There is a blog I like to read that tells funny stories, personal stories, about the blogger’s own life, but about every third entry the blogger does something that makes me wince on her behalf. Before the main subject of the post, she goes into Sad Godzilla Mode, stomping all over her own internal Tokyo with her mascara running, thrashing around destroying the buildings and roaring, “Not perfect! not perfect!” before she can start telling the story she wants to tell. She covers the blog post with disclaimers about how she doesn’t have a perfect life–quite often adding, “not like those bloggers you see” and then a list of the attributes of Perfect Life Bloggers.
And the thing about perfectionists–I know because I am one, and I used to be even more of one–is that telling her, hey, you don’t have to do that, it’s better when you don’t do that will just make her more self-conscious, not actually make her feel better about herself. There is no way to frame this as a far-outsider that will make her feel like she doesn’t have to be perfect. She has to come to that idea on her own, because anybody else introducing it–at least from as far outside her life as I am–will sound like “we have already realized that you suck, and here is another way that you suck: you write your blog posts badly,” not like, “hey, perfection is not a thing that exists in humans, so let’s move on without the disclaimers and hear about where your kid put the peanut butter; that’s what we’re all here for.” I would love to say, “No one reads a blog post and thinks, ‘that person is perfect, their life is perfect,'” but in fact this blogger’s comments are proof that some people do cherish that illusion about others, and flagellate themselves with it. It’s just…most of the rest of us don’t. Most of the rest of us get it. We’re all just doing the best we can, and hey, today the dog was cuddly because she got a haircut and the weather turned, woo. Or today something funny happened in the Ikea elevator when I was there to have lunch with my aunt and uncle. Or whatever. Onwards with today. That is what we’re all doing, glossy photos or not. We are all doing the onwards with today thing.
This is actually why I have started trying to avoid the opportunities to tell my favorite new college student How To College. She will college just fine. She will screw some things up, not because there is something wrong with her but because we all screw things up, and she is in a time in her life when everyone is telling her How To College, as a subset of everyone telling her How To Her. And so when she asks for my thoughts because I actually know something she wants to hear, okay, but otherwise, I am trying to mention thoughts like, hey, I love you and I believe in you, and otherwise thoughts like, I thought this picture Tim took was cool. Here is a video link I liked. Etc. In Hard to Change, Meg Hutchinson sings the line, “don’t wanna make the same mistakes that my parents did,” and once in concert she talked about how her father called her to say, don’t worry, honey, you’ll make your own mistakes. And I think that can be hard from the older side, thinking, well, I’ve made these mistakes, I should be able to stop my younger friends, my children or grandchildren or nieces or nephews or godchildren or whoever, from making them. But there’s a line between the sensible teaching and the overadvising, and the overadvising just feeds into the Sad Godzilla that lives inside many of us. I don’t want my favorite new college student to spend her first year at college feeding Sad Godzilla. I don’t want to be a force in her life pushing her towards thinking about what she’s doing that’s not perfect. I want to be a force in her life encouraging her to think about what she thinks is awesome.
This week I started a class in Scandinavian Woodcarving. I knew I would not be perfect at it. If I was aiming for perfect, I would never have taken it, because I was guaranteed to start out vastly, vastly imperfect. As it turned out, I started out even more imperfect than I had hoped, requiring five stitches, so we’ll see if the vertigo meds induce too much neuropathy for me to do this or if I can work around it. But it’s the sort of thing that can’t arise if the question is, “What would my life have in it to be more perfect?” The question has to be, “What might be awesome? Can we try that and see?” And then iterate. Get better or try something else, or both. Not perfect. Not perfect. Yes. Dreams don’t come in perfect. Let’s hear about what might find room for awesome after Sad Godzilla is done with the flattening.