Anyone who’s known me for any length of time (and by “any length” I mean more than 36 hours!?!) knows that I’m very much a creature of habit. In fact, while my professional life can change on a moment’s notice due to the emergent needs of a client, the dictates of an impatient judge, or an unexpected e-mail from a fellow partner pleading with me to help them douse a suddenly raging out of control “brush fire,” my personal life is as predictable as the sunrise. Almost without exception, I’m up at the crack of dawn, in the shower by 6, dressed, done with all things daily hygiene-ish and out the door by 6:30, at my desk by 6:45, standing in front of the Keurig coffee/tea machine (for the first of a dozen cups of iced green teas) by 6:50, headed to lunch by 11:45, en route home by 6, fed and out for my evening walk by 7, home by 8:15 and in bed by 10:30 (Note: I may have left out consuming a box or bag or two of Oreos along the way!). It sounds incredibly boring, I know – and, trust me, it is! But there’s a method to my madness. You see, somewhere along the way I instinctively realized that the sameness that comes with structure maximizes the chance of saneness, especially for those of us who, like me, came into this world pre-wired for perfectionism.
Of course, it wasn’t always that way. To the contrary, I spent much of my child and young adult hoods (okay, even a substantial part of my “real” adulthood) not only believing that perfection was attainable, but “insisting” that I achieve it in everything I did – and, believe me when I tell you, I was NEVER satisfied with anything less. I quickly grew intolerant of my own and others’ mistakes and shortcomings and developed a really bad temper and attitude whenever I competed at anything and lost. Ultimately, I grew to hate that part of me and the sadness and anxiety that are its constant companions. It was about that time that I also began to realize how unhealthy pursuing perfection was, especially given how many variables played into achieving it in the many arenas in which I found myself “performing” (e.g., the classroom, the golf course, the bowling alley, the dating scene, the courtroom, etc.) and how little control I had over most (all?) of them. I had to reign it in and learn to be more tolerant and self-forgiving. In time, I managed to do that, albeit imperfectly (LOL!), mostly through the force of my will, a heaping tablespoon of Divine intervention and good old-fashioned maturity. But, try as I might, I’ve also come to realize that there’s no way I’ll ever completely override my born-in pre-disposition to want things to be perfect.
In fact, I’m reminded of it, without exception, every morning at 6:50 a.m.! You see, no matter how hard I try, not a day goes by that I don’t put my tea cup (okay, it’s more like a small bathtub) under the ice dispenser to fill it up only to have ONE of the ice cubes ricochet off the others or the side of the cup/vat onto the floor! It’s become a bit of a joke among my office mates and, truth be told, I even find myself laughing about it from time to time. What most of them don’t realize, however, is that, as that cube is falling to the ground, my perfectionistic urges are screaming inside me, wanting to be set free. They not only want, but expect me to extract some measure of retribution vs. the ice maker, punish myself for my ineptitude in performing what in my unforgiving mind’s eye is the most ministerial of tasks or at least don the look and shed the tears of my nephew in the photo above. Now, I already know what you’re going to say: “It’s only an ice cube for God sake” – and you’re right, of course. But, what you need to understand in order to better appreciate how difficult it is to do battle with one’s pre-wiring, especially where addictions are concerned, is that it’s far more complicated and much more challenging than it appears.
But, in the end, at least from this recovering perfectionist’s perspective, it’s well worth the effort. Because the fact is: the gift of imperfection is far more liberating than the belief that we are, can or need to be perfect ever will be! Indeed, for those of faith, it’s the recognition that we’re human and fallible that often creates the need and desire for a relationship with God in the first place. On a more secular level, the realization and acceptance of our imperfectness is what enables us to take chances in life cognizant of, but not paralyzed by the reality that things might not work out the way we’d hoped they would or (God forbid) might not work out at all. Being and recognizing that we are imperfect also makes us more willing to reach out to others who are more skilled in areas where we are, dare I say it, deficient, while simultaneously promoting an increased willingness in us to humbly share with others, who, because of our own gifts, reach out to us for assistance – both life-giving and affirming events. Finally and perhaps most importantly, embracing our own imperfections also prompts us to seek forgiveness from those we’ve hurt, while at the same time rendering us more willing to forgive those, who in their own imperfection and, likely without any ill intent, have fallen short of our expectations and/or hurt us.
No one has to sell me on the fact that it’s not easy to realize you’re imperfect, let alone to embrace your imperfections, but it sure feels good when you do, which is why, except for my daily encounter with the Ice Maker, I’m feeling better by the minute!