Old Dogs, Old Tricks

Occasionally I need to be reminded of things I’ve already learned.  The one that keeps coming around again and again is that perfection is over-rated.

Oh sure, I try to do a good job — at whatever I do.  I was raised that quality is a worthy goal.  No, wait…….  I was actually raised that the goal was perfection.  For anyone who doesn’t know what I’m talking about, just imagine that whatever you do just isn’t good enough.  You can do a great job at something, and you’ll always hear a voice in your head that says you could have done better.  It’ll remind you that some line wasn’t perfectly straight or that the color or flavor isn’t just what you wanted.  It will poke at you and take away from the job that you’ve done until the pride and satisfaction of your accomplishment wanes, and you’re left gearing up for the next task – which maybe you can do adequately.  But you never get there.

That, my friends, is a sad way to live.

We have to recognize that there is not only a spectrum of performance, there is a spectrum for goal-setting.  Does the trash really need to be evenly distributed in exactly five bags, none of which weighs more than fifty pounds, and placed at the curb each week before 6:00 a.m.?  Nope!  It needs to be in bags, and out at the curb before the truck comes.  And if you miss that?  They’ll get it next week — it isn’t the end of the world.

If you have second language, you’ll understand this concept well.  Rare is the person who can speak a second language as well as their first — except for those blessed individuals who learned multiple languages in infancy.  The rest of us stumble about with a missed verb tense or similar words wanting to jump into the spot where you mean something else.  We have accents and affectations filtering through from our native language.  It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t attempt a conversation.  Unless of course, you think you need to be perfect.  Then you miss out on the experience, and miss out on learning to speak more fluently.

In daily life, does your house look like a magazine spread?  Everything in place, color-coordinated, dusted, and beautiful?  Mine doesn’t.  I wouldn’t choose to live that way even if it were possible.  It’s too neurotic for me.  We have dust bunnies and coffee cups in the living room.  There might be a dish in the sink or a plant wilting from lack of water.  Why?  Because we’re busy.  We’re complicated.  Most people are.  Yet, TV and movies promote idyllic scenes of perfect families in perfect houses.  Their cars are clean, their pets behave, their lives are ready for that magazine photo-shoot.  It underscores that the real people living real lives fall short of those make-believe standards.

So let’s be real.  Strive for clean enough to maintain health, organized enough to function in life, prepared enough to wing it when the unexpected happens, and resilient enough to forgive ourselves for not being perfect.  This is not a TV life, and we aren’t TV people (well, most of us aren’t….).

The important thing is to be happy and whole, to quit trying to measure up to a standard you didn’t create and didn’t agree to.  Live for your own self and be OK with it, neighbors and relatives and nay-sayers notwithstanding.  Speak those stumbling words in another language, and open your door to friends who are happy to share your time and know that being perfect just doesn’t matter.  Life is about joy –soaring, heart-fluttering, wide eyed joy.  Reach for it.

(c) 2019, J. Cools


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