We broke new ground in my therapy session yesterday. For the first time ever, I was given a homework assignment at the conclusion of my hour: write a blog post on “the grey area of life”. Upon receiving this instruction, I beamed with excitement. Finally, the perfect opportunity to demonstrate what I’ve learned from the session and how I can apply it to my life. Any homework assignment that involves personal reflection and self-expression is one that I will readily take on with open arms. I have always loved to write, as I find it therapeutic and insightful. This assignment proved to be no exception.
If you’ve ever known a perfectionist, or if you consider yourself to be one, then you are probably aware of how invasive the desire for ‘perfection’ can be. It has the potential to penetrate any number of areas of your life, whether it be your career, your education, your family life, or your romantic relationships. You start to notice distinct black & white thinking. If something isn’t perfect, then it’s no good at all. You choose to remove it from your life as best you can. But herein lies the problem. Nothing in life is perfect. Life is messy and unpredictable. Expectations are not always met, and disappointment is inevitable. When you limit yourself to accepting nothing but perfection, you limit your life to few possibilities. And of those possibilities, the options become even more obscure as life continues to muddy the waters further. Even if something appears to be ‘perfect’, it may not always exist in a perfect state. The perfect person makes mistakes. The perfect flower ultimately shrivels and dies. The perfect day turns into night and then vanishes forever. Perfect is not a reasonable standard. There is room for imperfection. There is room for the grey.
If you begin to compartmentalize the world according to black & white, you’ll soon find that many things do not fit well into either category. A third category begins to outweigh the other two: the grey category. Life isn’t as concrete as we hope it to be, and sometimes all we can do is accept it. I don’t believe in standards being too high, but I do believe that standards can be too extreme. And unfortunately, I’m beginning to think that I’ve set too extreme of standards with little room for imperfection. Maybe it’s in my nature…or maybe it’s from my upbringing.
I remember when I was little (and even to this day), being limited to the types of trash that I could throw in my father’s waste basket in his room. No food, no crumbs, no dirty tissues, and no crumbled up papers. All disposables for that trash had to be neatly folded papers. He was anal, and had extreme expectations for perfection. I remember being warned not to eat a tic tac even 2 hours before dinner since it would “ruin my appetite”. I remember being scolded for trying to draw lines free-handedly on my projects. “Don’t you want it to look nice and neat? Don’t you want it to look like you spent time on it? You need to use a ruler”. I remember being forbidden to ride on a school bus in the rain (on account of the danger), causing me to miss out on class field trips with my friends. I remember coming home from school, excited to share a “B+” grade, only to be asked why it wasn’t an “A”. So maybe it is a bit of nature…but my suspicions tell me it’s nurture.
I have been programmed to strive for perfection, and to look for perfection in everything I do and in everyone I know. And while in many ways this is a blessing, it has also doubled as a curse. I have scared away many good people from my rigid judgements and extreme expectations. I have discounted the good because it wasn’t good enough. I have allowed myself to feel disappointed from people and things that have not even truly been disappointing. I have allowed myself to dwell on the future and fear imperfection, rather than revel in the present and appreciate the now.
So I challenge myself to mind the grey; to accept the fact that the world is imperfect, and that many things in life will not be black or white. I challenge myself to get comfortable with grey areas in my life, and to find the good in even the things that aren’t the exact way I wish them to be. I challenge myself to be mindful, and to seize the moment without the mistake of tainting it with flawed and senseless suppositions of the future. A friend at work once told me of her favorite quote, which resonates nicely with the theme of this post: “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good”. I challenge myself not to.