The Pursuit of Imperfection

Okay, in the interests of full disclosure, I’m just going to put it out there: I haven’t been at my best lately.

I’ve missed some deadlines (however self-imposed), let a few things fall by the wayside (again, however self-established), made some questionable decisions and, honestly, I’ve been managing so many things that I’ve generally just felt a little off my game.

At first, I naturally felt uncomfortable about this… and then I realized that it all brings me back to one of my favorite, although sometimes forgotten, mantras:

I am an imperfect person.

Oh, ah, the relief of resting in divine imperfection

Yep, it’s true: imperfection can be a source of divinity, of otherworldliness and messy, beautiful bliss.  Imperfect timing, circumstances, experiences and efforts all assist in the makings of our crazy, wonderful lives. That’s just how it works.

This thinking is a far cry from the unsustainable, almost imperceptible pressure present throughout my earlier years, though. As a kid, I strove for 100%, for 100% of the time.  An “A-” on a test was likely to generate a teary waterfall. Anything less than “the absolute best” just was. not. an. option.  I wore my Type A badge with bright, beaming pride. If there was a line to draw, I drew it straightest.  If the teacher had a task to do, I got the job. Reliable, dependable, efficient, effective, in control, on the ball, put together, uber-professional-even-at-the-tender-age-of-7. To say I could’ve benefited from yoga as a young person is a massive understatement.

If you know what I’m talking about, you also know that this behavior is often strongly encouraged. Praised. Admired. For me, it went on well into my collegiate years.

And then something happened.

It started with my failure — or at least what I perceived to be failure — to not make it into the top 10% of my class at my top 10 law school.

This might not seem like much to many people, but lemme’ tell ya: when you’ve spent most of your life defining yourself by grades, it’s kind of a big f*ing deal. And when that breaks, it has the ability to break you open.

Here’s what I’m getting at: when you’ve defined yourself by doing things the “right” way, by being in control of your outcomes, by pushing forward and being strong and making the grade (literally or figuratively), what happens when you fall short… as your inherent human-ness ensures that you eventually will?

Even if you’ve been an academic underachiever, that sneaky, subtle pursuit of perfection can rear its head in a myriad of impossibly clever ways.  For instance, are you:

  • an athlete who’s game falls apart if you miss a basket, a hit, a goal, or get an injury and can’t play 100%?
  • an artist who goes nuts if that latest creation isn’t genius?
  • a hard worker who’s bought into the work ethic of miniscule (or no) vacation time at the risk of your own health?

And if these aren’t you, still, you know who you are. The examples are as endless as the expectations, and this is where the yoga comes in:

Your yoga practice can be a powerful antidote to that drastically draining perfectionism.

At its core, yoga encourages acceptance of imperfection of body, mind and spirit. We yogis work on letting go of our egos in challenging poses, on softening our competitive drives with others and ourselves, on giving in to the present moment, as it is, as we are. It is a practice often referred to as “simple but not easy.”

Of course, there are yoga disciplinarians, hardcore asana athletes and bootcamp-ish teachers… everybody’s free to have their own style. But consider defining yours with more spaciousness instead of rules, more curiosity instead of competition.

Work on building room in your practice to just try, flounder, fall and, yes, fail miserably.

And if your reaction is to defend an impractical standard of nothing less than the best, remember that saying “I’m a perfectionist” is really the same as saying “If I’m not perfect, I’m not good enough.” Ouch.

So, stay safe on your yoga mat, but add some softness. Support yourself and your practice with enough room to make mistakes. Once you acquire that new skill set, introduce it into the rest of your life, applying it to your to-do list and your [crucially-important] self concept.

Do your best, then rest.

Have faith that, even if you screw something up, you’ll probably also figure it out.

Remember the wise saying: “great is the enemy of the good.” Then, go for the good, knowing that it’s plenty good enough… and that it might just be the best thing overall.


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12 Responses to The Pursuit of Imperfection

  1. Lisa says:

    Thank you, My Sweet, well spoken–again! My imperfection has sustained my optimism for years and I am thankful for it. So for those who go in quest of the “perfect world” that everyone alludes to and become anxiety ridden because they can’t find it, know that it simply doesn’t look the same to everyone. Happy hunting!

  2. David Phillips says:

    ‘One who desires unending praise and attention is like a butterfly trying to find the edge of the sky.’ Dzongsar Jamgang Khyentse

  3. Sunny says:

    It is not too late for anyone and everyone to learn this lesson you bring to your readers: striving to be a perfectionist is basically saying you aren’t good enough even when you are at YOUR best. Spend the extra hours you are using to be perfect on something else: being happy. Good lesson, Kelly.

  4. Esi says:

    What a delightful message! Learning to just be okay in our beingness is definitely one of my great lessons for this year. Thank you for sharing your story 🙂

  5. Jonathan London says:

    Thank you for this message at this time. I needed it.

  6. Brandy says:

    Thank you for this. I needed it. I don’t always consider myself Type A, but in many ways I am. I’m seeing it now, being 6 months pregnant and working to become a successful entrepreneur. I try SO hard but constantly feel like I’m falling short because my pregnant body needs more time, space and rest than I want to give it. Thank you for reminding me that there’s divinity in imperfection.

    • Kelly says:

      You’re right on, Brandy — and it’s especially important with a little guy/gal on the way. The pregnant body needs lots of special attention. Best of luck with your imperfection practice, and if you’re in the DC area, give us a shout to hear about baby prep references!

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