2015. What a year! It was filled with moments of adventure and moments of mundanity, promising new friendships, tear-filled goodbyes, and long-awaited reunions with old friends. I cried tears of gut-wrenching lament and tears of uncontainable laughter, and I traveled from the mountains of Colorado to the classrooms of Luther Seminary. I experienced moments of vocational clarity and even more moments of “what. the. heck. am. I. doing.” 2015 has been a beautiful, crazy, messy, bittersweet year, and I am so very grateful.
And here we are, on the verge of 2016, a year that is yet to be lived and explored. It sits before us filled with promise and hope, anxiety and uncertainty. And in the meantime, the pressure’s on to make those dreaded New Year’s resolutions. It’s hard to ignore those “motivational” commercials urging us to embrace the mantra, “New year, new you!” The bar is set to strive to live and to be better: to be healthier, to make more money, to spend more time with family, to travel more, to accomplish more… the list is endless. Don’t get me wrong; there’s not necessarily anything wrong with any of these goals. The overachiever in me longs to make a nice, neat list of lofty New Year’s resolutions so I can achieve them (ideally even overachieve them) and cross them off one by one. However, I’ve come to the hard realization that maybe, at least for me, my New Year’s resolution needs to be one of a slightly different nature. I think my New Year’s resolution needs to be to embrace imperfection. To maybe even (dare I say it?) fail.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the nature of perfectionism lately. The term “perfectionist” is often thrown around nonchalantly, oftentimes even being spoken of with a twinge of pride. We speak of perfectionism as though it’s a harmless personality trait, at its worst nothing more than a slight quirk. A minor annoyance at times for sure (particularly for those poor souls who have to work with us), but also often the key to one’s success in school, at work, and in life more generally. In fact, I would argue that we live in a society that praises perfectionism and consistently rewards the overachievers among us. Yet, we rarely speak of the darker side of this unrealistic (and straight up impossible) pursuit of perfection—the side that speaks words of unworthiness and shames mediocrity, the side that leaves us always longing to do more and therefore to be more in order to prove to ourselves and others that we too deserve to be loved. Perfectionism is the villain that too often prevents us from fully showing up in community and from participating in activities that carry with them the possibility of failure, meanwhile creating a vicious cycle of anxiety and isolation. I know this because perfectionism is far too often the reality in which I allow myself to dwell.
Things get really uncomfortable when my perfectionistic tendencies come into direct contact with my faith and theological convictions. I profess in a God whose unconditional love and overflowing grace knows no bounds, yet I continuously get caught up in my own desire to be good, to prove my own worthiness. Sure, grace is a beautiful concept but do I really believe it for myself? On my especially perfectionist driven days, I’m not so sure. And I believe in the importance of community and the beauty of the diversity of vocational gifts poured out through the Spirit, yet I so often insist on doing everything myself—to make sure everything is done “just right” and to again make known my own worthiness in my own eyes and the eyes of those around me. Yet, it is on the foundation of imperfection that community is built. Where one person lacks, another can provide. My lack of skills in one area can allow for the empowerment of another person’s gifts. When I am struggling, a friend is strong, and other times I get to be the strong one. To live in community is to claim and embrace imperfection, inviting others to see the imperfect pieces of ourselves as well. And to live faithfully is to show up amidst the risk of failure and to even embrace failure as the place where grace meets us most profoundly.
It is a strange concept to pursue failure, or at the very least to welcome it. But perhaps it is exactly what I need to embrace my own identity as a child of God and to dare to believe that maybe, just maybe, I am enough even without my good grades and list of achievements. And maybe, in embracing my own imperfection, I can grant others the permission to do the same.
Here’s to 2016!
For some really great reading/listening on the less than glamorous sides of perfectionism check out the following: