The Perfect Way to Be Imperfect

Is there anything more cutting than rejection? A boss says we’re not working out. A lover prefers someone else, and leaves. An acquaintance decides they don’t like us, for whatever reason. In those situations, it’s tempting—and natural—to think we’ve failed. To assume that if one person thinks poorly of us, everyone must. To beat ourselves up endlessly for not being good enough.

When we’re tired of assuming the worst, we might turn to our friends, who will assure us that none of it is our fault, and that circumstances or other people’s personalities are to blame. We can feel angry with someone other than ourselves and tell ourselves that we really are as blameless as we desperately want to believe. In that way we can shake it off, move on and buck up.

But what if, instead of blaming either ourselves or someone else, we just quietly accepted that sometimes we do things wrong? And that others do too? Imagine the peace that can come from dropping our perfectionism and allowing ourselves to be human. In that way, we can go easier on ourselves when we screw something up, and be kinder to others when they do.

Instead of sitting in traffic assuming that the person who just cut us off is an awful, amoral idiot, we could realize that they just forgot this one time to check their blind spot. And the next time we forget to call a friend who just got back from the hospital, we could forgive ourselves for forgetting. If everyone did this, there would be less road rage, fewer nasty email exchanges.

It isn’t as simple as just “spreading the love,” though. It’s hard work to let go of our innate desire to be—or be seen as—perfect. It means accepting the dark sides of ourselves, and forgiving ourselves for transgressions as small as a missed appointment or as large as being an uneven parent. Sometimes we’ll learn from our mistakes and use them as a chance to grow. Other times, we’ll have to just nod at them as they go by—“Oops, I did that wrong. Ah well.” Not every mistake is an opportunity. Some are just embarrassing memories.

The real growth comes in loving self-acceptance. To try again, despite having failed. To believe that you’re worthwhile even if you’re not flawless. To admit that you make mistakes. This takes true courage, and leads to true compassion, for ourselves and everyone around us.

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