7 July 2015
Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.
~ Leonard Cohen
It’s so tempting to want to be what we aren’t. It’s easy to compare myself and feel inadequate. Often, I resist what is because it doesn’t match my expectation or desire.
This week I’ve had a twitchy eye. A snag of muscle energy is jerking the skin beneath my left eye. I’ve tried massaging and pressure pointing it, icing it, stilling my thoughts and breathing into it. It’s persisted, becoming tiring in the way that small, nearly insignificant things can somehow wear us down.
Worse is that the twitch embarrasses me. I’ve loaded it with implications about myself, feeling like the spasm conveys I’m anxious, or out of control, possibly even shifty and untrustworthy. That little yank of muscle is betraying me, exposing vulnerability and imperfection.
I know I’m both vulnerable and imperfect, but broadcasting these qualities willy-nilly makes me uncomfortable. When I think of people with conditions that routinely reveal their differences from the norm, I’m humbled by the courage they live every day. Really only because I’ve been unable to prevent the twitch, I dug down into it.
Underneath my discomfort lies the desire to appear strong, capable, reliable. And deeper—to appear perfect without conveying a hint of the strain of trying to carry this off. Even deeper is insecurity, a part of me that wants to hide flaws behind a perfect image.
It doesn’t really work. Not in the long-term. And striving for it isn’t actually rewarding. Because perfectionism is the bed where shame nestles right in and gets cozy. Perfectionism is the driver, whip in hand, pushing for the judgements about what is right and what is wrong that are so often divisive. Perfectionism is the sly voice that whispers about what to cover up with a facade or who to tear down in order to make ourselves look better.
Striving for perfection keeps us from being authentic when what actually nourishes us is being seen and being known. When what actually connects us is letting the light in on what we are and what we might need understanding or help with. When what actually supports thriving is marching right into our imperfections and blending them in with the strengths that let each of us be a unique and important part of our world.
Despite rationally understanding this dynamic, it’s still hard for me to disentangle from the desire to hide my flaws. But laying awake at night, my body abuzz like a hive of bees, anxious about approval ratings, it’s clear I’m thinking about myself more like a tv program than a living, growing person.
We all make numerous mistakes, some of them perhaps nearly unbearable. We’re all human which means we carry wounds that fray our ability to be kind, or truthful, or content.
Perfection won’t happen. What will?
I pushed this little twitch aside for a while, trying to ignore an inconvenience. Because I couldn’t control it, I ended up reluctantly trying to make peace with it. In the end, it became a chance to explore the meanings I made of it, a reminder to value the person within, an opportunity to deepen my commitment to let myself be vulnerable and real.
What little thing in your life is wanting to talk to you? Can you take some time and listen in?
Transforming your fragility into courageous imperfection is the beginning of a lot more joy.
~ Courtney E. Martin, from her essay on white fragility and the issue of racism. See full essay here in the On Being newsletter.