Are you a prisoner of perfection?

I was watching American Idol the other day (a guilty pleasure) when one of the contestants was eliminated. She was sobbing as she said, “Every time I sang, they told me I was perfect. How could this happen?” If I could have answered her through the TV I would have said, yes, dear girl, you were technically perfect, but something was missing — some deeper quality of raw and rooted human-ness that would have touched my soul (and the judges’ souls.)

This got me thinking about the times I’ve gotten caught up trying to perfect. It was actually a relief to remember… oh yeah, perfection is not what really moves us. It’s some deeper, messier, more unpredictable movement of life’s beauty through another being.

So why do so many of us get caught on that hamster wheel of striving for perfection? One major reason is that just setting any goal of excellence (a healthy and achievable goal,) leaves us susceptible to the siren song of perfection. And what an enticing song that is. Come with me, perfection calls and I’ll protect you from feeling small and inadequate. Come with me and you can feel big and important. Pursue perfection and you, too, can be aligned with the gods.

My heart aches as I feel the wounds of unworthiness that can make us susceptible to this spell. Even the best parenting (which helps a lot) doesn’t shield us from the ignorant behavior of teachers and coaches that leave us feeling that we’re not good enough if we aren’t perfect. If you are reading this and recognize yourself in this dilemma, I offer tender support. You are not alone.

If you’re ready to get off of this wheel, it’s time to find support for being human, warts and all. Ask friends and family to remind you what they love about you which has nothing to do with you being perfect. If you have a hard time believing them, seek professional support.

Tears and anger may arise. (This is a good thing.) Shake a fist and stomp a foot (safely and responsibly) at the long hardship of trying so diligently to be so good. Feel vitality return as you do this.

Take solace in the lovely Japanese concept of Wabi Sabi – the art of finding beauty in imperfection. You can stop striving now. You can rest in the great comfort of knowing you are valuable, loveable and perfect just for being you, just as you are. I leave you now with a refrain from Leonard Cohen’s incredible song, Anthem:

“Ring the bells that can still ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.”

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