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We don’t start out life trying to be perfect. Sure, we have an innate need to perform well and correctly to please parents or caretakers; yes, we enjoy the feeling of competence when we win, complete tasks, and things turns out just right. That feeling is called pride. It can be thrilling and intoxicating to come up with an elegant solution to a difficult problem; doing something to perfection can bring enormous satisfaction and appreciation of self.
However, fairly early on, we learn that we can’t do everything just so. Consider a child painstakingly building a tower of blocks and carefully putting the last block on top only to have the entire structure come tumbling down. Or think about the process of learning to walk. Wouldn’t it be marvelous if we could pull ourselves up that very first time, take a few steps, and keep going without falling down? It might be, but we’ll never know because each of us tried to do it right and ended up on our fannies. The point is that life is filled with imperfection from the get go in spite of our deepest wishes and persistent efforts to the contrary. The fact that it’s impossible to be perfect tells us that we are not meant to be.
Sadly, our often unquenchable yearning for perfection comes from dysfunction in our early years. For instance, if we failed or made mistakes as children and were criticized, blamed, ignored, rejected, humiliated, or shamed, we probably picked up the impression that failing and making mistakes were not only unacceptable, but that imperfection challenged the natural order of things, that is, perfection. So we tried harder—and harder and harder—to bend life to our will and belief that things we do should be right, exact, perfect, flawless and that we should be as well.
In this kind of environment, struggling to be perfect growing up made a lot of sense and was likely a healthy strategy for gaining love and approval from parents (or avoiding pain and punishment). However, striving for perfection as an adult only leads to pain and self punishment. Always trying to “do it right” is an addiction which needs to be broken. You cannot simply pay lip service to relinquishing the desire for flawlessness; you must believe with all your heart that such a goal is impossible, unreachable and downright destructive. You must accept that imperfect is all we get.
The next step is to start enjoying your imperfection: learn to laugh at your mistakes, tell your friends your bloopers, own up to your failures, strive to be mediocre, give up trying to make things work out right and ride with the tide. So, go for broke and get flawed.
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