Daring Greatly or Why Perfection Sucks

I don’t blame religion for our current predicament. Our Western world is obsessed with doing more, being better and engaging in unhealthy competition, especially with ourselves.  I can’t help but wonder how we have gotten so caught up in this notion of perfection. Christianity tells us we are not perfect, but that we should attempt to be like Jesus, who is. It’s a set-up really because perfection doesn’t exist even if Jesus did. It’s a construct that makes us ill as we strive for the unattainable.

“At least you tried,” I hear a small voice say to me. It sounds like a cop-out, like a consolation prize for the just-missed opportunity to show just how perfect you can be.

Only we can’t be.

Brené Brown, an extraordinarily down-to-earth shame researcher who struggles every bit as much as everyone else, says in her recent book Daring Greatly:

Perfect and bulletproof are seductive, but they don’t exist in the human experience.


But oh! How we yearn to be just those things! If we are perfect, we might be seen. People might like us. We might finally be accepted. All clean and neat and fantastically ordered. If we are bulletproof, we will never, ever feel the creep of shame that rides our arteries up to our skulls and back down again.

But have you ever really liked a person you have viewed as perfect and impervious to any kind of mishap? I don’t think so. There is nothing loving and warm and wonderful about someone who tries to be immaculate. Oftentimes they are riddled with judgement, especially about themselves.

To be imperfect and vulnerable is to be human. And to be human is to be alive, making mistakes, getting upset and showing up even in the face of your greatest fear.

The very thing we run away from (the fear of getting hurt) is the very thing that, when we trust that process of opening up to the unknown, makes life worth living. It is that moment when we step on stage, knees knocking, heart pounding, palms sweating, mind whirling, and do it anyway.

Stepping on stage really means taking a risk. When you open your heart, it could get crushed. But to keep it closed means you won’t feel the flip side of fear, which is love.

And love is why we are here.

It’s ironic, isn’t it? It is as if we have to relive the birth experience over and over until we finally get it. Pain is a part of life. It is what ensures us that we get back on our path when we go astray.

And that’s what friends are for. They are the ones who hold your hand across those treacherous ravines, loving you even when you are broken. As Brené writes so beautifully, true friends are the people who love you for your vulnerability, not despite it.

Daring greatly means being in that arena, even if your prospects for success are slim. It’s not about winning, but about showing up and getting up. Time and again. Even when you fall.

I’m game. Are you?

 

The Resistance

Pedaling a bicycle with the brakes on is exhausting. The harder you try, the more you sweat. But despite all that effort, you don’t seem to be getting anywhere — fast.

Have you ever noticed how pervasive resistance is? It is literally everywhere. We combat traffic, we beat the clock, we fight the crowds. Even our language reflects how much struggle we let into our lives.

But let’s back up for a moment. If we start at the very beginning, we begin to understand why we might think life is a constant battleground. The birth process itself involves a lot of resistance. We literally — for the most part — get pushed out into the world. It is no wonder, then, that we think life is a push and pull too.

What if I were to tell you it isn’t?

What if the birth process was just the first test in a series of lifelong exercises to help us come to the understanding that resisting won’t get us anywhere? That resisting is indeed like pedaling a bicycle with the brakes on? That it is pointless and fruitless and completely unnecessary?

Well, if we were to embrace That Which Is instead of demonizing our reality, the world will be a much easier place. We’d jog around the neighborhood with ease, grace, joy and love in our hearts. We would welcome the merging car in front of us instead of flashing our lights and honking our horns and raising our fists — and our blood pressure too.

Not all resistance  is bad. In fact, some of it is very healthy. It fortifies society when people demonstrate and show support for a cause. I am grateful for committed citizens who symbolize democratic values. But we must choose our battles wisely. We really only have a certain amount of strength to enter combat selectively. We must save our energy for that which truly matters to us.

Everything else is simply an exercise in futility.

So if you find yourself standing in line at the check-out counter or in a merging lane, let someone ahead of you. Smile. Release resistance, if only for a moment. You might notice how the tension you’ve been holding slips away. You might start to feel better about yourself, which leads to different choices, which leads to a different experience, which leads to a different life altogether.

All because you decided it was time to let go.

Pretty cool, huh?

 

 

Mystery Unfolding

Wouldn’t life be grand if only it would work out according to plan — I mean our plan. You know the one. All neatly folded and earmarked and tagged with colorful sticky notes that indicate the direction, timing and course of All Things.

And then Life, as it is, unfolds. Exactly as it should. But not exactly as we think it should. Kids get sick. Or angry. Or defiant. Clients move on — without you. Love gets lost. Then found again in a completely surprising, delicious and wondrous form.

I draw strength from Elizabeth Gilbert, kindred spirit of words and author of my ultimate favorite book Eat, Pray, Love. She admitted today on Facebook that she was to go to India tomorrow, a place I also want to visit some day. It had been 11 years since her last visit there. Due to a medical situation she had to change her plans. But not without a fight first.

All I was thinking about — even as the doctor was reviewing my results — was how to salvage this India trip, by any means necessary. At first, I negotiated quite hard against my doctor, trying to talk her out of her diagnosis, trying to convince her that my situation wasn’t really that big a deal, and that my treatment could wait. (Curiously, she was unmoved by my strong and completely un-medical opinion!)

Indeed I can relate to her unwillingness to surrender to her reality. How often do we fight against reality, only to lose on average, according to Byron Katie, 100% of the time?

My son admitted to me tonight that his failing grades might mean he has to repeat a grade.

“So what?” I said. “I have seen you work hard. You want to do well. And you’ve done your best. Trust the timing of things.”

Gilbert’s initial resistance to her medical reality gave way to broader insights, which I also shared with my despairing son.

1) Listen to your body. It speaks a language far smarter than any dialect we can speak.

2) Honor reality. It will win every time.

3) If something is not meant to be, then it is not meant to be — for reasons that you may never even know. You can fight against the timing of your life, or you can trust in it. The flow and the peace will only return when you learn to trust.

My son’s final shudder of relief and an exhalation of elation told me that life’s mystery is what we most honor, not the thoughts, agendas and mind maps we have in our heads.

Trust the mystery unfolding. It’s our beautiful companion. Our failure lies not in our lack of fulfilling what we think we should, but in not accepting that which is.