I read a pretty profound blog today (http://www.danoah.com/2010/09/disease-called-perfection.html), one that broke down the illusion of “perfection” in terms that brought me to tears. In this blog, I could literally see examples of countless people in my own life who were killing themselves mentally and sometimes physically for the sake of this thing called perfection. There is it was, all right in front of me in black and white. I include myself in this statement, for the record. Truth be told, I have been guilty of desperately seeking perfect my entire life.
I’m trying to remember the first time it became so important for me to be perfect, or project that image of perfect. I’ve been through enough therapy sessions to realize that I was young, really really young. When I was 3 or 4, I can remember my father’s second wife making me sit at the dinner table for hours, berating me for not eating my peas. My dad wasn’t there so it was just her and me. I can still see those peas on my plate, all perfectly round, maybe 20 of them. For years I thought I dreamed that night, and her cruel words. I am now convinced it was not a dream. I finally ate the peas, sobbing to myself with each bite. I did it for my dad, because I loved him so much and I didn’t want her to make him miserable because I was so imperfect. It’s amazing I actually like peas at all now. I despised them at that moment in my life. My father saved me though. He divorced that witch six months after he married her. I was safe. I never saw her again. Subsequently he married my forever mother, for whom I would walk on broken glass.
But my need for perfection continued, and indeed still haunts me. But here’s the funny thing about perfection…the more you chase it, the more it alludes you. I wanted it so badly, in everything I set out to accomplish – my physical appearance, my relationships, my career. For years, I would lie awake at night and pray for everything to be perfect. It never was. Mostly, I was left feeling inadequate, anything but perfect. But each day when my feet hit the floor in the morning, I was back to “perfect me”, smiling and pretending as if life could not possibly be any better. The pile of crap I’ve brushed “under the rug” in my lifetime is large enough to make a landfill overflow. Eating disorders, bad relationships, broken friendships, unfulfilled career aspirations. It still hurts my heart when I think about it. All for the sake of trying to attain perfection. What a colossal waste of time and energy.
But, miraculously, somewhere between my last failed marriage and where I currently am today, I finally realized that “being perfect” was beyond exhausting. In fact, it was sucking the life out of me. I was putting upon myself impossible expectations, expectations that no one could ever hope to attain. Somewhere between then and now, I realized that I needed to just stop...stop trying to be 5’10” and 115 lbs (clearly, at 5’2”, 125 lbs, and 46 years old, that is never going to happen.) I need to stop trying to be the perfect mother, the perfect companion, the perfect friend. I needed to just STOP and cut myself some slack, before I self-destructed, before I disappeared completely. I’ve been closer to that point than I want to admit, believe me. I think I also realized that, by setting such unattainable expectations for myself, I, by example, was setting my daughter up for the same scenario in her life. She is the best part of me, the one thing I absolutely got right. All I really want is for her to be happy - happy with herself, and the world around her. She doesn’t need to try to be perfect. To me, she is perfect just the way she is.
Perfect is overrated, and, well, it’s bullshit. If we’re always perfect then we never make mistakes, which means we never learn. There is true beauty in learning from our experiences and moving forward in a positive light. It makes us feel whole, and capable. It makes us appreciate ourselves, our families, and loved ones. To be imperfect allows us to breathe a little deeper, love a bit more passionately, and most importantly, forgive – ourselves and others. I really don’t expect perfection in those with whom I choose to surround myself, and I am fairly certain they do not expect perfection in me. If they do, they’ll be a long time waiting for that to happen.