Perfect as you are

December 6th, 2007

MathEquationsLike a lot of news, this article has me laughing and weeping. “Unhappy? Self-Critical? Maybe You’re Just a Perfectionist” poses the New York Times in one of the more ridiculous examples of news, let alone medical news, in recent circus history. Pity the poor perfectionists. Not only are they imperfect, but they’re also depressed. They drink too much and they sleep too little. They don’t eat right. They have a really hard time.

This is like squinting to read a headline that says, “Need Reading Glasses? Maybe You’re Just Too Old.” Now that would be news.

The stunted logic and stumbling blindness of psychological science amazes me. Because, like, where are the non-perfectionists? Are they in a secret society with the I. AM. NOT. A. CONTROL. FREAKS ???!!!!!

Let’s face it. We’re all perfectionists. We’re all control freaks. Some of us deal with our perfectionism by trying really hard. Some of us deal with it by trying really hard not to try hard. How do I know that? Because we’re human beings. We all have thinking minds, the picking-and-choosing mind, and we judge. Can’t be otherwise. We judge everything as good or bad and no matter how hard we try to be good we judge ourselves as not-so-good. Isn’t that what we all agree on about life in general: We’re human. We’re imperfect. That sounds like it settles the matter; only it just settles it on the side of imperfection! It’s still a judgment. Who needs that? Remove the self-judgment and we are what we are.

“Mommy, I’m too dumb for second grade!”

Georgia was wailing on Monday morning before school. She moaned and rolled in bed, begging for an out. The reason? She was going to have a math test.

Don’t get me started on the lunacy of school testing, and the absurdity that such educational “improvement” was championed by none other than the child tyrant of mediocrity. School is what it is, and it’s a lot like the rest of life. One thing after another.

“I thought you said you liked tests,” I reminded her, and it was true. That comment put a swing in my step just a week ago.

“I like them when I get 100%,” she quivered.

Ah yes, don’t we all? Diagnosis complete. She’s a certifiable problem child, a syndrome, a case. Only I happen to see that she’s perfect as she is.

PS. Intervention averted. She got 100%.



  1. Ah, yes. Having children has allowed me to not be as rigidly perfectionist externally as much any more, and to just be in the moment … which all actually helps me in the day to day focus and daily meditation, in some weird way. But in the big picture it doesn’t eliminate the babbling going on in my head as I go. 😉

    I look forward to next week!

    Comment by denise — December 6, 2007 @ 10:41 pm

  2. Unless, of course, you insist on trying to perfect your practice!

    Comment by Mama Zen — December 7, 2007 @ 12:13 am

  3. Poor things. We can’t even get our perfectionism perfect. 🙂
    My question:
    Why must there by only one way? Or an only way?

    Comment by bella — December 7, 2007 @ 12:26 am

  4. MZ: you are so clever. True practice could well be said to be imperfecting your practice.

    Bella: As long as we remain caught in our picking and choosing mind, our ego-mind, we are caught in our judging. This is the right way, no that is the right way, no I like my way, not yours! The way out is to leap out of that mind. You can take the stairs or you can take the elevator or you can take a helicopter but they all go one way. Out. All spiritual traditions espouse this, but the transportation might differ.

    Comment by Karen — December 7, 2007 @ 12:49 am

  5. I’ve been called a perfectionist and never really believed it. I think it is more stubborn–unwilling to let go of how i think something should be. But anytime notions of what I should change about my imperfect self, I realize I don’t want to change anything at all because I happen to like me the way I am in spite of myself. At least, i do today.

    Comment by marta — December 7, 2007 @ 3:33 am

  6. Ok. I’m with you. Thanks for the clarification.
    maybe I shall go by city bus.
    And, for me, sometimes I think I cling so dearly to my picking and choosing mind because it makes me feel safe, protected. So I will be going back and reading your post on risks.
    much love.

    Comment by bella — December 7, 2007 @ 4:37 am

  7. I read that same article and was also thinking of blogging about it, but for different reasons. Interesting to hear your take on it.

    Comment by Mary P Jones (MPJ) — December 7, 2007 @ 5:17 am

  8. I have to say that the group of parents is the first community that I have been a part of that regularly erupts into laughter at the notion of being perfect. I think the laughter is equally at the idea of achieving a state describable as perfection and in recognition of how thoroughly effed up a parent can make a day in worrying abut perfection or acting out of the desire for some idea of perfection.

