I have always loved watching the Olympics and in the Winter Olympics of 2014, I remember watching Maekala Shiffron when she almost fell on the second run down the mountain in the slalom event, but she somehow recovered from her near fall and went on to win a gold medal for the US. Whether we are watching ice skating, skiing or another sport, it is clear that even when someone wins the gold their performance is not faultless. The Olympic television announcers remind us of the athletes limitations, by pointing out their weaknesses as they dance on ice or ski down the hill. As Olympians, these athletes are the best in the world, and they are nearly perfect, but they are still are not flawless.
As I teen, I learned the Bible verse, “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Because of this text, for a long time, I thought perfection was a goal I should pursue. My search for perfectionism left me feeling like a failure, because I was never able to even come close! In this passage, the English “perfect” is translated from the Greek word τελειος, which actually means finished, whole or complete. In my early 20s, a professor taught me a closer Greek translation of this verse from Matthew 5 is, “Be whole, as your heavenly God is whole.” It was so liberating to hear an alternate version of this text, which reminds me I am on a journey of wholeness, instead of perfection.
The Gift of Imperfection, by Dr. Brene Brown, is one of my favorite books. In it, we are invited to embrace our humanity and love ourselves just as we are. The author shares that if we expect ourselves to perfect, we will never be good enough. However, if we bless our imperfections, we will become kinder and gentler with ourselves. Dr. Brown also reminds us, that in addition to blessing our own imperfections, we also need to accept others as we find them. I agree that it is very freeing when we learn the dance of offering ourselves and one another grace. We don’t have to be perfect and neither do others.
Brene Brown argues that going down the road of perfectionism is other-focused and leads to us constantly wondering, “What will they think?” Instead of this question she invites her reader to ask this self-focused question, “How can I improve?” She says, “Understanding the difference between healthy striving and perfectionism is critical to laying down the shield and picking up your life. Research shows that perfectionism hampers success. In fact, it’s often the path to depression, anxiety, addiction and life paralysis.” Instead of striving to please others and be who they want us to be, we are invited to embrace ourselves and one another just as we are.
I practice yoga about six days a week. This practice helps me manage my anxiety because it invites me to enter the present moment, breath, listen to my body, offer compassion to myself and others and reminds me of the gift of imperfection on my mat. In my yoga practice, I have learned the difference between healthy striving and perfectionism. When I do a balance pose, I always remind myself to be kind and gentle with myself, and in my mind’s eye I am mindful that I don’t have to be perfect. I try my best not to judge myself or to worry about whether my fellow yogis are judging me.
When I am compassionate with myself, I have noticed it is easier to do the poses. When I wobble on my mat, I remind myself that it is okay to wobble off the mat too. My mistakes on and off my yoga mat are just what it means to be human. Yes, I will keep striving to improve and grow in the practice, but I have no desire to seek perfection in yoga or in life. Perfection leads to anxiety and depression, because it is intangible. On the other hand, to be whole, is to live in a way that knows I am already enough, loveable and worthy just as I am. Just as the Olympic athletes will not attain perfection, it is also elusive for us.
Take a moment to explore the following questions:
- How does my perfectionism keep me from living my life?
- What are some ways I strive to be perfect or good enough?
- Do I make decisions because I want to please others?
- Do I truly love and accept myself just as I am?
- Do I tend to be hard on myself?
- How can I be gentler with myself and others?
May we be on the journey of blessing our imperfections,