Imperfection is perfect

January 5th, 2013

In a Peanuts cartoon Lucy tells Charlie Brown, “I have examined my life and found it to be without flaw. Therefore, I’m going to hold a ceremony and present myself with a medal. I will then give a moving acceptance speech. After that, I’ll greet myself in the receiving line.” She then says, “When you’re perfect, you have to do everything yourself.”

We all have a little Lucy in us, with our own expectations and surprised that people and events don’t fall into line. Ironically, its our expectation of perfection that gets in the way of  a perfectly peaceful experience of life. Perfection is nowhere, and yet in a state of peace perfection is NOW here. In other words, you can never get to perfection. Striving for perfection takes you in the opposite direction of peace. When you stop striving, you realize the perfection that was there all along. Perfection has nothing to do with never making mistakes or having all the answers. It’s perfect acceptance of what is. This is peace.

Perfect Examples of Perfect Imperfections

Perfection is the depth of heart that embraces even our mistakes as an opportunity for growth. Babe Ruth was the greatest baseball player of all time, and yet he led the American League in strikeouts for five years of his career (1918, 1923, 1924, 1927 and 1928). In these same years, he also topped the list of home runs. I know next to nothing about baseball, but this seems significant. Was he prepared to take chances and swing hard in order to do his best? Perfection is not to be confused with perfectionism. Perfection is the peace of knowing you are doing your best in each moment, even if your best in the next moment is better, even if its worse.

As Maya Angelou said,

I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.

Vincent Van Gogh was one of the greatest artists of all times, and yet he sold only one painting in his lifetime. The fruits of your best are often not seen in the short term. As Reinhold Niebuhr said, “Nothing worth doing is completed in our lifetime; therefore we are saved by hope. Nothing true or beautiful makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we are saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we are saved by love.” In other words, we are saved from perfectionism by the perfection of inner peace.

Be at peace with your best efforts, even if it’s not appreciated by others. Mozart was told his music had “too many notes and was too noisy.” Einstein was told he was no good at math. A recording company refused to sign the Beatles because they said “groups with guitars are on the way out.” Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team. Steven Spielberg was rejected by film school, twice.

When you are at peace with your best efforts, you let go of the outcomes. Your best often turns up in surprising places. Steve Jobs started Apple in his parent’s garage and within ten years grew it to a ten billion dollar company. A year after launching the Macintosh, Jobs was fired by the CEO he had placed in charge. Jobs also survived his first battle with pancreatic cancer around the same time. This is what Jobs said about doing your best.

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

When you’re at peace that you’ve done as well as you could in the situation, you can let go of perfectionism’s impossible standards, as well as other peoples’ expectations and enjoy what is. In the words of the Tao Te Ching,

Do your best then step back. This is the only path to peace.

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