EMBRACING THE IMPERFECT
Updated: Apr 5, 2019
"Perfection can only be a remote and never fully achieved goal..."
Last week I spoke about the enduring, but essential, process of learning to love ourselves as we are. The first step to this is perhaps acknowledging, accepting and embracing our imperfections (that’s technically three steps but hey).
Without doing this, we risk existing in a state of anticipation, waiting and hoping for things to fall into place; wishfully thinking and striving for the day when we finally like the way our body looks, or how our house is decorated, or how we raise our child, or how we perform at work. Ultimately, we end up living, not wholly, but partially. Emmy van Deurzen, Director of the New School of Psychotherapy and Counselling, sheds light on this notion as she states:
“If things are not entirely satisfactory today, it is hoped that they will be one day soon. Living can thus be postponed until a later date. At a later date some other dissatisfaction catches up with you and so on until you finally wake up to the fact that life is precisely about coming to terms with such imperfection.”
Without waking up to the reality of our inability to create perfection, we do ourselves a disservice in actively cultivating the conditions for inevitable disillusionment.
In a similar manner to this, even having reached a point of anticipated satisfaction, the mind will always want more or different. Sapolsky, neuroendocrinologist and author of Behave, refers to this tendency as "our frequent human tragedy":
"the more we consume, the hungrier we get. [...] What was an unexpected pleasure yesterday is what we feel entitled to today, and what wont be enough tomorrow."
Thus the only solution is accepting that you are, as an inherently imperfect being, enough, and that the world that you create around you, full of limits and boundaries, is enough.
This does not, of course, mean that you should stop working out or working hard.
“There is a difference between striving for excellence and demanding perfection.”
Endeavouring to better one’s self and generally prosper in life is natural and formidable. Carl Rogers, creator of Person-Centred Counselling, defines this concept as the ‘actualising tendency’- that is, a basic life force driving people to maintain themselves through continual development. With this in mind, we should encourage optimistic growth, but not with the goal of perfection.
I have struggled with being a perfectionist for many years. Time and time again I have tried to refigure this trait as a strength, but really it has posed as a continuous struggle, bringing mostly disappointment as things, or, more specifically, as I, never truly seem to be good enough.
Albert Ellis, psychologist and developer of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy, once went to the extreme of declaring:
“Perfectionism is the root of most human evils”.
It stems from a fear of failure, of not being accepted, either in your own eyes, or in others'.
To shrug off this fear and embrace the imperfect we need to replace anticipation with equanimity. Cory Muscara, my favourite mindfulness teacher, describes this state of mind beautifully:
“when our mind ceases to push or pull [...] you are still able to take action and make changes, but instead of it coming from a place of need, it comes from a place of inspiration”
In being completely at ease with all that the present holds we are able to shift our desires positively. We do not become complacent, but free to embrace the paradox of imperfection: knowing we are enough as we are, but also knowing that we always have the chance to seek change and growth, if we so choose it.