The Courage of Imperfection

 

imperfectionIt’s no secret that I have issues with perfectionism. In fact, it’s become something of a running joke among my friends that I have a touch of  “CDO” [because of course, the letters need to be in alphabetical order].  And it’s true. I laugh along with them, but it really has been something I’ve struggled with all my life.

It’s been positively paralyzing at times. I want to do something, but the thought of the finished product  turning out less than perfect stops me in my tracks. The thought of not measuring up has caused me so much anxiety it would be almost laughable, if it wasn’t so pathetic.

Putting on a good front has always been drilled into me. Anything less was simply unacceptable.

One must avoid the ‘appearance of evil’ at all times.

‘Be careful not to do anything that could mar your witness.’

‘You must be careful in every area of your life, because you could be the only Jesus anyone ever sees.’

‘Always and only your best face and foot forward.’

‘You don’t want to cause a brother or sister to stumble.’

I was a good girl.

A good girl who was terrified of making mistakes, because when I did, bad things happened.

So I spent 30 years of my life living ‘safe’.  Never taking too much of a risk. Not doing things because of what people might think. Knowing that I had to keep my best face forward, no matter what.

“Christin will be fine. She always is.”

One of my friends said that about me a few years back, as a compliment. On the inside, I wanted to scream.

NO! CHRISTIN ISN’T FINE!! CHRISTIN NEEDS HELP! CHRISTIN IS DROWNING HERE!

But I couldn’t.

Because I was embarrassed. Because I was always the strong one, the busy one, the one who could juggle everything AND make cookies for her co-workers the next day.

Imperfection terrified me.

And then I met Antonia.

My Antonia. My sweet, gentle friend who finds exquisite beauty in the imperfect.

My dear friend whom I love….and was too ashamed to invite over to my apartment for months.

I envied her at the art studio. I would sit, obsessing over getting every line, every surface, completely perfect, sometimes to the point of tears, and there she was, making absolutely gorgeous things that were…..decidedly imperfect. And she loved them.

I didn’t get it.

And then she went to Spain for the winter, and left me as her house sitter.

Suddenly, I was surrounded by an entire house full of deliberate imperfections.

At the very same time I was looking into my own soul in a new way.

And I saw myself.

I spent almost 4 months in her house, in the quiet, wandering from room to room, looking at the chipped paint, the pottery with the ragged edges, the rough-hewn wooden tables….

And at some point, they ceased to be imperfect……and became……

Comforting.

Warm.

Textural.

Dare I say…..beautiful.

It’s funny, the more time I spent meditating on the beauty of imperfection in her house, the more I felt the paralysis lift.  I wanted to get back into the studio and make things.

I felt…..brave…..?!?!

I couldn’t figure it out, but I DID. I felt braver.

Brave enough to start doing things that I normally wouldn’t do.

Brave enough to stand up and speak at the vigil I organized, even though I hadn’t spoken in that capacity in 5 years.

Brave enough to allow myself to be the subject of the Sentinel’s 5 questions column, even though that scared the crap out of me.

Brave enough to go tubing with my friends on the Yellow Breeches, even though my muscles don’t always work the way I want them to, and I definitely don’t have a “bathing suit body.”

Brave enough to join an online dating site and  go on a few dates.

Brave enough to get back into the art studio and actually be okay with experimenting.

Brave enough to answer honestly when the woman I’m seeing asked what my biggest insecurity is.

I felt brave….but I still felt afraid at the same time.

I didn’t get it.

But I was rolling with it.

This past weekend, I went to South Carolina to visit my family, celebrate my older nephew’s 11th birthday, and meet my brand new, month old nephew. It’s the first time I’d seen my family since I’d come out as both a Unitarian and a lesbian. I was nervous.

It was a very nice visit. I had nothing to be nervous about.

It was just a short trip down south, but the drive is a long one, especially through Virginia, so I always listen to an audio book to get me through it. On the way home to PA, I decided to listen to Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection.

The last thing I expected was a spiritual breakthrough halfway through a 4 hour long traffic jam in Middle-of-Nowhere Virginia .

There I sat, on the highway, irritated as all hell, listening to Brene’s book, when she said something that made me very glad I was already sitting at a dead stop, because it made me want to hit the brakes.

“Where perfectionism exists, shame is always lurking.”

FULL STOP.

I backed up the file and hit play again.

“Where perfectionism exists, shame is always lurking.”

I DID hear that right.

SHAME.

That was it.

That’s what was driving the perfectionism.

FUCKING SHAME.

Shame about not measuring up. Not fitting in. Not being what other people have said I need to be.

THAT’S what it was.

I’d never been able to put my finger on it before, but there it was, hitting me in the face on top of some god-forsaken mountain in Virginia, right in the middle of Northbound Interstate 81.

She kept reading to me, and I kept listening, my ears and mind pricked at the thought of finally naming the root of my neuroses.

I listened.

“I used to think if I was vulnerable and told people my real story, it would be the end of me. But I did it anyways, and what I’ve found is that whenever I’m courageous and let people see the real me – all of my messes, mistakes, errors and imperfections – I find new beginnings bursting with empathy, not endings. I hear “me too” a lot more often too. And it’s easier for my heart to connect to another now that I don’t have to spend all my time trying to hide or pretend I’m someone I’m not. I’m imperfectly worthy and committed to vulnerability. Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the BRAVEST thing that we will ever do.”

I burst into tears.

Right there on 81.

That’s what I’d started to do, without really realizing it. And THAT’S why I can feel  both brave and terrified at the same time.

Something happened to me in that traffic jam.

I’ve been letting shame be a driving factor in my life for decades now, because I somehow, unconsciously, thought that being imperfect was a bad thing. There’s a whole lot of screwed up theology that went into that, but that’s a post for a different day.

I realized that what she said was true. That courage, the original definition of courage, when it first came into the English language – it’s from the Latin word cor, meaning heart – and the original definition was to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart.    That being vulnerable, having the courage to show up and be seen – that’s courage.

I’m far braver than I realized.

I’m owning my story.

Embracing who I am, not who I think others want me to be.

Showing up.

Being brave and afraid every minute of the day at the exact same time.

Having the courage to be imperfect.imperfect bowl“Imperfection” – my latest porcelain sculpture in progress

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