Wednesday, August 01, 2001

What's Perfect About Imperfection

Let me try something new but please, please, please, let me do it right and well the first time. If we always do things well, always do things right, and people know us as someone who always gets it right, then we've set ourselves up. It's costing us. As my friend John Bailey pointed out just yesterday, it gets lonesome and tiresome being the one in control, waiting for the world to catch up.

Looking at things from the bottom up isn't all bad. When I was a child learning to downhill ski, the first thing my instructor taught me to do was fall down. We spent a whole day falling. I fell while standing still, I fell while moving forward, I fell with my skis on, my skis off, going downhill and even while side-stepping uphill. It got pretty silly. But somehow, through the process of learning to fall, I learned to ski. Interesting. I don't remember much about the skiing lesson, just the falling lesson. We would be in the process of attempting something new on skis, the instructor would command “fall!” and down we went. What a wonderful way to learn. Nobody got to be perfect.

Many years later when I took a solo white water canoeing class, guess what we learned first? You got it! How to dump the canoe. First we dumped in still water and then the instructor took us to the river and we learned to get ourselves in every possible bad situation that river had to offer and fall out of the canoe. Everyone came to the class pretty nervous about our ability to perform and everyone left the class soggy and tired but extremely giddy.

Why do we feel we have to be good at something to try it, that we have to succeed at something in order to enjoy it, that we have to do something right before we feel accomplished? Striving for perfection can create frustration and disappointment. But doing something imperfectly leads to new insights and a new way of looking at things.

Here's what perfection is costing us:
  1. Spontaneity. Perfection is a way to be in control. But control limits spontaneity.
  2. Process. When we focus on perfection, we're in the game for the product, for mastery, not the process. We compare ourselves against people who are further along in the process and can't enjoy our own progress.
  3. Completion. The higher the goals of perfection, the lower the hopes of completion.
  4. Mystery. There is mystery all around us and enjoying the mystery evolves us. Perfection doesn't honor the mystery. 
  5. Authenticity. Striving for perfection does not allow us to be authentic.
When we let go of perfection, allow ourselves to do things imperfectly, we come to see how perfect we are, just the way we are. It's a subtle difference but it's true. Our lives can be more perfect when we let go of perfection.

“If we are forever yearning for more, we are forever discounting what is offered.” ~Julia Cameron

"Aim for success, not perfection. Never give up your right to be wrong, because then you will lose the ability to learn new things and move forward with your life." ~Dr. David M. Burns

“Perfection is not about what is being done, but rather about the one doing it.” ~Charles Powell

"I am careful not to confuse excellence with perfection. Excellence I can reach for; perfection is God's business." ~Michael J. Fox