To Begin

To Begin

You’ve got to start somewhere.

When I was little, I remember looking at the Minesweeper game on my family’s computer but having no idea how to play it.  (Kind of similar to the Risk computer game…except I’ve never taken the time to figure Risk out.)  I would click random boxes and then numbers would appear until, eventually, everything would explode.  Not knowing the purpose or goal of the game meant success was unlikely to happen.

However, even now that I know the game, I still find it slightly frustrating that there is no perfect way to start it.  Usually you don’t end up selecting a mine right away but sometimes you do.  And there is no foolproof way to avoid it.  You simply need to begin in a random place.

Sometimes I feel that way with life.  Transformations that I desire to happen or significant projects I would like to complete often baffle me by providing no clear entry point.  Where does one begin?  What is the correct way to start?

For years, I’ve wanted to write a book.  When I was younger, it was simply the broad idea of desiring to write a book.  Now I know the topic, the title, and the general idea, but I still lack the plan I believe I need to be successful in the endeavor.  I want some clear outline or step-by-step process that will enable me to have a fail proof starting point.  However, the perfect beginning eludes me.  Continue reading “To Begin”

It doesn’t have to be perfect

It doesn’t have to be perfect

It doesn’t have to be perfect.

I’m sitting in my college Honors class.  The two hour class occurs twice each week and is entirely discussion based.  We are reading the classics and then we discuss them, seated in a circled with annotated copies of Western Civilization’s greatest works at hand.  I cannot bring myself to talk and I feel helpless as class after class passes and I say nothing.  The longer my silence goes, the more convinced I am that the first time I say something, it must be brilliant.  It must be perfect.  It must redeem the previous hours of silence.  But with such pressure, how can I ever speak?  After a class mid-way through the semester, one of my peers tells me that I have things to say, I just need to say them.  The perfectly sculpted answer never comes into my head, though.

It doesn’t have to be perfect.

It is my senior year of college and I am sitting in my boyfriend’s car.  It doesn’t matter what the question was that he had just asked me.  It wasn’t a one time occurrence.  He asks me a question and the little introvert retreats into her mind.  Maybe the question really required some deep thought, but sometimes it was just trying to come up with the perfect way to phrase my response.  Sometimes we sat there for fifteen minutes, the silence heavy and my brain actively trying to arrive at perfection.  I was asked to just say something and I found it difficult.  It needed to be just right.  It should be a perfect answer after twenty minutes of deep thought.  

It doesn’t have to be perfect.

But I want it to be perfect.

Twice over the past week it has been presented to me that it is alright that something is not perfect.  I am an idealist through and through.  While I live in this reality, my mind is often caught up in a world of what should be.  After a talk I recently attended, there was a bit of discussion.  One of the women who attended shared a bit of her heart with the group and one of the guys there responded to her.  There was an exchange of dialogue and then a couple beats of awkward silence, the group trying to transition to the next subject.   I found that the awkward transition bothered me.  My idealistic self wanted the conversation to flow naturally, for people to share their hearts and for everyone to respond in the perfect way.

It doesn’t have to be perfect, Trish.  

Humanity is a sea of imperfection.  I should be used to it: I’m a little pool of imperfection.  And yet I find myself wanting for things to play out as they do in the movies or in book: perfectly scripted where everybody knows their cues.  But it is fine for things to not be perfect.

Then I went to a retreat and there were a few times when people were able to share a little witness of what they had received in prayer.  When people got up to speak, I felt sorry for them if they seemed a bit nervous.  Yet I found myself internally willing them to not be nervous and hoping they would say everything perfectly.

It made me pause: what is my hopeless addiction to things being perfect?  I’ve scripted and re-scripted how I meet the man I will marry.  I look through food blogs and I pin recipe after recipe of perfectly photographed culinary delights.  I imagine running race after race to become perfectly in shape.

It doesn’t have to be perfect.  In the midst of someone’s suffering, some words spoken in comfort are far better than the nothingness while you seek for perfection.  When hungry, something adequate is far better than the perfectly pulled together meal that never happens.  When training for a race, the ugly flailing of limbs is better than waiting for perfection to spontaneously take root in you.

