Just Let Go
“The important work of moving the world forward does not wait to be done by perfect
~ George Eliot
We are constantly bombarded with perfection.
Adonis on the cover of
Men’sHealth and Helen on the cover of Vogue; women and men getting together on the
larger-than-life screen, resolving conflicts in two hours or less, delivering perfect lines,
making perfect love.
Parents and teachers exalt the flawless ‘A’; college admission
officers expect resumes without end.
We’ve all heard our self-help Gurus tell us that
there is no limit to our potential, that what we can believe we can achieve, that where
there’s a will there’s a way.
We’ve been told that we can find bliss if only we follow the
road not taken, or the road taken by our serene spiritual leader—the one with the best
smile on the cover of the New York Times best seller.
The yearning for perfection has its roots in the Garden of Eden, having descended
there from Heaven; it blossomed throughout Western Philosophy, first in the shape of
Plato’s forms, and then in the form of Weber’s ideal types.
“When Plato wrote that
everything on earth has its ideal version in heaven,” says Diane Ackerman, “many took
what he said literally.
But for me the importance of Plato’s ideal forms lies not in their
truth but in our desire for the flawless.”
The desire for the flawless condemns us to
perpetual displeasure with who we are: “Even the most comely of us feel like eternally
ugly ducklings who yearn to be transformed into swans.”
Who among us has not, at times, allowed an awareness of our shortcomings to
overshadow our triumphs and achievements?
Is the flesh and blood behind the Adonic
picture wholly satisfied with his relationships, or his investments, and does he not feel
threatened by next month’s cover boy?
Is the non-digitally-enhanced Helen totally happy
with her skin or SAT scores, and is she indifferent to the ticking of the clock and the
omnipresent force of gravity?
The antidote to perfectionism is acceptance.
When we do not accept our flaws,
we focus on them constantly—we magnify them and deny ourselves the silent
satisfaction of serenity.
Imagine spending a year in school—reading and writing and
learning—without concern for the report card at the end of the ride.
Or being in a
relationship without the need to mask imperfections.
Or getting up in the morning and
embracing the man, or woman, in the mirror.
Acceptance, however, is not the panacea for perfectionism, and expecting it to
work miracles will only lead to further unhappiness.
In our search for serenity through
acceptance, we inevitably experience much turmoil.
Swayed by promises of heaven on
earth, lured by sirens in the odyssey toward self acceptance, we look for perfect
tranquility—and when we do not find it, we feel frustrated, disillusioned.
And it is,
indeed, an illusion that we can be perfectly accepting and hence perfectly serene.