"Welcoming imperfection is the way to accomplish what perfectionism promises but never delivers. It gives us our best performance and genuine acceptance in the family of human -- and by that I mean imperfect -- beings." -- Martha Beck
"Remember that fear always lurks behind perfectionism. Confronting your fears and allowing yourself the right to be human can, paradoxically, make you a far happier and more productive person." -- David M. Burns
In the film Christmas with the Kranks, Nora Krank panics when her daughter, Blair, unexpectedly announces on Christmas Eve day that she is flying home with her new fiancÚ to attend the annual family holiday party that evening. The Kranks had cancelled their party for that year, but Nora declares they have to quickly organize it and that it has to be perfect. That includes purchasing a canned Mel's Honey Hickory Ham because that is Blair's favorite. Nora races another woman for the last can on the shelf, and loses when she knocks over a display of Christmas cookies. Then Nora bribes another couple at the checkout stand to allow her to purchase their can at much more than the regular price. She drops the can in the parking lot and it begins rolling away. She chases it out into the street where it is run over and destroyed by a semi truck.
This time of year many people feel a great deal of stress trying to make the holidays perfect. Part of the reason is the fear that other people will like us less if we don't live up to their expectations. The paradox is that effort creates a feeling of tension that prevents people from being able to relax and enjoy being together for the holidays.
In trying to produce perfection we refuse to accept what is good enough, and often end up with nothing. One year I tried to find my mother the perfect present. I considered and rejected many things she would have liked because I didn't think they were good enough. By the time I resigned myself to not being able to find the perfect gift, many of the great gifts had sold out. I almost couldn't find her anything. The drive for perfection is the very thing that keeps the holidays from being perfect.
I have been watching the televised 2010 Grand Prix of Figure Skating series of competitions. There have been very few perfect performances in the six events. It has been interesting watching the response to imperfection. When some skaters missed the first jump, the rest of the performance spiraled out of control. You could tell by the end that they are just going through the paces eager to leave the ice and they made minor errors on simple things. When other skaters missed the first jump, they seemed to accept it and the rest of the performance was perfect. The commentators would point out that tension caused many of the skaters to miss their jumps. If their muscles were too tight, they weren't able to generate enough rotation. If caution made them hesitate their timing was off and they didn't get enough height. Because this is the first year after a Winter Olympics many of the veteran skaters had retired from competition which allowed many younger skaters to qualify for the first time. It was often these younger competitors without any expectation of perfection that performed with the fewest mistakes. Being relaxed allowed them to perform their best and they challenged the more experienced skaters for the winner's podium.
I know that in my own performances when I worry about being perfect I make more mistakes. However, when I relax and accept that the audience will be entertained by a performance that isn't perfect I actually do a better performance. I have mentioned this before, but when I enjoy performing my audience also enjoys it more. Not expecting perfection allows me to take more chances and try new things. Sometimes they fail, but more often they succeed. Sometimes they succeed gloriously.
How can you embrace imperfection? How can determine if something is imperfect but good enough? How can you reduce stress so that you are able to relax and do your best? How can you relax and enjoy what you are doing so others can relax and enjoy it as well?