal drink that keeps us living small, safe, overly structured lives.
I remember being late for school almost every day during my elementary years. I lived in the present moment, oblivious to any other time dimension. I rescued worms from puddles on rainy days, collected interesting objects and changed my shoes because I wanted to see different tracks in the snow. I perfected the art of professional dawdling, which got me into all sorts of trouble from my teachers and parents, yet somehow, I think I tapped into living right. Within these slow poke moments, lived real authenticity, unhindered by expectations and outcomes. Lost in my imaginative world, joy, freedom, and peace came as naturally as breathing. So sad how that changes with time. We lose the freedom that comes from not worrying about how others see us. Plagued with self-consciousness, we conform. Our bravery shrinks to a microscopic size, and we forget our brilliance and fearlessness. We become preoccupied with skepticism, dipping our foot in the pool to test the temperature instead of jumping right in like an unhindered child.
PERFECTIONISM THRIVES IN A BARREN LAND
God has drawn out a rough sketch of our lives, but he holds a box of crayons out to us, inviting us to colour in the details. We choose the colours we want to define our lives and relationships. Perfectionism mutes colour, dulling our divine spark and our unique way of walking out our journey on earth. Comparison becomes an addiction and masks become our reality. We live from a place of harm reduction instead of from a place vibrant with passion, openness, uniqueness and creativity. Perfectionism thrives in a barren land. Seeds of our potential won't take root in this kind of soil. Plants won't survive in sterile soil. They need manure to be vibrant and gorgeous. The same is true for us. We need the messiness of our lives like plants need fertilizer because moments of failure and pain sculpt us into something better, more real, more multidimensional and more loveable. A cardboard cutout doesn't live messily. It doesn't say the wrong thing or offend anyone or get its "nickers in a knot" about anything. But who wants to do life with a cardboard cut out. Our messy stuff is what makes us interesting and invites other messy people to join us on our journey. Being open to our flaws and weakness makes us safe for others to be around and breaks down walls that separate.
GOD IS NOT A RIDGID PERFECTIONIST
I believe God takes me lightly, in all my cloudy, gritty, discombobulated ways and I am so thankful he's not a ridged, starched perfectionist waiting to roast me when I screw up. Instead, he says, "Thanks for trying and having the courage to fail. Get up and try again, I'm with you always." So, let's show ourselves greater compassion in the midst of our disheveled moments. What freedom comes from self-acceptance! Perfectionism hounds at us day and night and insists we improve and be better. There is nothing wrong with self-improvement, but like any good thing, it can become an addiction that feeds on "not good enough." Like the Little Engine that Could, self-improvement puffs, "must be better, must be better, must be better," until we crumble under the exhaustion. What joy comes from knowing, at this moment, maybe our ugliest moment, we are loved and accepted as we are. From that place, there is a tipping point, where we awaken to who we truly are—brave, free, joy filled people who aren't afraid of being known and are not afraid of failure.