It may be fair to say that I have a teensy bit of a tendency to be a perfectionist. It may also be fair to say that the older I get, the more I realize what a futile situation I create for myself in striving to do things perfectly.
I have, however, found one thing I am absolutely perfect at: imperfection. I’ve got it nailed. Fall short every day? Check. Lack discipline? Check. Disappoint people? Check. Miss the mark? Check. Make mistakes? Check.
I’m all over this imperfection thing.
If I would have known how perfect I could be at imperfection when I was in my 20s and 30s, I could have saved myself a whole lot of struggle.
As life turns knowledge into wisdom, I have learned that the desire for perfection is actually quite evil. It is what undercuts effort due to fear of failure. Creative sparks die in the wind of perfection. Dreams get minimized if they seem unattainable…and minimized dreams are not dreams at all, but consolation prizes.
To be clear, I’m not embracing purposefully doing things poorly, but I am embracing the idea that fearing you might do something poorly is no reason not to try. I’ve failed a lot lately, and…I’m still here. That alone speaks to the myth of perfectionism. Perhaps perfectionism is just ego wrapped up in a pretty package.
As I think about this, I am reminded of my days on my college softball team. Now there is a lesson in embracing imperfection.
To set the scene just a bit, the transition from slow pitch to fast pitch for girls’ softball happened when I began high school. That meant that until I was a freshman, the only softball I had ever played was slow pitch. When I went to the orientation meeting for my high school team, I was so put off by the coach that I decided I didn’t even want to try out for the team…so I never learned to play fast pitch. (By the way—deciding to let the coach’s personality be the reason I didn’t try out was a stupid, short-sighted decision on my part. Ah, youth…)
Fast forward to college. Some girls from the school’s softball team were encouraging me to try out for the coming season’s team. I told them that I had no experience with fast pitch, but they said it didn’t matter—that no one would be cut from tryouts because they simply needed enough girls to form a team and let the university fulfill its Division I status. No risk in that, right? So I decided to go to tryouts…where there had to be at least one hundred girls attempting to make the team. So much for no cuts.
As long as I was there, I thought, what the heck? I’ll give it a shot. Thankfully, my old abilities came back to me, and my fielding skills were pretty tight. But next was batting…
Since tryouts were in late winter, they were indoors. This meant that the batting portion of the tryouts was a pitching machine firing out whiffle softballs…and…I crushed them. I mean…I impressed myself. Piece of cake, I thought. Maybe this fast pitch wasn’t so hard after all.
And then spring came.
My first at bat in the lovely outdoors went something like this: I stood in the batter’s box and waited for the pitcher to throw the ball…only she already had. It was so fast, I barely computed its whizzing by me. And whizzing by me. And whizzing by me. I would try to swing and be so behind the pitch it was laughable—except to my coach. He looked at me with a “please tell me you aren’t seriously this bad/how did you get on the team/there is no way I can remediate you at this point” look on his face.
I did, however, achieve perfection that season—a perfect .000 for my batting average. The coach did use me as a utility player when he needed one, but if my memory serves me correctly, I struck out every time at bat. Every. Time.
At tryouts, I had no idea how poor of a fast pitch batter I would be. I had no idea how quickly I was barreling toward gaping imperfection. I had no idea how humbling it would be to go from a worthy player to one who pretty much accidentally made the team.
But I survived, and so did the team. And we had a whole lot of fun that season.
And I would do it all over again.
Of course, back then, I didn’t have the perspective of this lesson of imperfection. I just had the frustration of sucking at batting. But it was an important piece of the puzzle that would help me to eventually realize that I would have rather been on the team and struggled than not have been on the team at all.
Being perfect at imperfection is freeing. It takes the pressure off. It opens up possibilities because you know that if you strike out, you’ll live to play another day. And who doesn’t want to play another day?
In fact…I think a brand new game is starting…