im·per·fect – adjective \(ˌ)im-pər-fikt\
: having mistakes or problems
: not perfect
Whenever I hear the word “perfect” I whisper a line from my favorite character in my favorite movie – the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz.
After Dorothy hears the Tin Man’s story and then gives him some oil she says, “Well, you’re perfect now.” His reply is how I so often feel:
“Perfect? Oh, bang on my chest if you think I’m perfect! Go ahead. Bang on it! … It’s empty. The tinsmith forgot to give me a heart … No heart … all hollow.”
I resonate with the Tin Man’s emptiness. He’s imperfect and he knows it. He feels the echo of his hollowness. He’s not like everyone else. He’ll never measure up. Others may think he’s perfect on the outside, but inside he knows he’s a mess.
That’s the crazy thing about perfectionism. Outwardly you may appear perfect, but inwardly you’re not living with a whole heart.
Perfectionism is intrinsically connected to shame. And, having grown up in judgmental and shame-focused surroundings, I developed a self-destructive belief system that I could avoid pain and conflict if I did everything perfectly. If, like the Tin Man, I could appear shiny and hardworking on the outside, maybe nobody would notice the pain on the inside.
We don’t know much about the Tin Man’s upbringing, but I wonder if it was like mine. Our home had to be perfect – beds made each day; outfits and hair modestly presentable; chores before play; always cleaning up. God forbid someone in the family “messed up” by wearing something scandalous or swearing or dancing or gambling or drinking or … you get the idea. What would the pastor think? Do you know how disappointed Grandpa would be? Did we just fall out of “God’s will?”
About now, you’re probably expecting me to drop a big transitional phrase like “but, that all changed” … when I got pregnant … when my dad left us … when I started drinking in junior high. Well, none of those scenarios happened, and thus the perfectionism continued and compounded well into my adulthood.
Now, as a parent myself, I’ve seen perfectionism try to tighten its grip and give me a whole new list of ways to be perfect. It’s time to wage war against it.
After soaking up the amazing book Daring Greatly, I’m currently underlining and highlighting the heck out of The Gifts of Imperfection, both by writer and research professor Brene´ Brown. In the books, Brown takes her years of interviews and research on shame, fear, and vulnerability and guides us toward letting go of who we thought we were supposed to be and embracing who we are.
In The Gifts of Imperfection, in the chapter on cultivating self-compassion and letting go of perfectionism, Brown shares that:
“Perfectionism never happens in a vacuum. It touches everyone around us. We pass it down to our children, we infect our workplace with impossible expectations, and it’s suffocating for our friends and families. Thankfully, compassion also spreads quickly. When we’re kind to ourselves, we create a reservoir of compassion that we can extend to others. Our children learn how to be self-compassionate by watching us, and the people around us feel free to be authentic and connected … It is in the process of embracing our imperfections that we find our truest gifts: courage, compassion and connection.”
It’s about the freedom to be authentic and connected, not stifled to be perfect and secretive. Courage. Compassion. Connection. These are some of the best gifts I can pass along to our son.
Have you noticed that as the Tin Man makes his journey to Oz, he finds each of those gifts? Remember when he battles the Wicked Witch of the West? Or, when he cries and rusts when the poppies put everyone to sleep? Or how crucial he is in supporting the dreams of Dorothy, Toto, Scarecrow and Cowardly Lion?
The tinsmith may have forgotten to give him a heart, but when he practices courage, compassion and connection, he finds himself full and loved just as he is. Imperfect.
WORD COUNT: 679
Lindsay Dudeck is an imperfect, introverted and independent spirit. As a recovering legalist and aspiring compassionate soul, Lindsay is learning to fully embrace her Creator and the people He has placed in her path. Professionally, Lindsay is a communications strategist at Fishhook, a creative marketing agency for churches and faith-based organizations. Personally, she has been married to her husband, Joe (a fellow writer and photographer), for nearly 14 years and they have a son and a dog. You can find her online at her blog.
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