No surprise, but I’m not perfect at anything. Still, this has not stopped me from believing that getting everything just right is a viable goal. You can imagine the impact this has had on my life—lots of self-criticism, rampant anxiety, and not nearly enough moments of just being glad to be alive. It has also limited me greatly in terms of what I’m willing to try. If I’m not good at it, I’m probably not going to attempt it.
Even knowing that perfection is not possible, I’ve quietly held to my own set of rules and expectations that I imagine will take me in that direction. Many of them have to do with not slacking off and being ever vigilant about the people and issues in my orbit. But many more relate to maintaining control—my very own favorite form of perfection. And, since control is fleeting at best and relative in its whole, these tenets are always difficult to follow. Still, they reside so deeply in me that I consider them before practically anything else.
So I’m standing up to the watcher at my gates these days, whether she likes it or not.
My first reaction to just about everything that I don’t know much about is, “No.” Anything out of the blue—whether by plan or circumstance—gives me visions of messy situations out of my sphere of influence. Instead, I make careful plans to do the things I know how to do and accomplish the tasks I know I can. I don’t put myself out there into the world of the unknown where the result could be so much less than perfect. And really, it makes for a fine life.
But then I travel, or meet someone interesting, or read an inspiring book, or hear someone speak about doing something new, and I am blown away by the ways in which so many people are willing to risk failure or embarrassment or chaos. Everywhere I look, it seems, I see someone who wants to do something new or be somewhere else and is ready to make the jump. It’s like trusting that they hold enough strength in themselves that they will be okay no matter what else happens.
As I look back in my own life, I can see that the more anxious I've been, the more attention I've paid to a careful, repetitive routine. No risks; just doing what I knew would work out all right. But this got boring. I wasn’t having fun. I wasn’t pushing myself. I wasn’t trying anything new. And, despite my carefully defined version of perfectionism—meaning a life that lacked chaos—what I was doing fell very short of being the best.
I have often felt this most in my work as a writer. I have ideas, I have some talent, and I know how to set aside time to do the work that needs to be done. But, when I sit at the computer and write a few sentences, my mind goes immediately to how I’m sure nothing will come of this because it’s not as good as it needs to be. No one will buy this, I think to myself, so what’s the point? Then I do it less and less and pretty soon I’m not writing much at all. One of the reasons I started this blog was to let myself practice without so much judgment on my part. Perfect is definitely the enemy of good.
But doing only what we’re “good” at extends to all areas of life, and it creates a very narrow path for us to follow. In the last decade, I can see myself having reached the tipping point, where the gifts on the other side of control are so much more enjoyable than those in my little, safe world. Of course that realization didn’t prompt me to just leap, but it’s freed me gradually to try out some new stuff. And, it’s made me realize that my image of myself doesn’t have to be a perfect picture. The parts of me that are learning, stumbling, struggling, and asking for help are actually so much richer than those that are neat as a pin.
I am also learning every day that so much of risking pandemonium and imperfection is in my head. That hurdle is the one that’s held me back for years. So I’m standing up to the watcher at my gates these days, whether she likes it or not. Turns out that simply moving past her with authentic confidence leaves her speechless. Who knew?