I can’t tell you exactly what alchemy happened when I was on the TEDx stage in Floyd, Virginia in 2013. I stepped on nervous and excited. I had a moment of utter blankness while the hundred people in the audience held their breath and the however-many people watching the livestream were likely doing the same. I stepped off the stage a jittery mess getting eaten alive by my gremlins.
The magical part, though, was how that led me to see my perfectionist tendencies with honesty for the first time, and how the experience pushed me to address those tendencies directly and immediately.
In the six years since, I’ve felt my grip on perfectionism loosen. I’ve come to introduce some of the humor that Charlotte Joko Beck encourages when she wrote, “We don’t have to get rid of all our neurotic tendencies; what we do is begin to see how funny they are, and then they’re just part of the fun of life…”
In the six years since, I’ve also hit the wall of perfectionism repeatedly. Just when I think I’ve knocked the thing down, I slam into it again. It’s moved farther out – I’ll give myself that. It’s become less daunting, appears less unscalable. It’s still there, though.
All of this bubbled up for me last weekend as I wrote a note to a woman with whom I had a beautiful friendship that blew up in spectacular fashion some years ago. Since the big explosion, we’ve exchanged a slow volley of letters as we process our grief at that lost friendship.
“We both did the best we could in that moment,” I wrote to her. “Maybe someday I’ll truly make peace with the inevitability that our best is imperfect.”
Ugh. There it is again, that part of me that wishes for perfection and rails against imperfection. If only I could communicate effectively enough, learn enough, pause long enough, breathe deep enough… then I would be a perfect friend? A perfect coach? A perfect daughter, sister, niece? A perfect partner to Theresa?
No. I would still make imperfect decision, my friends. Makes me want to cuss.
Even as I feel comforted by Theresa’s reminders that our imperfections are beautiful for how they show us where we have room to grow, I want to cuss.
And I will.
But not here.
Here, I will remind myself and you, my sibling in humanness, Don Miguel Ruiz’s words in The Four Agreements:
Everything is alive and changing all the time, so your best will sometimes be high quality, and other times it will not be as good… When you do your best you learn to accept yourself. But you have to be aware and learn from your mistakes. Learning from your mistakes means you practice, look honestly at the results, and keep practicing.
When we practice basketball, we miss a good many more shots than we take. Then we line up another shot.
When we practice piano, we hit the wrong note time and again. Then we reposition our hands for another refrain.
When we practice being our best selves, we fall short each and every day. And we learn. And we breathe. And then we hold our heads up high, smile into the unknown future, and try again.