Perfectionism: The Joy-Killer

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When I was a little girl, my Dad used to a sing a song in the morning, whose title I don’t know, and whose lyrics I don’t remember except that it had a line like this: “It’s hard to be humble, yes, it’s hard to be humble when you’re perfect in every way.” He’d smile and belt out a few verses when one of the rest of us was dragging our feet. The song is uplifting. But unlike the singer, I had never been perfect, so I couldn’t really relate.

In middle school, high school and parts of my twenties, I was a little bit chubby. But via the grace of the Metabolism Gods, or a yet-to-be-discovered tape worm, things have improved. Knock on wood, keep me away from black cats, ladders, open umbrellas indoors…

I do chair poses. Jazzercise. Turtle rolls. I scissor kick. MapMyRun. Downward face my dog. But I have always done these things. The key I think, for a few fat cells to be like, “Peace!” was that over the years I learned to eat better. I learned things about nutrition. I look at a box of orange juice now, and think “arsenic.”

But it’s not like now, at the so-called happy ending, there’s nothing about myself I want to change. The same voices who told me I needed to lose weight, have invented new things to work on. Like lengthening my limbs with a limb-lengthening machine. See, those voices are very reasonable. Because I want to be like Lesley, The Gazelle, who floats from the copier to the coffee room as if to Disney music. Not a hobbit. A Keebler Elf. Which is exactly what I look like next to a 6’0 blonde who has the same build as Heidi Klum.

Perfectionism is a criminal right up there with arsonists and murderers. It is the sound of vomit falling into toilet water, and a waif of a girl emerging from the bathroom. It’s all the unfinished novels in bottom drawers around the world. The thirty-something who has an okay job, but not quite a career, and cries when she thinks about it.

We want to honor ourselves. We aren’t perfect in the sense that we are infallible. No, instead, we’re human. We drink too much sometimes. Fall into depression. Get divorced, re-marry, find love again. Gain weight. Fall short.

But when you think of the trajectory of a human life, and all the beautiful things you do, not only for yourself, but for other people, you are kind of perfect. Like love. Small kindnesses like helping with a Word document. Or the valiant things, like rising every day to meet it, again, despite of the thousands and thousands that lay behind you like yearbooks. You are kind of perfect. And we were certainly perfect when we were born. When we emerged into the world out of our mother’s fannies with baby fuzz and, literally, an entire life ahead of us. How would that person, that baby you were, want you to treat you? And how amazing is it that you and she/he are one and the same?

I am not perfect in the sense that my heels horrify pedicurists. I cannot play a complicated board game like Dungeons and Dragons. But I still deserve so much that I don’t give myself sometimes. Like forgiveness. Like the go ahead to rest. The permission to decide that my life is quite nice, with its lunchtime trips to the library. Its book clubs. Its loving relationships. Its post-work surf sessions under a sky where the moon looks like a thumbnail.

I deserve my own love. I deserve to give myself credit for the life I’ve built. And you do, too.

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