Having Courage in Imperfection

We oftentimes judge ourselves harshly. To be your biggest critic is a reflection of your own insecurity and your struggle with perfectionism. I, like many, have learned this the hard way.

In setting several goals in my life, many of them educational, I have often struggled with trying to produce my very best possible product, instead of producing the best that I could within a defined period of time (ie. a 78 instead of a 91 on a pretty big history paper in Dr. Bartley’s Black Thinkers class). In my case, a fifteen point deduction, was very much emblematic of my day-late dollar short tendencies, and it is something that I still struggle with profoundly.

One thing that has served me well in the years since, has been remembering that it takes far greater courage to produce something that is not my most polished or my best, than to toil for extra hours and not be compliant with a deadline.

It all boils down to discipline, and I have found that having the courage to be disciplined, even while imperfect, always produces better results.

In this case, I have had several saved blog posts, several drafts of ideas that I had been working on, either saved on the site or in the notes app on my phone, or in the voice app on my phone.

I have been so critical of what my unpolished thoughts looked like, that I told myself, I needed more time, and more space, and more research to bring about something very resonant and profound, or at least relevant and worthy of someone else’s eyes to read.

Sometimes we use perfectionism as an excuse to not discipline ourselves enough to do the regular work that is necessary to create the results we desire, and to ultimately become the better self that we aim to become.

In my own case, I believe that it is some of this, and also the very real, very stifling, very ugly thought, (that my vanity hates to admit to), that I might not be enough.

Perfectionism does this to us. It places magnifying glasses in all of the dark places where we hide our insecurities. Finding courage while being imperfect sounds good enough, but actually doing it requires a willingness to accept your own failings. Regularly. To acknowledge the mediocre parts, and remember that consistency, more often than not, improves a particular endeavor–even more than natural ability.

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The study of stoicism, is helpful in engaging in one’s own toiling, because the Stoics remind us that patience is absolutely necessary for survival and maintaining one’s own sanity. Temperance and struggle are both necessary to arrive at an end. We can face our demons while recognizing that we are not the fully-evolved creatures that we aim to be.

Seneca once said, when writing of the happy life,

I shall add weight to your reproaches in due course and take myself to task more than you imagine, but for the present I give you this reply: I am not wise, and to feed your spite, I shall never be so. And so demand of me, not that I should be equal to the best, but that I should be better than the wicked: I am satisfied if each day I make some reduction in the number of my vices and find fault with my mistakes

Remembering that failure is inevitable, but also profoundly useful, provides the ability to forgive yourself, when you recognize that there is a lesson in strife itself, and also probably one in the particular situation you are facing.

You can have an ideal, and recognize that you are not living up to it. It is not the epitome of hypocrisy, but rather the mark of humanity. Seneca continued in his view on the matter:

I speak of virtue, not of myself, and my abuse is directed at vices, especially at my own: when I can, I live as I should do. And that malice of yours, dyed deep with venom, will not discourage me from engaging with what is best; not even that poison you sprinkle on others, that poison with which you are killing yourselves, will hinder me from continuing to praise the life, not that I lead, but that I should lead, or from revering virtue and following her, though haltingly and at a great distance behind

These things are often easier said than done. It takes time to mature, but recognizing that we follow the virtue that we revere at a great distance behind, is often the first step to recognizing that we fall short. Thus begins our journey.

Maturity has been a huge help to me, in developing patience. Watching my son grow has been a gift in this regard. When he was younger, he was often impatient when one thing or another did not go his way–square peg in a round hole, exasperated by his frustration with something or other. It reminded me of how, not long ago, my own store of patience was like that of a small child.

Growth allows us to recognize that while we have unmet desires today, it does not mean that they will continue to be unmet tomorrow or the day after, or the year after, or whenever that desire manifests.

But patience, courage–accepting that things don’t always happen in the timeframe that we expect, or that we do not yet have the capacity to produce our greatest work, in a small space of time–are vital to chipping away at our perfectionism (read: vanity), and our ability to accept that we are still becoming. I remind myself of this often–that I am still becoming, and that in order to ensure my progress, I must engage in activities that force me to be uncomfortable with my current state.

And that if I produce before I am ready, or I am at a loss to convey an idea in its most pure and profound form, that I still have time, to recreate, and reflect, and engage by consuming those with far greater insights than my own. I finally have the courage to be okay with my own imperfection. It frees me to create and to also develop my discipline by thinking, acting, reading, reflecting and engaging in the cycle all over again.

I have found that in all of my experiences, good and bad, academic and non-academic, doing while not feeling ready, has mostly been a prerequisite for success. It is often our own ego that does not allow us to humble ourselves and remember that we are in progress, and that each creation we place into the world is a reflection of that.

So my impatience is tempered by my memory that at some point in this linear progression what I will produce or create will be better than what I have done today. That thought resigns me to continue, and to forget that I ever thought that I had the capacity to be free of flaws (subconciously, of course).