The Problem With Perfection…
I recently learned a great new phrase. Wabi sabi. Ever heard it? Wabi sabi is “the Japanese worldview or aesthetic centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete”. Or, a simpler definition is ‘finding beauty in roughness and irregularity”.
For as long as I can remember, the need for perfection has plagued me. My mantra was “IF ONLY” I could be perfect in everything I do…..the perfect little girl, the perfect student, the perfect child who never makes waves or causes problems…..perfectly invisible. Because all around me was chaos, I equated perfection with staying safe.
I didn’t recognize that need to be perfect, however, until much later in my life, when one day, my counselor tried to remind me that “I don’t need to be perfect”. I still remember the earnestness with which I looked at her and said….YES. YES, I Do! And I remember believing that with all of my heart and soul.
I used to think, as well, that perfection was an awesome quality to have! Who didn’t want someone working for them that strove for perfection in all things? What I didn’t see was how my need for perfection was playing out in my life in a very unhealthy way…
I began to see that my need to be perfect in all things was paralyzing me! I never felt free to try anything new, because if I couldn’t get it right right from the start, it wasn’t worth trying. And learning something new, for example a new job, was painstaking! I would so terrified to make mistakes that I found myself making mistakes ALL the time….and beating myself up, over and over. It was a never ending cycle, and learning a new job, or learning in school, exhausted and discouraged me.
As someone who has had to teach themselves about self care, I have had to learn to let that need for being perfect go. Because trying to do anything new without my inner critic beating me up was near impossible. That inner critic was a force to be reckoned with in my life, and I had to learn to remind myself that I cannot be perfect, no matter how hard I try. Perfection is NOT possible in this world we live in. And killing myself trying was sucking the life out of me….
Perfectionism can be great – in some things. We want to do our work well. We want to get good grades. We like being ‘best’ at something! But, when perfectionist tendencies get in the way of us living our lives, as they did with me, then we’re in trouble. If having to be perfect is stealing our joy in simple things – or is holding us back from doing things we’d really like to do, or is causing our inner critic to make us feel horrible about ourselves….then we might need/want to reconsider just how perfect we think we need to be. For me, I will never again see perfectionism as something to aspire to. Doing my best is good enough for me. I’m satisfied with being perfectly imperfect nowadays!
I must admit something – I’m sure not there yet. I STILL have a very strong wish to be perfect – I still have to talk myself down from those places sometimes. But in working to remind myself that perfection is not needed, not even possible, in this life, and is detrimental to my emotional health, I have been able to learn how to ‘just BE’ – a lot more often.
So, I was excited to hear of this Japanese phrase “Wabi sabi”, and to become open to the concept that there may just be beauty in our roughness or irregularity. It helped me to stop and think that maybe there IS beauty in the imperfect – we just have to look for it!