The Problem with Perfection
"I used to see imperfection as weakness and I let it hold me hostage for a good part of my life. I allowed this fear of making mistakes to do something much worse, to stop me from doing things I loved, things that made me feel happy, things that made me feel alive." - Luke
The oxford dictionary defines perfection as “the condition, state, or quality of being free or as free as possible from all flaws or defects.” So often we see people strive for perfection; most notably Olympians, scientists, musicians, and the like. The problem with perfection, as you can see in the definition, is that it isn’t human. Being free from all flaws or defects is, in fact, the opposite of being human. Human beings are full of flaws, imperfections, defects, and frailties. Arguably, it is those very things that make us human, separating us from the perfection and infallibility of machines and robots. One of the most beautiful things about being human is embracing, owning, and deeply loving those pieces of ourselves that we view as “deficiencies” or “shortcomings”. It’s that incredibly powerful vulnerability that allows us to truly be who we are. After all, to err is human.
"I thought I wasn’t “fit enough” to join a gym. So I didn't."
I used to see imperfection as weakness and I let it hold me hostage for a good part of my life. I allowed this fear of making mistakes to do something much worse, to stop me from doing things I loved, things that made me feel happy, things that made me feel alive. I, like so many others, wanted to be the best at what I did so what happened when I wasn’t sure I could be the best? I didn’t do it. This fear controlled so many choices I made about school, about music, about joining a gym. I remember a time when I was given an opportunity to join a gym in Vancouver and didn’t go because I thought I wasn’t “fit enough” to join a gym. Yes, you heard me. I didn’t believe that I was fit enough to join a place who’s sole mission to help you get fit. So what changed? I’ll tell you.
As most of you know, music is a passion of mine. When I perform for people, I feel like I’m the most authentic version myself in those moments. It feeds my soul. However, I only started performing 3 years ago after a lifetime of contemplation. Finally, I decided one day to do an open mic for the first time. Let me take you through it:
I went to the washroom once more before grabbing my guitar and heading out the door. I had put on a grey sweater, the best jeans I had, and some old brown shoes. I remember my hands shaking so badly that I struggled to unlock my car door. I had spent the last few days tirelessly rehearsing what I felt were my two best songs and those were the ones I was going to perform at the open mic night. I arrived early, before anyone else, and gave my name to the man in charge. I sat down with my guitar, eyeing the room nervously. As time passed the venue began to fill up with fellow performers and spectators, groups of friends laughing and ordering drinks, family members of all ages, and some solo spectators as well. I began nervous fidgeting with my guitar while also profusely sweating and consequently worrying about whether my shirt would betray my nervousness or not. Before I could confirm this, I heard a voice informing me that I would be next. The following minutes stretched into eternity. And then it was time: my name, bright lights, a lone microphone on the stage. I took a deep breath, arranged my guitar, opened my mouth, and sang. I sang my two songs that I had so tirelessly rehearsed for weeks before.
After, I sat down with my hands still shaking and my heart still rushing but for an entirely different cause: excitement and joy. Overwhelmingly joy which had poured in to all the cracks and valleys that fear had created. It flooded my body. I had done it. I had faced my fears, got on stage, and sang my heart out. This was a turning point in my life. I had faced a major fear that had crippled me since I was a child. Maybe I hadn’t always dreamed of singing on stage, but I had dreamt of doing what I loved. And that fear, that fear of failing, had been with me since I was very small. We all have that fear to some degree or another – we are taught it by society. We live in a world where individual success is paramount and success, societally, is not measured in failures. We are educated to believe that not being perfect inherently means you’ve done something wrong. 98% on a math test? That means 2% of that work you’ve done is wrong. This poorly constructed idea needs to be changed. I continued to perform and I continued to make mistakes. I missed those chords, I forgot lyrics, I made up melodies on the spot. You know what happened? People clapped. People don’t care about mistakes, they care about passion, about excitement. I can’t change math tests but I can’t change how I allow fear to either help or hinder me.
I look back and realize that I constantly questioned myself instead of questioning my fear and what I had been taught. I said, “What happens if you miss a chord?” or “What happens if you don’t get an A in that class?” instead of questioning the fear itself “What does it matter if you miss a chord?”, “What if you don’t get an A in the class? Does that mean you’re not smart? Is that really true? How do I feel when I think that way?”. Because let me tell you something life-changingly simple ….are you ready? …. You get to choose the thoughts that you believe. That’s it. Not everything you think is true and nothing brought that home to me more than fear. I just need to pay attention to my thinking:
“I need to be fitter to join Crossfit Vancouver”
Well, is that true?
“Technically not (but it sure feels that way!)”
How do I feel when I think that way?
“Not good enough, like I’ve failed”.
So, what do you think I’d do when I was thinking and feeling that way? You’re right, I wouldn’t go. The fear that dictated what choices I made with my time and my life. So I’m challenging you to pay attention to your fears and what your fears are allowing you to believe about yourself. Stop worrying about perfection, it doesn’t exist. Instead, work on being open, on trying, on engaging in a process. Work on allowing yourself to be wrong, to make mistakes, to fail. Allow yourself to be uncomfortable. It is only in discomfort that we truly grow. If I had waited until I had written the “perfect song”, I would have never written a single word. So try it! Start small and challenge yourself on one thought that makes you feel like you can’t do something. You might just surprise yourself and fall in love with something new.