Earlier this week I read an article on MindBodyGreen called We Are All Perfectly Imperfect. The message, while it’s one I’ve heard before, really hit home.
Having just moved last weekend, much of my life was uprooted: there were piles of boxes everywhere, everything was out of place, and while we quickly got organized and situated, there’s still the inevitable learning curve that comes with adjusting to a new home. I found myself grappling for light switches in the wrong place, trying to remember where I stowed the pizza cutter, and coordinating my day around a new commute on unfamiliar roads.
Having dedicated much of my life to climbing Mount Perfection, I wasn’t surprised when this frustrating trait reared its head while I was traipsing through my new apartment, arms full of stuff. My intense awareness of cleanliness and order is already at an unnatural decibel level, but whilst moving my obsession with keeping things “just so” was tripping up my progress, preventing me from focusing on the task at hand. It culminated when I found myself continually side-tracked from unpacking by one thought after another:
Don’t put those dishes in the cupboard until it’s wiped out. Oh, and all those crumbs just landed on the floor! Better sweep up before that mess ends up scattered around the house! Well, and now that you’re at it, might as well sweep the whole kitchen… and the bathroom, too… Shoot, it looks like the floor in here could use a good mopping, and… has that mirror been cleaned?!
The voices wouldn’t quiet, and I realized, the more I subdued to their demands, the more I was chasing my tail trying to obtain perfection in a space and state that was indeed, Perfectly Imperfect.
Jennifer Pastiloff’s article couldn’t have said it better:
“It’s this idea of perfection as something outside of ourselves. As something better than ourselves. As something someone else has decided. The idea of perfect as something unattainable.”
I realized as I was sweeping up fresh pebbles of cat litter on my newly cleaned floor that these little mundane tasks will never go away. My to-do list is as long as ever, but there will never be a day when all of it is finished and there is nothing left to do. It will never be “perfect.” And, funnily enough, this new apartment is a lovely reminder of beauty in imperfection. The first floor of an old Victorian house with sliding pocket doors and parquet floors, it has a lot of charm but plenty of dings and dents: nicked and worn moldings frame the floors, which are scratched and slanted in some places; the cupboards are discolored and battered from years of use, the closet shelves dip down, and, here and there, cobwebs and the occasional spider remind me that this house has stood strong throughout many, many imperfect years.
This whole experience reminded me of the Japanese aesthetic “Wabi-sabi”, a concept that centers on transience and beauty in imperfection. I was introduced to it several years ago by a ceramics professor who explained that the Japanese would purposely nick or deform their artworks because they believed it made the pieces more unique and interesting. The author Richard R. Powell, in his book Wabi-Sabi Simple, writes, “[Wabi-sabi] nurtures all that is authentic by acknowledging three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect.” [References from WikiPedia].
This morning, with these thoughts swirling around in my mind, I had another opportunity to practice acceptance of my own imperfections. I woke up after sleeping in much too late, my head a bit groggy from the homemade margaritas my hubby surprised me with last night. Having a reservation for my friend’s Live Music Vinyasa class, I had to scoot out the door without a proper breakfast or my morning cup of coffee, let alone getting any writing done. I barely made it in time, but as I sat there connecting with my breath during the first few minutes of class, the acoustic guitar humming around me, I forgave myself and promised to enjoy the class and be fully submerged in what my body was feeling and needing.
What followed was a beautifully moving experience in which I felt fully present and fully connected, moving at my own pace with a commitment towards healing and pure enjoyment. As I lay there in savasana, my heart felt open and light, and I realized that despite it all, this moment — with all of its supposed ‘flaws’ — is exactly as it should be.
Your stories resonate so fully with me. I expect perfection from myself at all times, and it is so exhausting. I surely would have more energy and do a better job of things if I didn’t wear myself out beating myself up! :-) I had a success too – at my new job I was made aware of a mistake I made. It was a significant one, and something I should’ve known how to do. Usually I would be mortified, ridicule myself mentally and outwardly, and stew about it for hours. Instead: I laughed it off! “Oh, crap – I knew something wasn’t right. Duh! Jeez – I definitely wasn’t awake this morning!!” I checked how I made the error, understood its root cause, and moved on. It was so rewarding! Totally effective. :-) Here’s to imperfection!
Jen, I’m so proud of you! I completely relate to the usual onslaught of negative mental chatter that comes along with making mistakes, sometimes even the most minute ones. So changing perspective during the work day when there’s usually even more pressure on you to perform is a real accomplishment! I was thinking about all of this a little more, and I realized that it is especially hard for perfectionists to free themselves from the cycle of self-criticism and judgement because by our very nature we want to control and “perfect” the process of not trying so hard! It’s a vicious cycle. But I think the big shift can happen if we continue to do what we both did this past week: forgive ourselves, acknowledge our own strengths, and move on. I’ve even heard some teachers say that it’s helpful to appreciate your own flaws/mistakes and see them as things that contribute to the unique and wonderful person that you are. Cheers to that! :-)