I heart Anne Lamott. I admit it. And here is one reason. She says,
“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life…”
My heart sings a big A-men to that every time I hear it. Not because I’m lazy. Because I have very high expectations of myself. And of the universe for that matter.
It isn’t always a good thing. Truthfully, I think I want to be a sort of Ellen Degeneress meets Thich Nat Hahn meets Oscar Romero meets Martha Stewart. Gorgeous and funny, centered and wise, prophetic and principled, and always able to pull off a timely and tasty meal complete with flowers from my garden. Did you notice that these 4 people have very little in common? The most obvious thing they do have is: they are imperfectly successful people. Heaven only knows the risks all of them have taken in their own fields. One of them was assassinated. I am thinking they were not sitting around waiting for all of their ducks to be in a row.
I am now at the tail end of my 40’s. This is a season in which developmental theorists say my task to resolve is “generativity vs stagnation.” Essentially this means finding peace with what I contribute to the world or risk being stuck and potentially really stinky. The theory goes that if I do not resolve this generativity piece, it is likely I will move into the final stage of development, integrity vs despair, with some trouble, if I move there at all. At least I am perfectly developmentally appropriate according to Erik Erickson. But it is not necessarily an easy stage to be in. I sometimes feel like I stare at that stagnated pond wondering if that is where I will be fishing for dinner pretty soon.
I think one of my barriers to being successful and satisfied is that I feel the need to wait for everything to be lined up just right before I make a move. As if there is some magical fore-ordained duck pond. Either that or I need perfect assurance that everything will work out alright. Read: perfectionism will keep me from failing.
I am all for discernment processes, listening to our lives, and gathering all the wise sources we have at our disposal, so don’t misunderstand. (I can just hear all my discernment-loving buds murmuring “heresy” under their breaths.) Sometimes getting all of your ducks in a row just means they are more likely to all get shot by some crazed NRA nut. And we don’t want that.
So let’s give a big shout out to imperfectionism! To risk!
What imperfectionism isn’t? Impulsive. Or going to your happy place to ignore the hard things in life. Those are imperfect efforts, yes – but those types of imperfectionism patterns are the kinds that own us.
Imperfectionism is something we can own. I would even go so far as saying it can become a discipline. For those of us for whom risk taking is especially difficult – and for those of us find ourselves in perpetual waiting mode – and for those for whom their perfectionism is like hauling around a larger-than-life cross, maybe now is the time to try on something gentler, but not any easier.
Say it with me: “I am an imperfectionist.” It has a nice ring to it.
Lamott goes on to say:
“I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.” Bird by Bird