You are invariably a rare yet welcomed insight. While sometimes you are as simple as realizing for the first time that Snoopy is a beagle (a famous one belonging to my Better Half), other times you can be both powerful and life-changing.
I had an epiphany last week; it was associated with how we oftentimes have different expectations for ourselves than for others, and my epiphany helped me realize how to remedy that difference.
Last week, I read a stunning blog post about imperfection from a child's point of view. I couldn't stop thinking about it. It made me realize how much I've always striven to be perfect in many things I do. While that can be a good thing, the demand for perfection can also lead to fear, helplessness, and despair when perfection is not achieved. The post also made me think hard about my children and their perception of imperfection and its negative connotations. Most of all, I wondered what they were learning from me.
You see, I like pretty things. I like to bake and meticulously decorate cakes and cookies, cook dishes that please both the mouth and the eyes, and make craft projects that are beautiful and as close to perfection as possible. If there's any doubt that I cannot achieve perfection, I probably will just not even try it. Because it would not be worth the effort. Put nicely--I know my limits; not-so-nicely--I give up even before I try.
This is certainly not the way I'd like my children to tackle all the things the world has to offer them in the future. In fact, as soon as I imagined that they are struggling with the need to be perfect, I had already begun a speech in my mind for them. It would go something like these bullet points:
- Perfection is not the goal; your personal best is more important.
- Nothing is perfect; no one is perfect; perfection does not exist; it is all relative.
- Perfection is subjective; what is perfect to one is not necessarily perfect for another.
- Imperfections in life are valuable in hindsight; we should learn from them.
- Perfection challenges commonality, but imperfection builds character.
- It is okay to make a mistake (one that I already tell my kiddos often).
Then, I soon realized that I never tell myself any of these things. I never give myself the logical reasoning why being a perfectionist may not always be in my best interest. Although I am able to sensibly tell others these opinions, I've never once tried to tell myself the same. I've never stepped outside of my own self and held myself to the same standards as I hold for the people I care about.
It dawned on me that we often don't hold the same expectations for ourselves as we do for others, and this is why we are often so hard on ourselves. So my epiphany made sense to me: in order to really listen to ourselves, we must heed the advice that we would give to the people we love, care deeply for, or really trust. In order to tell myself the reasons why I should not shun imperfection, I should listen to the things that I would tell my own children; I should step outside of myself and see myself as someone I love, care deeply for, and really trust.
In that blog post, another reader presented me with a challenge--to intentionally do something imperfect--just to have that experience of letting go and making that unwelcomed mistake. I knew it was going to be a very hard thing to do. But in order to be a good role model for my children in the future, I knew that I had to start letting go.
The next day, I made friendship bracelets with Dear Daughter. I had to learn the different patterns first in order to teach DD how to make them. Let's just say that it's a good thing that making friends does not necessarily involve friendship bracelets, because I wouldn't have any friends. I've never made these before, and I let out more sighs than I could count in the process.
I first learned the Simple Diagonal pattern and showed it to DD. She went to work on her bracelet while I then learned a more difficult V pattern to make one for Dear Son. While keeping that challenge in mind, I still had to start over X number of times because I had to learn the pattern first. About half an hour later, I got the hang of it and started to really see a pattern, although I hadn't even made it past one inch yet. But do you see those imperfections in the picture up there? Are you proud that I didn't undo the entire thing to start over to make a perfect one? (I so totally would have.)
In the meantime, DD took her time and worked really hard on her bracelet, with minimal frustration. I was really proud of her. When she showed it to me, I was even prouder. Because she didn't let the imperfections bother her. She could tell that her braiding tension was uneven, and the pattern was not perfect. But it didn't matter. She had fun, and then went off her merry way to go play with her little brother. I, on the other hand, kept staring at the two odd stitches on my one inch of bracelet, and was too flustered to continue.
That night, I told Dear Husband about our bracelet project and was pleased to announce that our DD did not share my perfectionist behavior (at least in this crafty area). But he very wisely pointed out that neither one of us were perfectionists at her age--and look at where we are now. So somewhere along the line, we allowed the need for perfection to enter our thinking and behavior.
For me, my tendency for perfection is usually driven by the fear of 'not being good enough'. I overcompensate by doing my darnedest to 'get it right'. Yet by aiming higher, I fall deeper when I don't reach my goal. But now, I need to help my children strive to do their best without an internal struggle for 'being perfect'. It's a fine line to walk, and a difficult thing to balance. And I know it's going to take a lot more than making a few friendship bracelets.
So what are some areas about which you are hard on yourself? Aspects of your personality? Behavior? Now just think about what sort of advice you would tell your own children, siblings, BFF, or someone you love about it. Can you apply those same suggestions to yourself? Does it seem more effective that way? Do yourself proud: do what you would have someone you love do. Love yourself first, and then heed your own advice.
So, Epiphany, you were indeed quite an eye opener. I've spent most of my life as a good friend to others, being a good listener, and giving honest, from-the-heart words. This time, you allowed me to see that I need to hear my own advice instead of having a different set of expectations for myself. For that, I am grateful that I found you with the interest of my own children in mind.
P.S. This post was inspired by my friend, Kim@Amommaly and her post, Bag of Imperfections, as well as its comment threads. Thank you, Kim, for your story, and Cindy, for your challenge.