February 1, 2010

The Perfection Myth

For some reason or another, there is a myth that many people believe in which causes them to torture themselves unnecessarily. The myth that I am referring to is the perfection myth. Somewhere along the journey of human existence there arose a concept that people have to be perfect. Some person or group of people went on to further create the notion that it was totally wrong if you made a mistake and that failure can never occur.

There was a time in my life when I was under the spell of this myth. It manifested itself in me as the disease known as perfectionism. I put myself through all kinds of agony in an effort to appear flawless at all times. From my appearance down to every single thing I did, it had to appear perfect. If someone offered me some constructive criticism, I was ready to tear their head off because my ego could not handle the idea that I had made a mistake or could do better at whatever task was at hand.

Anything built on a faulty foundation will inevitably fall. The same holds true for people. If your sense of reality is based on a lack of self or not being true to who you are, something will happen which will make everything collapse so that you can build again but with more wisdom.

I speak from experience. My perfectionist world with all my wonderful achievements which were accomplished in an effort to gain approval was crumbled into bits by the wrecking ball of life. It was one of the best things that ever happened to me.

It was at this time in my life when Buddhism appeared and I will be forever grateful for it because it saved my life. One of the many things I learned was that there was no reason to torture myself by trying to be perfect. If I were perfect, I would not be here. 

Of course, it is possible that I could just be one of those beings who is only here because I vowed to reincarnate until everyone has achieved liberation but I think that is highly unlikely. Chances are that I probably have done all kinds of stuff which was not ideal and therefore, I am here to learn from my errors and become a better version of myself.

With this single shift of perception, the pressure to be perfect no longer mattered. It allowed me to be more gentle with myself. I began to notice that some of my inner contradictions were okay and that there was no reason to be ashamed of them. For example, I am a big advocate of simple living but when it comes to staying in a hotel, I love to be in a very nice room. My husband teases me about this constantly but I cannot help it. I like nice hotel rooms.

Yes, this is not a major contradiction but most of our contradictions are not major. Inner contradictions are usually subtle and become more pronounced when we dwell on them too much. Just accept who you are and if there are things about yourself that you do not love, then work on changing them but by all means do not torture yourself over it. Rome was not built in a day and neither were you.

One of the purposes of being alive is to grow and learn. A perfect person has no room for growth and that is why no one here is perfect. Yes, some people may be better than most but none are perfect. Mistakes occur only when we do not learn from an experience. Mistakes and failures should be celebrated because let’s face it; we sometimes learn more from them than we do from our successes.

When we allow ourselves to let go of our struggles to be perfect, we make room for compassion. I have seen many people be very unforgiving of people who were not doing the perfect thing. That is one of the worst things we can do to another human being.

When we are so rigid with others, we are also rigid with ourselves and that prevents us from having any room for compassion in our heart and soul. Compassion allows and knows that people do the best that they can and sometimes they miss the mark. That is okay for haven’t we all missed the mark at one time or another?

What I have come to learn is that at any given moment, I should try to do my best. If I do, that is great but if I don’t, there is always another time. When we are gentle with ourselves, we become happier and more at peace. Trust me, it works.

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