I am now beginning to understand the phrase that a dear priest would say repeatedly: if something is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.  So he was quoting dear G.K. Chesterton, but I will always think of him with that phrase.  And now I am getting it.  At the time I probably thought: wouldn’t it be best to do it well?  Of course, if one can do it well, they should do it well.  But some things, one must simply do, whether or not they do it well.  If the race is worth running at all, then I should do it, even if I do poorly.  If the class is worth teaching, then I should teach it, even if I don’t do it perfectly.  If the words are worth speaking, I should speak them, even if I fumble and don’t find the exact phrasing I want.

Chesterton and that dear priest were advocating trying, even if you failed.  That has not been my life motto.  Mine would be pretty close the opposite.  “If something is worth doing, think about it for a long time until you think you can do it perfectly, otherwise don’t do it at all because it might not be quite right.”  A bit of a different worldview, I would say.

I cannot advocate the absolute crushing of the ideals I have, but I can propose that the ideals should be remembered as something to strive for, not the intended starting point.  The goal isn’t to be imperfect, but it is impossible to plan to arrive at perfection immediately.  Instead, the reality of humanity must be taken into full account.  It is acceptable to stumble and fall along the way, as long as we keep getting back up and moving forward.  If I come to terms with the imperfection that is naturally within others, perhaps I can give myself greater permission to come to terms with the imperfection that is overflowing within me.  Instead of masking it, I could acknowledge it and then set about pursuing something more, something better.   

Reality isn’t perfect.  It is flawed, messy, and doesn’t follow a neat set of rules.  But it is what I have.

If life is worth living at all, then it is worth living badly while in the pursuit of something great.  And this little heart of my deeply needs to just live without the strain of perfection.  Jesus said His yoke is easy and the burden is light.  Being perfect is not a part of that easy and light.

I’m not perfect and I don’t need to be…yet.

Be Perfect as Your Heavenly Father is Perfect

Confession: I have a problem with perfectionism.

And I think I am only just now realizing the depths of this noxious weed in my soul.  Perfectionism is easy to portray well and make it seem like a good thing, rather than the lie that it is.  It can actually be stifling.  While I know this theoretically, it is entirely another thing to believe it with my actions.

One memory I have of perfectionism having the upper hand is when my dad was teaching me how to drive.  I was pretty resistant.  Every teenager seems to yearn for the day when they can take the keys and drive to places on their own.  I wanted to drive, but I didn’t want to learn to drive on the manual transmission car that my dad had for me.  With an automatic car, you just drive.  You focus on the road, on the signs, on the other cars, but the rest is condensed to brake and gas pedals.  Manuals will stall and quit at the most inconvenient times: like a small town stop sign after the high school graduation and everyone is behind you on their way to open houses.  If I had any hopes that my dad would give in, I would have tried to avoid learning how to drive that car and wait for him to get me an automatic.  However, I understood the stubbornness of the person with whom I was dealing; he was adamant: learn to drive this car or ride the bus.

The first time he took me out to drive, I probably sat in the car for twenty minutes before we even moved.  My younger sister was sprawled out on the deck, eagerly awaiting my driving experience.  After a few minutes, she went into the house and told my mom, “I would have been long gone by now.”  My mom said that was what she feared.

My dad had demonstrated driving the car, so I could watch him shift.  I was cautious and made him go over what I was supposed to do several times.  Then I repeated it back to him because I wanted to get it right the first time.  I didn’t want the car to start moving and then die, only to have to start the process all over again.  Eventually, I put the clutch to the floor, eased off the brake and onto the gas pedal, and we moved forward slowly.  And then it died.  The process happened over and over again.  I drove up the driveway and out onto the gravel road, running the car in first gear when second would have been kinder to it.

One time while I was still in the early learning stages, my dad asked if I wanted to drive to our property on the other side of the creek.  I said no because I didn’t want to practice.  So he asked my younger sister if she wanted to and, of course, she said yes.

