I heard a story once about someone who was checking the references of a potential suitor. She called the young man’s rabbi and asked him, “Does this person have an anger problem?” The rabbi replied, “I don’t know. He’s never been married.”
So, haha, very funny. But seriously, I don’t know if you’ve experienced this, but after I got married, I found myself behaving in ways that were, to say the least, surprising to everyone. It’s not like I was going berserk or anything, but my responses to stress in marriage were very different than my responses to stress while in seminary, or while living with my parents.
It’s just a different ball of wax.
And, occasionally, I will feel the need to apologize to my husband. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know that I would react this way. You had no way to know that this would be me.” He, being a mentsch, is understanding. Neither of us are perfect, after all, and we’re both happy with each other, imperfections and all.
But as the wonderful Renée A. Schuls-Jacobson wrote recently, perfectionism is so insidious. It is the enemy of good. It is the destroyer of wanting to try. It should be banished to a land far, far away. Because sometime, when we know we have a challenge, be it with anger, or laziness, or gossiping, we can feel like “Why bother? I’ll never completely rid myself of this character trait, so why try? It’s just who I am.”
Well, yes, it’s part of who you are. And, as the anecdote goes, if you had a whole array of challenges and difficulties to pick from, you would likely pick your own. Our imperfections, as much as we can loath them, are comfortable to us in a way. Like old smelly tennis shoes. But just because we recognize our failings doesn’t mean we have to stop there.
Our imperfections do not have to define us. Identifying them is the first step. From there, we can move forward. We can choose not to dwell in our anger, or not to share that juicy bit of gossip, or not to speak critically to our spouse. Too hard! You might say. The challenge is just too big! Yeah, I know. Rabbi Yisrael Salanter said that fixing just one character trait is harder than learning the entire Talmud.
Don’t be too discouraged, though. Like anything worth anything, it takes effort. And the pleasure derived from overcoming a negative tendency is well worth it.
One good way to start this is to keep a journal or make a chart. Like this one:
Let’s say the trait you’re trying to overcome is laziness. So the goal could be just one time a day, to not sit down and vegetate, but to get up and wash one dish. That’s one. One small goal. And when you do it, give yourself a little reward (I don’t know, a piece of chocolate maybe). And after you do that for a week or two, up it to washing two dishes at a time, or getting up twice to wash one dish. But the main thing is to write it down. This is a tangible way to chart your progress. And to know that it takes small steps to make big, and lasting, changes.
So, embrace your imperfections. They are part of you, but they are also your mountain to climb, your marathon to run. They are a goal, not a hindrance. A challenge, not an impediment. Facing our challenges and working on our imperfections is what makes us great.
28 thoughts on “Embracing Imperfection”
Oh Rivki. Thank you for linking to my piece. I have been trying to work on replacing my negative thoughts about myself. It ain’t easy, sistah.
But this piece reminds me that I have work to do in other areas.
It’s because you’re so awesome that you can set the bar high. And if I were to list all the area I need to do work in, oy! We all have our work cut out for us. :)
I like the suggestion to tackle a trait with baby steps!
It is the only way I’ve been successful in making any progress at all!
Great post Rivki. Always a pleasure to read.
Thank you. :)
AGREED! I have always had this issue, and I’ve only started to “succeed” after I started to shed it. I highly recommend this book, for writers and non-writers alike, which provides great tools and inspiration for overcoming perfectionism: http://www.amazon.com/Secrets-Prolific-Procrastination-Perfectionism-ebook/dp/B006J7BZ8E/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top
Ooo – thanks for the book recommendation! I’m adding it to my to-read list.
Very glad to know I’m not alone in this … After I got married, life changed in a way I hadn’t quite anticipated, such that many (most?) of the coping mechanisms I’d accumulated in 30+ years of life just stopped working. It was a rocky time. (Shanah rishonah can be really, really hard.) I found my footing again, but it took time.
Totally. It is a different world. And even if, when different life events occur, you find that it’s rocky again, don’t despair. That’s also normal. But I’ve found that if we keep working on it, it *does* get easier to adjust. B”H!
I had to put in a lot of work to get through the initial wobbly phase. It has paid off, B”H, in that my husband and I were able to lay the foundation for the earthquakes that have happened since — having kids, job loss, family tensions, and more. It’s a lot of work, but I’m glad I got in the habit of doing it early on.
Exactly. There are so many stressful and unexpected things that happen in life, it makes it all the more helpful/important to do a lot of work up front.
Lovely post. Especially for a society that thinks that “I’m a perfectionist” is a good thing. I love Brene Brown’s writing about perfectionism ~ it’s harmful because it’s really about what other people think, and not about being happy with ourselves as we are. Great post and great suggestions.
Thanks, Sarah! Sometimes we are bending over backwards in order to appear perfect instead of expending all that energy on actually improving ourselves!
Ah! I do this for my kids! Like a positive goal chart. Cute idea :)
Exactly! I love charts. One of my rebbetzins from Neve taught me about using charts on myself.
Writing things down also allows you to check it off! I feel so much pleasure and productivity when I get to cross something off of a list/chart, etc.
That’s so true! Great point! Thanks. :)
Great post, Rivki!
Wow, I am so glad I just stumbled upon your blog! I read your posts and I feel like you write about the same issues I am always pondering about. I have been in my own married lane, for a much shorter time so I really appreciated reading your blog and I feel you have a lot of wisdom. Very inspirational!!
Thank you! <3 Aizer K'negdo
Wow, thanks for such a nice comment! We’ve only been married for a little over five years, so it’s not like I’m so experienced, but I’m happy to share what I’ve learned so far. :)
I agree with this post a million percent. I did NOT think I would be as snappy as I am in my marriage. (this snappiness comes out only when I’m stressed, but still…. we should be nice all the time.) For me, the drive to be perfect actually works in my benefit- I am not held back by unrealistic expectations and I know I’ll never be really perfect, but I am motivated to be as close as possible.
Oh my gosh, I know. I know. I’m so glad your perfectionistic drive works so well for you! May you have a lot of hatzlacha in your avodah. :)
I love how you emphasize the balance between accepting who we are and giving ourselves the opportunity for growth. I completely agree!!
Oh, those imperfections…I never thought I could geht really angry – but I can!! Surprise!! Hear me yelling at my kids and you`d think I am a mother overly obsessed with cleanliness and politeness (well, to be honest, I am)-but how can you live up to your standards with three little ones under 5?
I had to learn to take it easy, but alas – how hard it is :-)
I am beginning to make them clean up their own mess, and it really does work
out! Slowly, though.
Wish me luck :-)
Haha, good luck with that struggle to teach them to clean up after themselves! It is a hard one to teach, but I think it’s so important!
I can really relate to the desire to want cleanliness and politeness even though we are surrounded by little ones! It’s worth the work. Good luck!