Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Perfection of Imperfection

We all have made mistakes that we remember with embarrassment and even shame. Rabbi Kushner, in his book How Good Do We Have To Be?, says that making mistakes is not remarkable. What is remarkable is how vivid our memories of these mistakes can be and how these memories can still trigger such intense emotion. He gives the example of missing a word in a spelling bee. He still remembers the word and how he misspelled it. I can relate. I misspelled “parade” in the fourth grade spelling bee. I spelled it “prade.” I can’t remember whether I already gave the dog her medicine today, but I can remember how I misspelled a word half a century ago. And I’m still embarrassed about it.

I can look back over my parenting years and quickly call to mind several incidents from years ago that to this day make me cringe. My chest feels tight and I want to crawl in a hole. I pray that my children will not recall these things during their future therapy sessions which I’m sure they will need as a result of my failings.

The memories of mistakes come unbidden and still have the power to hurt. I have to use my brain to rationally remind myself that I managed to spell enough words correctly to represent my class in the spelling bee. I have to remind myself that all five of my children have within recent memory spoken lovely words of appreciation to me, rather than “Hey, Mom, remember when you ...?”

A Course in Miracles teaches us that perception is a mirror, not a fact. What we perceive is our state of mind, reflected outward. Rabbi Kushner says that when we define ourselves by our worst moments instead of our best, we see ourselves as never good enough rather than as good, capable people who make occasional mistakes like everybody else.

In her book Taking the Leap, Pema Chodron encourages us to change our habits of perception. In every day, for example, there are moments that are not perfect as well as moments that please us. Instead of labeling the day as bleak, we can cherish the moments of joy. Gradually, we can appreciate our lives as they are, with all the ups and downs. And we can appreciate ourselves as we are, with all our imperfections.

As quoted by Rabbi Kusher, “Imperfection is the wound that lets God in.” Or more simply, “I’m not okay, and you’re not okay, but that’s okay.” It’s better than okay. It’s perfect.

revised from archives


  1. You never fail to give me (using Oprah's expression) an Aha Moment. This time, it's "perception is a mirror, not a fact." Thank you!

  2. That's funny. I remember spelling pleasant as pleasent, and my mother made such a huge deal out of it that every time I write the word, I review the incident in my mund.

  3. I loved reading this post and I know just how you feel. Especially, the mother part of remembering when I didn't do just what I should have done. I can really relate to this one.
    Blessings to you!
    Google is still not doing well with comments so I am anonymous today
    Living Waters by LeAnn Http://lgwilliams.blogspot.com

  4. Kara--So glad that quote was meaningful to you. Thanks for your kind words.

    JJ--I wonder if remembering mistakes like this is linked to survival of the species! Why else would these things be so deeply embedded in our memories?

    LeAnn--Isn't it comforting to know that most all parents can relate?! Sorry you are still having comment trouble. I appreciate your extra effort!

  5. Galen,
    There seems to be a lot of trauma associated with childhood spelling bees. I can remember in the second grade when Geneva "my main man" on our spelling bee team was given the word ICE to spell for all the marbles (winner of the second grade spelling bee contest). She proudly pronounced the word ICE and then spelled it IEC. That was the of a beautiful relationship; I couldn't bring myself to to carry her lunch pail any more.

  6. My imperfections I call life lessons, if I can't grow from them and learn the lesson I am to learn, then I have not grown as a human being.

    I love reading your posts, thank you. They remind me of what I've had to learn, or was meant to learn, and I appreciate revisiting my life lessons. This is an excellent consciousness awareness for me. I choose to look at how far I've come from what I didn't know back then, and I get to look forward to what I still have to learn!

    Enjoy your day!

  7. Riley--That's so interesting! What is it about spelling bees that is so traumatic?! I wonder whatever happened to Geneva! Perhaps she became a recluse in shame.

    darlin--Great attitude about imperfections. And thank you for the kind words. It is nice, isn't it, to have some of our life lessons affirmed from time to time!

  8. Galen,

    You've really hit the target again with this post! It all depends on where we place our attention, doesn't it? Our brain really encodes these difficult messages, but with encouragement like this, we can realize they are false messages and change our habits of perception as Pema says. I love the title of Rabbi Kushner's book. It's a great question. Thanks for reminding us to pay attention to the positive. This post really hit home for me.

  9. In therapy, we learn to acknowledge that what has happened has happened but we remove the intense emotion from the past memory. We are able to view our situation with more objectivity and much less pain. Our mind also has a tendency to forget about the one bad thing that happened in our lives and forget about the other 99 things that have happened well.

    Your article is a wonderful reminder that we are already perfect as we are - even for all the imperfections. Thanks for sharing!

  10. you have such a lovely way with words...I grew up with perfectionists and one child and my partner are perfectionists. I am not though I wasted precious time in my life trying to meet their standards. I feel judged many moments in my life, and am learning to laugh about it in my mature moments...
    I loved Pema Chordon's book

    Hope you are doing well

  11. It's so true... mistakes stay with us for years, even when it's best to just let go.

    I remember misspelling "fiduciary" in a spelling bee, many years ago. I've also won a couple of spelling bees - but the funny thing is, I don't remember the words I won them with.

  12. A belated thank you to Sandra, Evelyn, and Patricia for your comments. I apologize for not responding promptly, especially when I appreciate your comments so much!

    Sandra--I'm glad this post was meaningful to you. We are so hard on ourselves! Like right now, I'm upset that I let these comments slip past me without responding.

    Evelyn--I wonder why that is. I can remember one bad student evaluations more vividly than I can remember hundreds of glowing ones. We must be wired that way, but with effort we can build more positive habits.

    Patricia--Pema Chodron is one of my favorites teachers. Those perfectionist standards can be so deeply internalized as children. Very hard to break free of, but it can be done.

    Clingspiration--Wow. I bet if we did a survey of spelling bee contestants decades later, we would find this to be true. Well, I bet you never misspelled fiduciary again!


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