The Joy of Imperfection

“The thing that is really hard and really amazing is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.”
– Anna Quindlen, Author and Journalist

Does your life sometimes feel like one continuous self-improvement project?  Are you forever working on yourself, trying to iron every wrinkle out of your psyche?  Are you afraid to make mistakes?  Do you think it’s shameful to display weakness or foolish behavior?  Is your self acceptance conditional?  Is it based on how well you perform, how good you are, how perfect you look?

What if you could relax into your imperfect humanness and discover that it is just fine to be a flawed human being?  You may actually find yourself happier because you’re directing love and compassion toward yourself rather than criticism and ‘never enoughness.’ What if it was o.k. to be an imperfect parent or friend, perhaps impatient or forgetful at times, o.k. to miss the exit on your way to work and, God forbid, arrive late, or to mistakenly let a sarcastic remark slip out around your boss?  A Tibetan lama once told me that Tibetans are much more accepting of their flaws and imperfections than Westerners are.  She said they laugh a lot and much of what they laugh at is themselves.  That sounded so refreshing to me!

Accepting your imperfection doesn’t mean that you give up cultivating healthy habits and decide to watch TV and eat potato chips all day.  It doesn’t mean you stop exercising or taking care of yourself.  It may be necessary for you to be proactive about overcoming procrastination or have a plan for developing a new skill.  What’s important is the attitude with which we approach our personal growth and transformation.  If perfectionism is driving you to take up a meditation practice, for example, you will be governed by ‘musts and shoulds’ and then, self judgment, when you don’t live up to your expectations.  You may say to yourself, “I should start meditating because everyone says I’ll be calmer if I do.  I must meditate every single day at the same time.”  Then, if you happen to miss a day or two you start feeling like a failure at meditation.  A more flexible approach could be, “I’d like to start meditating because I think I’ll feel calmer if I do.  I’ll do my best to stick to my schedule, but I may not do it perfectly and that’s o.k.”

Many people hesitate to follow their dreams because they fear failure or can’t tolerate the inevitable mistakes and stops and starts that accompany any new endeavor.  If this is true for you in some area of your life, look at your expectations and try lowering them a bit.  Tell yourself that it takes time to do or learn anything new and mistakes, if they happen, are natural.  No, you won’t be programming yourself to fail if you allow for mistakes.  You’ll be accepting the truth that “to err is human.”