I’m not perfect, but I’m trying.
I know it sounds pretentious. I even feel pretentious writing it. Sounds like a motivational poster with a kitten in a headband trying to lift a barbell or something. When I say it, though, it’s not really from a place of motivation. It’s actually just a fact – for better or worse.
My goal is to be as perfect as possible at whatever I put time into. I hate the idea of accepting my limitations as an inevitability. My aim, in almost everything I do, is to do things in ways I can be proud of. I strive to be an excellent parent, friend, community member, and overall person in general. It leads to some really accomplished moments that I can pat myself on the back for. I succeed in many areas that I hope I will.
I also fail. Sometimes I fail a small bit. Sometimes I fail in an epic way. No matter what, though, nothing ever goes perfectly. As I mentioned earlier, I’m not perfect. Sure, I guess I can say I’m trying. Whoopty doo. Congratulations to me. There just feels like many days when that doesn’t seem like an achievement.
Something will happen that causes frustration and suddenly I see flashes of my younger self resurface. Instincts kick in to overreact, worry myself silly, or just approach the situation in a way that I had been so proud of myself moments earlier for “overcoming”.
What makes times like that harder for me as I’ve gotten older is that now I know the error of those ways. I write about it. I teach my kids about it. I preach about it from my enlightened tower up on the hill. Yet, I still do it and, while it’s not constant, it’s the knowledge of how wrong those reactions are now that make the fact that I do them feel worse.
When I was 20 and mentally burning the world down around me out of paranoia or self-doubt, it was understandable. I was 20. I hadn’t experienced the realities of life yet. I was still navigating the world around me and learning about compassion, forgiveness, and consequences.
Now, at 40, I look in the mirror and even the slightest misstep, far less severe than any mistakes I ever made in my youth, tears me down. An anguished thought bubbles to the surface. It’s a statement we repeat to others so often.
You know better.
Realizing that only makes it all feel so much worse. We’re not even talking “you know better” in the way that grown ups say it to kids. It’s not a general assumption that you know better. It’s a fact. You’ll lecture your child about how important it is to watch your temper. You cite reasons and examples and pie charts. Then, moments after your parental Powerpoint presentation, you’ll throw your cell phone against the wall in a fit of Candy Crushing rage. You can’t help but feel the hypocrisy rattle in your bones.
Here’s the thing, though, the bad moments don’t define you. The same way one error doesn’t make a championship sports team terrible, the fact that you yelled at your kid this morning doesn’t make you a terrible parent.
But that’s where our brain goes. We start to say, “Wow. I must not be a perfect parent after all. In fact, I’m not even a good parent. How could I do that?”
Deep down, though, it’s not true. You’re not defined as a bad parent because of one bad day. There’s so much more that goes into who you are and it isn’t just the bad times that make up who you are.
Here’s the catch, though, the good moments don’t define you either. The same way a guy slipping off a cliff and falling like an arrow into the water below doesn’t make him a champion cliff diver, the fact that you spent the morning playing Play Doh with your kid doesn’t make you a perfect parent.
It’s important to let that notion go. You’re not perfect. None of us are. Every successful person fails. It’s part of their overall story. When framed a certain way, anyone can be made into a villain or a savior. We’re no different. An occasional misstep doesn’t mean you’re not a perfect person. The fact that you’re not a perfect person means you’re not a perfect person.
You’re not a failure either. You know how to know? Because you’re thinking about the fact that you want to do better. It’s when we become content with our shortcomings that we should truly worry. The ability to identify the things you want to change and the moments that you strayed from that goal is what will ultimately pull you up to where you want to be.
Even now, as I write this, I know that I will surely think the opposite at one point. That’s inevitable. Just as I try to guide my children or give advice to loved ones, only to do the opposite at times, I’ll remember this and shout to myself, “You literally just wrote about not doing that!”
Trying to be positive and falling now and then doesn’t make you a hypocrite. It makes you a person. You’re not perfect. You’re not awful. You just are. Once you let go of the misconception that you’re flawless, you can use your lapses of greatness to better yourself, rather than punish yourself.
As long as you try to make each day better for you and those around you than the day before, you’re on the right the path. If some days you don’t, that’s OK too. Like the headband kitten with a barbell, you don’t have to be perfect. You just have to try.