Nobody’s perfect, but that doesn’t seem to stop people from trying. And why not? There are lots of good reasons for wanting to be perfect. Some professions, for example, greatly beneﬁt from their inherent perfectionism. This is especially true of professions where the consequences of mistakes would be catastrophic, where the human or the ﬁnancial costs of errors are simply too great to bear. Indeed, the higher the potential for catastrophe, the more necessary and warranted is the perfectionistic behavior. Consequently, among the most perfectionistic people you’ll ever meet are bridge-building engineers, skyscraper architects, nuclear physicists, software engineers, and brain surgeons. I, for one, thank God for that. If you ever had the misfortune of requiring brain surgery and had to choose between a pursed-lipped, anal-retentive surgical tactician or a giddy, free-wheeling improvisationalist, who would you choose?
The trouble with perfectionism is that it impedes our ability to take risks. Perfectionists are better suited for mitigating risks than for taking them. This mostly stems from their almost obsessive preoccupation with anticipating what can go wrong. Perfectionists are prone to “catastrophizing,” focusing on worst-case scenarios in order to account for, and control, every possible negative outcome. This, in turn, lends itself toward a doom-n-gloom outlook when facing a risk. Thus, risks themselves are seen through a prism of negativity that not only makes the risk-taking experience unenjoyable, but through the power of expectancy often sets it up for failure as well.
Being perfectly imperfect means being rigorously honest. It means to stop denying or repressing your less-than-perfect parts and to boldly face reality, in all its starkness. As the great American artist Walter Anderson once said,
“Our lives improve only when we take chances—and the ﬁrst and most difﬁcult risk we can take is, to be honest with ourselves.”
The point of facing our imperfections is not to root them out so we can be perfect. Rather, we should acquaint ourselves with them, so that our self-knowledge is more complete. When we do this, we are better able to direct their inﬂuence over us, often converting them from sources of maladaptive behavior to a more adaptive kind.
Be Perfectly Imperfect
I read somewhere that many great quiltmakers like to sew an imperfect stitch among their patchwork. They do this as an act of homage—the idea being that only God has the right to be perfect. Imperfection provides a needed contrast for beauty to emerge so that it can be most appreciated. To be perfectly imperfect is to allow our imperfections to distinguish our more admirable qualities. Perhaps it is for this reason that, as my Grandmother used to say, “Everything God makes has a crack in it.”
Mistakes are not personal failings, but mile-markers on the winding road of progress
And how can you commit yourself to being perfectly imperfect? Replace self-rejection with self-acceptance. Value your shortcomings for giving you your character, your quirkiness, and your humanness. Give yourself a break and recognize that mistakes are not personal failings, but mile-markers on the winding road of progress. When you commit yourself to being perfectly imperfect, you come to appreciate risk-taking as a process of discovery, full of shortfalls and setbacks, but also full of serendipity and satisfaction. Being perfectly imperfect doesn’t mean triumphing over our imperfections, it means triumphing with them.