August 17, 2023

Personal best, not perfection. ~Bethany Faircloth
The best is the enemy of the good. ~Voltaire
And God saw that it was good . . . ~ Genesis

This is my umpteenth attempt at this blog . . . a blog on perfectionism. In a series on lessons taken from sabbatical. Oh, the irony. At this point, and given last week’s comical blog entry (thanks to Cam and Chelsea for encouraging me to laugh a bit, lighten up a bit, and blog some silliness), this better be good, right?

“How was your wedding?”

This is my husband’s perennial greeting upon my arriving home post-wedding. On most days, my response is a cheery, “It was perfect. They were perfect!” Honestly, a wedding day is pretty perfect. I work with amazing vendors. I am an expert at what I do (yes, I’ve logged my 10,000 hours, and then some). And we truly have the best clients at Central Ceremonies (just take a peek at a few of them on our social media accounts!) After twenty-six years in this business, I am still a big believer in weddings and marriage.

We all know, of course, that I am playing fast and loose with the word “perfect.” Wedding days are rarely, if ever, perfect. Something always goes “wrong.” I fumble a word or sentence. Or I fight a migraine, and hope you can’t tell in pictures (thank you, professional photographers!) My shoes sink in the ground, or a bee becomes a nuisance during a ceremony. It’s hotter, rainier, even colder than we all expect or want for our couples. And that’s just my perspective! Other vendors are juggling their one million details, and even our couples inevitably encounter some road bumps as they journey through a highly detailed, highly orchestrated wedding day.

Weddings are always spectacular, but never perfect. That’s the real story. Marriage can be magnificent, but I assure you, it’s never perfect. Life is real. People are people. Viruses gonna virus. Things happen. And this reality is really, really hard for a perfectionist. Me. I’m the perfectionist. A raging “ONE!” on the enneagram. Which means I am prone to being overly-critical and judgmental on my worst days. And it’s most often turned on myself. I will endlessly mull over the most minor mishaps and mistakes – personally and professionally. I am my worst critic, translating even the tiniest “mistakes” into marks of my character, careening from “growing moment” to “failure” in mere milliseconds. The chatter in my head becomes a full-blown, one-sided conversation that is so unproductive that it ultimately paralyzes me (see last week’s “failed” post).

I don’t know where this drive for perfection comes from, but I do know I am not alone. I also know that it is not modeled in the Bible. In Genesis, God creates the world in six days, resting on the seventh (hello sabbatical!) Never does God complete a day’s work and declare “Perfect!” Instead, God declares it good. The writer throws in a cheeky “very good,” at the end of the story, but not once is anything in that story declared perfect. In fact, the word we often see translated as perfect in the Christian scriptures is also easily (and perhaps better) translated from the Greek as “complete.” The first time this was parsed out for me in Seminary, I actually physically felt my body relax. And yet, the tension between perfect, complete, and good remains a daily struggle for me.

Now, if I was “perfect” at anything during my sabbatical, it was spin class. Four to six times a week, I had my butt on a bike that quite literally goes nowhere. I wasn’t there for the mileage, though. It was more about community and fitness. Until it became (very much) about my sanity during an increasingly frustrating sabbatical. One of my favorite spin instructors always opens her class by telling us that our bodies, minds, and spirits show up differently every day. So, her expectation of us is always “personal best, not perfection.” Good thing, that. Because sometimes my personal best was simply sitting on that bike and making the pedals move. I’ve heard Beth say this many times. In fact, she reminded us (read: me) twice today during class. I need to hear it, apparently. Often. Because the more I hear it, the more I hear it, especially that second part. Not perfection.

Titling this series “Lessons from Winter” is a bit of a misnomer. I don’t want to imply that I learned a lesson (or lessons) over sabbatical, so suddenly sabbatical makes sense. Or that when I first heard Beth say “personal best, not perfection” the lightbulb went on, and everything became clear. Or that I mastered and perfected a flaw. Winter is the theme here, folks. It’s taken some uncomfortable time to rearrange my thinking, considerable effort to hear and hear again what I need to hear, to embody personal best in any given moment, to move from expecting perfection to embracing good.

And believe me, I’ve thought about this a lot. My body and mind didn’t show up for sabbatical the way I anticipated or expected. This blog was delayed a week because of my state of paralysis and obsession with perfection. And yet, I did show up. The blog is written. And, in the end, that is enough. In fact, it is good. Very good, isn’t it?