I genuinely have no idea when the desire to be perfect begins in our lives. Is it when we are young and we played with child-like abandon and got ourselves dirty (as is the destiny of all children) and our caregivers wiped the smear of dirt off our faces and smiled when we are all cleaned up? Is it when we went to school and the collar of our blouses or shirts had to be straightened before we left the front door? Is it at the advent of the invention of the iron box or the eraser?
For the longest time seeking to be perfect was a normal and even cherished pursuit encouraged by those around me. I desired the perfect grades and the perfect social life. I had to tell the perfect jokes and have the perfect laugh, the perfect smile and the perfect mood after all who want to be friends with someone who is moody all the time right? Not wanting to be perfect meant that you were an underachiever and no one wants to be labeled that. The teachers even had a name for the 100% mark on your term paper. Perfect. No one wants to be good or very good when there is the possibility of being perfect, right?
While we desire to be perfect sometimes we unwittingly invite the fear of failure into our minds and hearts and in turn we limit ourselves. Our steps are ever more calculated and we jump over puddles and slowly forget what it feels like to get our feet wet. If we are not sure that what we are going to do will be perfect we might as well not do it at all. We then shelve our less than perfect craft, less than perfect school project or business idea and our not-there-yet songs, dresses, scripts, novels and our fumbled over words are hidden in our minds and we hold our tongues.
It is easy to hide our fear under the guise of “perfecting” your craft. Your craft here can be what you are inherently good at like public speaking, entertaining others, encouraging others, artistic work, business; the list is as diverse as there are people.
What we have can inspire those around us and even ourselves despite of it being imperfect. Let me use a less than perfect example here. When a friend is having a bad day and all you can say is, “I like bacon” your friend may laugh. Not because your attempt at a joke failed but because they are able to see that even though you did not have the right words to say you made the effort to be there for them. You were brave enough to get into their space and empathize to the best of your capacity at the time.
How much more a world that is facing one crisis after another?
We may stutter when giving a speech but who said that disqualifies you from being a public speaker? We can trip when walking the runway of life but who says we are not designed to be models? I tend to believe that people such as Picasso or Beethoven when they made such genius creation they sometimes did face the temptation not to show their work because it was not perfect in their eyes.
The problem comes in when we equate the thing we do as perfect to mean that we as individuals are perfect. If I have the perfect hair that makes me perfect, if I have the perfect shoes then I am perfect. We therefore decide that perfection is what we do rather than who we are. The best script writers who we can name of the top of our heads must have had some really bad scripts along the way. This did not make them lose faith in who they are as script writers.
This does not mean that we should not critically evaluate our ideas and that all ideas should find their way in the public domain. Constructive criticism interrogates our ideas and the level of growth in our craft but it should never question who God made us to be. Criticism should always be directed to what we do rather than what we are. We should not become the mistakes we make. At the point where criticism makes us feel that we are unworthy to be the person we inherently are then slowly we have crossed the thin line between criticism and self defeat. The very idea behind criticism is to sharpen our skill not to tear down our person. Criticism intentionally or unintentionally becomes destructive when it causes us to be quiet when we should speak or put down our pens and paintbrushes and leads us to give up who we are.
Our pursuit of perfection may cause us to dismiss not just the idea but ourselves, tossing out the proverbial baby and the bathwater. The pursuit can cripple and cause an idea to wither and die in the name of waiting for the idea to be ‘grand enough’ before we put it out on display. Some ideas and gifts we have may never see the light of day not because they were bad but somewhere along the way of finding out who we are we dismissed our singing because we once got embarrassed in front of a crowd, we got rejected by multiple publishers, we vividly remember our formative years when the teacher shook their disapproving heads and conveniently informed us we would never be good artist or amount to anything meaningful in life, just in case you entertained the idea that you would.
When we expect what we are gifted in or our idea to be perfect the first time we engage it means that falling short of that expectation signifies that we are not valid in society and our cause and gift is not necessary. Yet this is far from the truth.
Ideas are seeds and while some seeds thrive in harsh conditions others need the right balance of moisture, light and nutrients. Some of our ideas and craft need us to believe in ourselves and daily encouragements from us that yes we are painters, yes we are teachers, yes we are doctors and music composers rather than the constant, ‘you will never sing that well anyway’ that we feed them constantly.
Accepting who we are does not entail giving out half heartedly but rather acceptance that perfection may come not when we hide but when we take out what we have concealed in the dark recesses of our minds and desk drawers into the light for the world to see.
Let us choose to revoke the vow we made to ourselves that we will never let ourselves fail the way we did in the past or that we will never let anyone see what we have and who we are unless it is perfect.
Let us instead chose to say that we will not allow our dreams to die because we were afraid.
Let us not use perfection as a yard stick to qualify ourselves for our dreams. Perhaps consider that our dreams do not need perfection but they need our authentic selves: all real and fully present throughout the whole process imperfections, delays, embarrassment, losses and all. Being prepared to realize that perfection may not be in the end product but in the journey.