The Perfection of Being Imperfect

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We come to love not by finding a perfect person but by learning to see an imperfect person perfectly.

–          Sam Keen

As my gift to you, myself and all Mothers for the celebration of Mother’s Day, I am sharing an excerpt from the Pulitzer Prize winning author, Anna Quindlen’s little book with a big message, Being Perfect.[i] She so well articulates the lesson I need to learn. My standards for myself are so high and I place those expectations on all aspects of my life particularly as a Mom, adding strain and stress that I know I and the others around me could live better without. I know many of you share my struggle because so many of my closest friends and most favorite parents share these high standards. On Mother’s Day I hope that you and your loved ones recognize all of your unique qualities perfect in their imperfections, that make you such an important person in their lives.

From Anna Quindlen’s Being Perfect

…You will convince yourself that you will be a better parent than your parents

and their parents have been. But being a good parent is not generational,

it is deeply personal, and it all comes down to this: If you can bring to your

children the self that you truly are, as opposed to some amalgam of manners

and mannerisms, expectations and fears that you have acquired as a carapace

along the way, you will be able to teach them by example not to be terrorized

by the narrow and parsimonious expectations of the world, a world that often

likes to color within the lines when a spray of paint, a scribble of crayon, would

be much more satisfying.

            For the sake of those children, you must look backward instead of

ahead, to remember yourself from your own childhood days, when you were

younger and rougher and wilder, more scrawl than straight line. Remember all

of yourself, the flaws as well as the many strengths. Pursuing perfection makes

you unforgiving of the faults of others. As Carl Jung once said, “If people can be

educated to see the lowly sides of their own natures, it may be hoped that they

will also learn to understand and to love their fellow men better. A little less

hypocrisy and a little more tolerance towards oneself can only have good results

in respect for our neighbor; for we are all too prone to transfer to our fellows

the injustice and violence we inflict upon our own natures.”

            Most of the time when we’re giving people advice we suggest that

they take up something or other: the challenge of the future, the work of a

new century. But I don’t really know what the challenge of the future will be,

and I’m still working on the work of a new century. I’m more comfortable

advising people to give up. Give up the nonsensical and punishing quest for

perfection that dogs too many of us through too much of our lives. It is a

quest that causes us to doubt and denigrate ourselves, our true selves, our

quirks and foibles and great heroic leaps into the unknown. Much of what

we were at five or six is what we wind up wishing we could be at fifty or sixty.

And that’s bad enough.

            But this is worse: Someday, sometime, you will be sitting somewhere.

A berm overlooking a pond in Vermont. The lip of the Grand Canyon at sunset.

A seat on the subway. And something bad will have happened: You will have

lost someone you loved, or failed at something at which you badly wanted to


            And sitting there, you will fall into the center of yourself. You will look

for some core to sustain you. And if you have been perfect all your life and have

managed to meet all the expectations of your family, your friends, your

community, your society, chances are excellent that there will be a black hole

where that core ought to be.

            I don’t want anyone I know to take that terrible chance. And the only

way to avoid it is to listen to that small voice inside you that tells you to make

mischief, to have fun, to be contrarian, to go another way. George Eliot wrote,

“It is never too late to be what you might have been.” It is never too early,

either. Take it from someone who has left the backpack full of bricks far

behind, and every day feels like a feather.

It’s been quite a while since I have felt light as a feather. But when I bring the bubbles out of the garage for the first of the season, put away my link-to-the-e-world phone, and release the bubbles from their liquid, I begin to bring that feeling back. May you find your way back to your free-flying child-like self that allows you to be perfect in your imperfections. Happy Mother’s Day.

For more on self-compassion, check out: “Unconditional Love; The Prequel”

[i] Quindlen, A. (2005). Being perfect. NY: Random House.

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