I was furious.  I wanted to get out of the car and walk home.  She was seemingly unafraid to try and fail.  At this point, I found a sudden desire to drive, but it was too late.  I was riding with my 11-year-old sister at the wheel.  To my young melodramatic heart, it was an injustice.  My desire to do it perfectly or not at all was shot to pieces by my sister volunteering to take on the challenge.

I have never actually thought that I could be perfect or that I was perfect.  My flaws (or some of them) are well-known to me.  Perfectionism doesn’t mean I have a room that is always tidy, a desk that is clean and orderly, or that I’m always pulled together.  I have simply tried to avoid making mistakes.  Some of this is a good desire.  We are to strive for excellence.  Other times, it makes the mistakes feel so much more burdensome or weighty then they actually are.  It can lead to feeling hemmed in since any option could result in failure.

Nobody likes to fail, I get it.  But some do it better than others.  I read an article about Stephen Colbert and he had an interesting “motto,” if you will: Learn to love the bomb.  In the midst of failing, learn to love it and not be afraid of it.

To me, that is a crazy notion, one that I want to let him run with into a nice little box of, “Well, he is a comedian, of course that would be helpful in his profession.”  But, in truth, I cannot stand by that.  My mental picture of his motto is like skydiving…without a parachute.  Or one that you don’t know if it will open.  And you are loving the drop, the racing heart, the pit in your stomach that tells you: This. Is. Crazy.

I prefer to be in control.  I’ve never thought of myself as needing to be charge, because most of the time I don’t want to lead anything, ever.  Yet I do love my ability to say no or to not do what others are doing.  Sometimes, I am stubborn simply to be stubborn.  Perhaps it is so that I won’t be seen as just “nice” or a push-over.  I learned the “don’t give in to peer pressure” thing really well.  Few can make me do something I don’t want to do.  I’ll maybe even do the opposite of what you want me to do.  For some reason, I like it to be known that if I’m complying with requests, it is because it is my choice, since I could very well do the opposite.

So what does this have to do with perfectionism?  I spend much of my life refusing to put myself in positions where I might fail.  Activities, relationships, conversations, new experiences: all things that could potentially not end perfectly or require failure in the process of learning are less than palatable to me.  Yes, I know what you are thinking, “But you can’t succeed if you don’t risk something.”  I chalk it all up to logic: why make mistakes when you can avoid them?

Which is all fine until you find yourself in a position that requires a risk.  If you don’t risk, you will definitely lose and maybe God doesn’t want you to just pray it out.  Maybe He wants an action.  Maybe the lesson is in trusting yourself less and trusting more that He can and will pick you up when you fall.  Maybe you are supposed to fail.  Yet the very idea of the risk makes my heart threaten self-eviction.  I want to think of every possible outcome before I take that first step, so I can be prepared if things come crashing down.

Or the risk might turn out to be a successful leap.  It might be worth it, there might be joy, there might be happiness and peace.  What if the risk turned out to produce the best type of reward?

This quote comes to mind:

My melancholic pessimism sneaks up again and whispers, “But, seriously, what if you fall?

As I’ve been writing this, I’ve been trying to think of a way out of a perfectionism that can feel a bit stifling at times.  How do you move beyond it?

“Be OK with failing.”  Sure–but how?
“Put yourself out there.”  Out where?  And when?

This is where the head and the heart are in utter conflict again.

This imperfect soul has no neat conclusion to this dilemma.  I have no solution that can be quickly applied, no wisdom to pull me out of the mire, and no lesson to contrive from these words.

In an attempt to combat this perfectionism, I’m going to end this post imperfectly.

I’m going to be striving for Heaven, but I’m going to fall on my face many, many times.  But Jesus knows that and so I’m trying to be okay with that.

***And, in unexpected irony, of all my blog posts, this post on perfectionism was the most difficult to get to the point where I wanted to publish it.

Because I wanted to at least phrase it perfectly…