Wednesday, February 17, 2010
In my line of work, I hear a lot about life’s imperfections as told by those who live them and somehow have found their way to my doorstep. In fact, it is because of some of these imperfections that they seek my service. Yesterday I heard about yet another bleak diagnosis that shouldn’t have been and as used to it as I get, it still sits uncomfortably with me. Why do life’s imperfections still surprise us or worse yet, defeat us?
I have to think back to when we bought into this belief that life has to be perfect. As a little girl for me it started in the fairy tales of the princess and the prince who are reunited despite the plots and plans of evil doers and/or destiny in their stories and always live happily ever after. In my own personal story, the desire to live an empowered life and have a better quality of life than the girls I grew up with pushed me to seek the perfect life. It was partly youth, partly conviction, partly the belief in the stories, and partly a sense of responsibility that I owed it to those who couldn’t, that seduced me into believing that the perfect life was out there for me to seek and own.
Back then, I was thirsty for perfection. Today, I know better. I see people in their 30s or well into their 40s who are suffering because of this belief that they must be doing something wrong if they are not married to their soul mate, have 2.3 perfect kids, a perfect house, a perfect career, a perfectly toned body, and perfect friends who live similar lives. The economic downfall is placing all kinds of pressures and the imperfections are oozing from the cracks of their misperceptions and they are either angry or depressed. It is as if a promise has been broken. Some feel it when they are diagnosed with cancer, some when they lose their jobs, or marriages, and some when something “bad” happens to their loved ones. No matter how it shows up, it can be described as a sense of disillusionment with how they believed things would turn out.
As a life coach, I think that my profession may have contributed to this illusion. Some coaches claim to help people live a better life, but I am of the belief that the client is already living the life they have chosen. The main issue is taking responsibility and accepting their own disillusions. No matter how many goals they set, it won’t take away their fears of illness, or failure. The source of the problem is not underachieving humans who don’t know how to organize themselves. The source of the problem lies in the belief that because they have been an over achiever in all areas of their life, they should have it better than this.
Philip Simmons (1) writes in his beautiful essay, In Praise of the Imperfect Life: “It was the ant that returned me to the world, that called me to another way of worship, the way of all things ordinary and small, the way of all that is imperfect, the way of stubbornness and error, the way of all that is transitory and comes to grief.” Somehow in the process of growing up, we forgot that we are humans living mortal lives in fragile bodies. We were inspired to become super human. No one told us the cost of that.
Today, when someone tells me, “I just want peace”, I have to ask them, “what are you willing to let go of?”. I am not sure they quite understand the depth of what they might have to give up or allow. Peace does not come at our command. It is always there invisible to us because we are too busy and/or anesthetized in our pursuit of the perfect life. Once again, as Philip Simmons has said: “The imperfect is our paradise. Let us pray, then, that we do not shun the struggle. May we attend with mindfulness, generosity, and compassion to all that is broken in our lives. May we live fully in each flawed and too human moment, and thereby gain the victory.”
(1) Learning To Fall: The Blessings of an Imperfect Life. Philip Simmons. Bantam Books, 2002.