    One of the best examples I have read about the difference between a action and an action entangled with attachment is Joko Beck’s description of the difference between a kitchen that one cleans and a kitchen ruled by the idea of a clean kitchen. In both kitchens fallen items are picked up, put away, cleaned; the idea ruled kitchen will be sadder or tenser and more likely to cause meanness towards toddlers.

    Comment by Chris Austin-Lane — December 7, 2007 @ 12:09 pm

  9. So, is there an answer to why we are human? I know that sounds like a silly question, but I guess if we have to struggle so much to go against the way we’re build (thinking creatures) to be happy, then what was the point of us being thinking creatures at all? I know, we’re not suppose to “think” about stuff like this, it just drives us nuts, right?

    Comment by Shannon — December 7, 2007 @ 5:10 pm

  10. This is a great topic and long overdue. I’m so glad you’re choosing it. : )

    Human life is interesting this way. We can choose to be happy. We can choose to be fulfilled. We can choose to not be any of that. We can also choose to be hard on ourselves.

    And, yes, I’ll say it again: My husband is NOT a control freak — except about the way the closets should be arranged, and how his shirts should be folded. But, that’s why he does the laundry. OK, so maybe you’re right.

    I do think we’re all striving perfectionists. I also think it’s become cool to label ourselves as perfectionists — as in this is why I’m constantly unhappy or miserable or not perfect — because I’m a perfectionist.

    Comment by Shawn — December 7, 2007 @ 5:56 pm

  11. I’m not sure I believe we can choose to be happy. As the Zen people say, freedom is not something you do, it is not doing something. When you don’t give in to ruminations and swirling thoughts and purposeful ego-driven actions, when you don’t lend them the energy of your attention, then you notice the free and open flux that is this precious life. Face it, life isn’t just happy, and there’s nothing anyone can do about that. Interesting, yes, when we pay attention we all can see that curse is upon us. But practice won’t help anyone choose to be happy. Is any parent really happy when they have to drag a crying child along on a chore to pick up another child from school? Is there some Zen way to avoid having to do such work? Would we therefore skip being with the unhappy child? So what is left.

    –Chris, now having to go run and wake up a sleeping child so as not to repeat yesterdays late arrival to pick up the elder child who was waiting in a big puddle of slushy cold water in not-water proof boots.

    Comment by Chris Austin-Lane — December 7, 2007 @ 8:20 pm

  12. Such lively questions and comments.
    Shannon: “Why” is the driving question,isn’t it? The mind produces everything under the sun, when it is not bound by ego’s ignorance, greed and anger. As my teacher used to say, “The intellect is a marvelous servant but a miserable master.” Practice is to revert the balance of power.
    But if you’re not tormented by anxiety, fear and doubt, there’s no problem!

    And Chris, the masters promise eternal bliss, and I’m betting on it! Of course I don’t mean some contrived concept of happiness. All kinds of things occur in life, tis true, but to remain alert, responsive and yet undisturbed is not only a choice, but the only real task we ever have. This is the way we take care of ourselves and everything else in harmony.

    Comment by Karen — December 8, 2007 @ 5:56 pm

  13. Remove the self-judgment and we are what we are.

    Wish I’d had that thought with me earlier in the year during a workshop where the facilitator was asking us to evaluate each other on various factors (such as openness) because, as she said, we may see ourselves one way but that’s not necessarily the way we appear to others.

    I’m wondering what would you say to that? I am what I am. But do I see clearly who I am? Perhaps it doesn’t matter. Just be?

    Comment by Moanna — December 8, 2007 @ 7:07 pm

  14. No Moanna, I’m sure you don’t see clearly who you are, and not in a negative way, but a positive way. We are so much more, and capable of so much more, than we judge ourselves to be. Judgment is always a limiting factor.

    As for the evaluation game: I suppose one judgment is as good as any other. We just trade one bias for the other. But if the purpose is to be told how someone else sees you, then I guess you do have to ask. And then not beat yourself up with it.

    Comment by Karen — December 8, 2007 @ 11:46 pm

  15. Judgment is always a limiting factor. I hear you. If I am more than I judge myself to be, then I am more than they judge me to be, and they are more than I judge them to be.

    Comment by Moanna — December 9, 2007 @ 4:30 pm

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