Friday, August 15, 2008

Striving for perfection

Yesterday my daughter chose to spend her day off (from the camp where she works on Orcas Island) riding the ferry to Anacortes to meet me and one of her friends for a girls' day out.

So I rose early, picked up her friend, and drove north to meet the ferry. We spent the early part of the day at a discount mall, had a late lunch at a little Greek/Italian restaurant in Mount Vernon, and then spent the rest of the afternoon at the Mount Vernon Value Village, a charity-based second-hand store which has provided entertainment for me and the girls since we arrived in Seattle almost 20 years ago.

We had a blast, didn't spend a lot of money, bought some styrofoam wig heads for an as-yet-undefined future art project, bought goofy gifts for numerous friends, and enjoyed ourselves enormously. Ali's friend (I'll call her Haley) and I put Ali on the 6:50 ferry and began the long (hour and a half) drive home to the Edmonds ferry, and along the way we talked a lot about self-image.

And Haley, who is a tall, statuesque young woman with a vibrant personality, endless and spectacular legs, a great singing voice and stage presence, a lovely face, great hair, brains, passion and humor talked about her insecurities: her fat stomach (it isn't), her large nose (it fits her face beautifully and gives her character), her jealousy of my daughter's ability to wear bizarre clothes and pull it off.

And I, still in the throes of this play, find myself wishing I had Haley's powerful voice (mine is weak, which is particularly problematic when I am in a duet with a grade school principal whose voice can stop a third-grader on the far side of a gym). And I, looking at the photos of the play that are being loaded onto the group's website, mourn my appearance and wish I had Haley's slim figure, lovely legs and coltish grace.

This morning my friend Karen blogged about perfectionism. Clearly she is not alone in dealing with the perfectionist bug: Each of us, including Haley, is holding somewhere within us an image of what we SHOULD be, and each of us struggles with the voices in our heads that remind us that we don't measure up. Each of us, like the angel in the picture, fiddles with our clothes and appearance and secretly longs for that impractical and unattainable goal while failing to appreciate all the fine things we are and have.

The good news is that all three of us also understand that those voices are not necessarily speaking truth, and each of us, for a variety of reasons having to do largely with the difficult things we have encountered in our lives, have learned the folly of listening to those voices. There is another, deeper voice in each of us that breathes acceptance and love, that calls us to set aside these petty concerns, that inspires us to gratitude and service.

At the end of her blog, Karen concludes: "I am broken; I am not perfect. But perhaps I can be a safer person for myself and others, if I am more accepting of that fact, more humble, loving and open, and less perfect."

She's absolutely right. And her willingness to admit the struggle, to bare her own wrestling with the issue, and to speak openly of the unconditional divine Love that accepts and loves us as we are, inspires the rest of us to do the same. The more successfully we begin to overpower those perfectionist voices, and the better we are at loving and accepting ourselves, the more we can begin to create a safe space in which those around us may come to do the same.

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