Chasing Perfection and Finding Grace (Maybe… Sort of?)

Today marks the one year anniversary of a fairly big life change for me; the end of a relationship, several friendships, a shift from one era to another. As I have been reflecting on the passed year I’ve found that though I have established myself in whatever this new phase of my life is, I don’t yet feel like I am where I am supposed to be. And before you point it out, yes, I know that I myself have said that I believe that by existing on this earth we are all where we are supposed to be, but it certainly doesn’t always feel that way. Which is very difficult for me. It’s hard not to tell myself that if I were doing the “right” things, coping with life the “right” way, then I would magically feel in place and at peace. It turns out that sometimes no matter how you try things are just hard, sometimes you’re just in transition and it’s not very comfortable. However, that doesn’t stop the voice in the back of my head from telling me that maybe if I were somehow better, life would be too.

I have been a perfectionist for my entire life. I distinctly remember bursting into tears on several occasions while trying to draw illustrations for the stories that I’d write as a kid. I couldn’t make the scribbles on the paper look like what I saw in my mind and it frustrated me to no end. Although I have since recognized that perfection is, in fact, unattainable in its very nature–and therefor have tried to train myself to recognize when my perfectionist side is getting the better of me–the same tendencies remain. I am one of those intolerable students who is actually disappointed when I get an A- instead of an A, so when life itself completely defies the “perfect” plan I have in mind it’s a rigorous physical, mental and spiritual challenge. Worse than actually dealing with imperfect situations is my unfulfillable desire to at least handle imperfect situations perfectly. “I should be able to accept this better, then I wouldn’t feel so upset”, “I should be able to trust more fully that I will be taken care of, I am a bad person/follower of Jesus for not being able to trust” and “I shouldn’t be angry, being angry isn’t the right way to feel, so I am not allowed to feel that way” are just some of the thoughts that go through my head in imperfect situations. Of course, the wiser part of my mind knows that even if I could deal with everything perfectly I couldn’t escape the messiness of being human, but my heart doesn’t always believe it.

Even now, when I feel a bit lost and out of place, it’s not that I don’t know what I want. I still have that “perfect” picture in my head for how I want my life to go. However, more than ever I worry that my vision and my wants are not the things I should want. “If I were perfect I wouldn’t want anything but to do good in the world and I would be content to do my best and trust that God will bring the rest.” But, I also realize that wanting is part of being human, and that many of my desires are completely pure and reasonable, maybe they are even there for a reason. So I find myself struggling to find the balance between trusting that my desires–for meaning, for a sense of home, for inspiring lifework, to find love and family–are worthy of pursuit, and recognizing that pursuing them may not go according to my “perfect” plan, and that that may be for the best. This is hard for me to believe for myself, despite the fact that I have total faith that things will work out for the other people in my life. I never doubt that my friends will find happiness and love and meaning, even if they don’t find it where they expect to. I completely trust that there is a good plan for everyone else, but struggle to treat myself and my story with the same grace. That voice in the back of my head tells me that it’s different for me because, unlike everyone else, I have to be perfect; as if my imperfections are somehow less forgivable and less human than the imperfections of people I love.

I have been trying to learn to embrace imperfection as part of my experience as a human being. This spring I got a tattoo, just a little one, five tiny stars on the inside of my arm. The artist finished and asked what I thought and I immediately began scrutinizing every corner and line, after all this will be under my skin forever! After making a few of the tiny improvements I requested, she turned to me, “You know, tattoos are imperfect by nature, you could try to make it look better forever, but eventually you’d mess it up more than if you just let it be.” Now every time I look at my tattoo and notice the imperfections I think of those words. No, the stars aren’t uniform, no, that one isn’t as pointy as I would like it to be, I stare at them and I can feel a tiny part of me start to panic. But when I move my arm farther from my face and look at the larger design it is beautiful and meaningful, and exactly what I need it to be.

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AUTHOR’S NOTE: I almost decided not to write this post because that voice in my head suggested that it would be self-indulgent to share something so wholly oriented around myself, something I couldn’t imagine would be of much use to someone else (and obviously “perfect Hailey” would only write things that she believes would serve others). But as part of my journey towards grace and embracing imperfection I have been trying to talk to myself the way I talk to my friends. I would never tell a friend that their struggle wasn’t worth writing about. I would tell them that there’s someone out there who would be encouraged by their story. I would tell them that vulnerability is a powerful thing to share. 

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