Sunday, November 2, 2014

Don't Block the Tackle: Perfection & Getting What You Really Want

I've been working my way through the exercises in The Desire Map by Danielle LaPorte, and at one point in the book, she recommends writing down what you want. It's a deceptively simple exercise. I say deceptive because most of us think we know what we want. We have our goals and our vision boards. We have our agendas, and our plans. Our "30 before 30" lists and bucket lists and on and on.

But how often do we ask ourselves the question so straightforwardly: What is it that I want?

It's interesting, the kinds of answers the mind provides.

Things like long hikes and solitary sunrises, skies streaked shades of neon pink. The feeling of warmth on my skin, to be engulfed by the smell of sun-baked pine, to wander along dusty trails, and to be astonished by the beauty of nature, over and over again. The mountains and the mesas of the American West, always. Thunderstorms, the kind that shake me out of my bones and bring with them lightning so bright it leaves imprints on the inside of my eyelids. To run long and hard. Yoga so transcendent I lose my mind...and find it again. To read widely; to worship at the altar of literature that makes me laugh or cry. Ritual, clarity, magic, and the courage to be vulnerable in the face of fear. Connection and community. Eight hours of sleep per night, and the occasional all-nighter that involves dancing till dawn. The most delicious and nourishing food I can afford. Dinners around the table, the faces of loved ones illuminated by candlelight. Whiskey, wine, and the kind of friends that prompt me to give tipsy, teary-eyed toasts to their utter irreplaceability. Really good coffee, preferably organic. A space filled with art, light, texture, plants, and the laughter of people I cherish. An easy and informed relationship with my finances. Work that makes an impact--that changes the definition of what's possible--and the opportunity to mentor and be mentored by those I admire. A messy, real, all-in kind of love. A messy, real, all-in kind of life.

You know what didn't make the list in any way, shape, or form?

The word "perfect." The concept of perfection. Or any variation thereof.

This does not surprise me.

Because here is what I know about perfection.

Perfectionism is a shield, a way to protect ourselves from the possibility of not being "enough" of something for someone. Because if we have to be perfect, we can't ever be ready and therefore we never have to share ourselves with the world. We never have to run the risk that we'll step up to the plate, swing with everything we've got, and miss. So, instead we sit on the sidelines of our life, silently practicing our moves to perfection under the guise of "preparation" until we realize the game has long since ended and the stadium has gone dark.

Perfectionism is a badge, one that we relish with a a twisted sense of pride at the chronic stress, illness, and exhaustion that accompanies its relentless pursuit. Our symptoms, we reason, are proof positive that we're working hard enough. After all, we've worn ourselves out with all our incredibly hard work! So we curl into the cocoon of perfectionism, safe in the knowledge of our own worthiness--relieved that our constant activity precludes questions like do I believe in what I'm doing? and does it bring me pleasure? and, perhaps most subversively, is it really the best use of my time?

Perfectionism is the whip that ensures we're hustling on the surface of our lives, never dipping into the substance. The great irony is that perfectionism lets us off the hook for the things that matter most. It removes accountability for the messy and difficult work of creating lives of true meaning and joy.

Obsessing over the level of cleanliness of the house leaves little time for examining whether we're living in a place, or a city, that feels like home.

Bemoaning a blemish in the mirror makes it difficult to notice how we feel about the person--as opposed to the appearance--in the mirror.

Beating ourselves up over a broken relationship or professional misstep means we never get to ask: What did I learn from this about who I am and what I want?

And you know what else is true about perfectionism? At the end of the day, it's really pretty boring. I don't know about you, but I've never hoped to be remembered for the cleanliness of my countertops, the tightness of my pores, or the lengths to which I went in order to avoid upsetting anyone.

The wonderful Cheryl Strayed wrote in Tiny Beautiful Things, "The best thing you can possibly do with your life is to tackle the mother[effing] shit out of it."

Perfectionism blocks the tackle. It keeps us in the periphery of our lives, while the real story, the interesting story happens under our noses yet out of reach. Not only is perfection not helpful in the pursuit of what we want, it's downright incompatible with it--maybe even its opposite--because it keeps us small, fearful, tired, boring, and bored...in other words, exactly the things we don't want to be.

No, I don't want perfect. Give me "the full catastrophe," as Zorba the Greek referred to the imperfect fullness of life, bursting with...well, life.

Life. Real life. Real, imperfect life and its infinite potential.

Now that's what I want.

Blitz!

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