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THE ART OF IMPERFECTION

Posted Nov 16 2009 10:01pm

It has been awhile since my last blog and I apologize. Life seems to have gotten in the way with the end of a school year, my son’s birthday, a family trip, and a very busy clinic with some enthusiastic medical students trying to pursue research.

I could beat myself up for falling down on my responsibility. In the past, I might have done that, but I’m working hard to not put energy into things that are not worthwhile—I’m not talking about the blog, but the beating up on myself. Some of this is because life functions better if I’m not self-criticizing—but some of this is for my kids and my patients. If I encourage them to accept mistakes and missteps without being too hard on themselves, then shouldn’t I walk the same walk?

In a recent article in a psychiatric newspaper, the author described her depression as a gift. Sound unusual? Her view of her illness was that through medication and psychotherapy, she learned more about herself. Through her work to conquer her depression, she found new insights and new acceptance of herself and her challenges in life. She came to an understanding of the benefit of doing things well even if they were not done perfectly. Life cannot be perfectly organized, but it can function well enough so that we live, we love, we accept others and ourselves, we care for others, but also care for ourselves. Trying to live a “perfect” life is a myth and it is the cause of a lot of guilt and depression. When we strive only for perfection and don’t accept “good enough” then we find disappointment and reasons for self-criticism in every sphere.

Perfection was the discussion of a recent journaling group. We started with the Mary Oliver poem, Wild Geese. The first line is “You do not have to be good.” When many of the women wrote about this poem—that line triggered thoughts about perfection. While many individuals in my program have been able to agree intellectually that perfection is impossible—emotionally, they are unwilling to relinquish that goal. So they strive not to just be good enough, but perfect. This makes it hard to try new things because when they make mistakes then they are not perfect. This can lead to more and more limitations in life--trying to avoid mistakes. When perfection is not possible, depression and guilt gets fueled.

Isn’t it better to celebrate what we accomplish rather than condemn what we haven’t achieved? Isn’t it better to love ourselves in our good enough state rather than despise ourselves because we aren’t perfect? Isn’t it better to live—really live—an imperfect life than try to control and craft everything around us to try and design perfection? Perfection is a myth—we’re here in reality.

So…

  • What does perfection mean for you? What about being “good enough”?

  • What can you celebrate about yourself and your life? Start with the prompt, “I celebrate…” and write. It might be simple things or something large, but writing about it can help remind you about what you have.

    • I celebrate my dogs who have a pure view of life and wag their tails so fast when I come home that their whole bodies wiggle. I celebrate my daughter who giggles and my son who keeps me on my toes with his sarcastic wit. I celebrate the opportunities that I have to write and learn more about myself and hopefully help others. I celebrate the coolness of the evening and fireflies and flowers bobbing so heavy on their stems that they can almost touch the ground. I celebrate dancing clouds and rainbows and the crescent moon in the crisp night when I step outside to take the dogs out.

  • Check out Mary Oliver’s poem “Wild Geese”. Take the first line—Instead of good, what would you put in? You do not have to be….? What? You do not have to be perfect. You do not have to be self-critical. You do not have to put yourself down.

  • And what do you need to do? You need to treat yourself as nicely as you treat others. You need to pursue your dreams. You need to be yourself—your true self.

So discover your gifts, embrace your imperfections and go Write On!

Martha Peaslee Levine, M.D.  

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