The Courage to be Imperfect.

My daughter is mowing my yard this summer, while she is home from college.

This past year, she began struggling with anxiety, specifically the belief that she needs to do everything perfectly.  Be aware I told her I wanted to write this blog and she gave me permission.  Also, be aware, I have struggled with depression and anxiety myself, have been in therapy many times either directly or indirectly because of these and am on Prozac, for 16 years. I believe she get her anxiety from me.

Over the past school year, I become aware how deeply she struggles with the drive to be perfect. As many of you parents know from your own children, it was heart breaking to see her struggle as she did.  Anyway, as she began mowing for me, it occurred to me that I could “help” her with this struggle…by asking her to mow my yard IMPERFECTLY.

Imperfectly?  Yes, imperfectly….and obvious to everyone. I am talking about, for example, leaving a strip of yard, IN THE MIDDLE OF THE YARD, un-mowed.

Why?  For a number of very good reasons.

1. Mistakes lead to greater learning and as such, we should embrace them, not abhor them.  Think about this; little Johnny or Janie does a math worksheet in class and makes 5 mistakes.  The teachers examines the mistakes and re-instructs to child.  The child re-learns and soon can do such math problems correctly.  The mistakes lead to additional learning!  We could use them as a guide in our lives but instead, we shame ourselves for them…leading to anxiety.

2. Life doesn’t stop or end when we make mistakes.  So often, I see people believe they would die if they made a mistake or that others would reject them.  This is in most cases, completely incorrect. Yes, there are consequences for making mistakes, some big, some small.  But, the truth is most consequences from mistakes are small and if big, most can to address successfully with an sincere apology.  I am not advocating that you NOT check your work but I am suggesting there is a difference between checking your work and “stressing out” when checking your work.  And an excellent way to figuring out that life doesn’t stop if you make a mistake is to make one, on purpose, and then watch to see what does, or doesn’t happen.  Hence, “Gab, will  you mow my yard imperfectly?”.

3. Making mistakes on purpose also helps us address the question; “Am I a good person even if I make mistakes?”  This is a critical question for people to address.  I am a very good therapist but not so good with numbers…..just ask my Assistant, she reconciles my bank accounts!  Being able to know what I am good at and not so good at forces me to look at how I see myself and others in the world.  If I believe I am only a good person if I don’t make mistakes then I am “screwed” because I/we all make mistakes.  A lot of people believe this but are not aware they believe this.  Being forced to look at how they think helps them decide if that is how they want to think in the future or change. When people look rationally at this idea, “I must be perfect, I must not make mistakes.”; most recognize how irrational it is, reject it and look for another way of “being” in the world.  Then enters the idea of, “It is ok to be imperfect.” This approach, “It is ok to be imperfect.” it seems leads us to look for things we are good at; leading to an overall approach of (something like) “I’m not so good at somethings but that is ok because I’m good at other things.” which is much healthier than “I must be perfect at everything!”

4. Purposely making mistakes puts me in touch with the “yucky” part of myself, my humanness and I need to be in touch with that, as uncomfortable as that is.  Why?  Because it helps you by empathetic and compassionate with others (When you see that you make mistakes, you tend to be more compassionate when you see others make mistakes.).  Further, it keeps you from being arrogant (thinking you never make mistakes and at the risk of repeating myself, we all make mistakes!).  Further, we also realize that the stuff we label as “yucky” is often the BEST stuff in life.

So, I asked Gabrielle to mow my yard imperfectly.


More later…