The Sweet Spot Between Striving and Perfectionism


God of Thundering Paws, Thor

The final quotation on this list, from Toko-pa Turner on perfectionism, is powerful for me. I don’t think I present to the world as a perfectionist. My house is messy, I can’t seem to follow a calendar for more than a few weeks at a time, I leave projects unfinished and work incomplete, I make my deadlines at the eleventh hour. Some of us are closet perfectionists, but our perfectionism is perhaps all the more insidious for that. Perfectionism is one of my shadows, the conjoined twin with shame. The never-good-enough twins. Where does that come from?

I’m working on it, steadily and surely, naming it, recognizing how perfectionism is actually at the root of so much of my messiness and time-management trouble and deadline avoidance. Every few weeks or so, I have to remind myself that it’s okay not to be perfect, that my way of being in the world is okay. Like Toko-pa suggests, I need to seek out my eccentricities, acknowledge them, and learn their gifts.

Like so many things in life, it’s a balance. In this case, between relaxing into who I am and striving to be a better person. They aren’t mutually exclusive, but I do need to find out how they inform each other, or they get pretty crunchy inside me.


“Where will you wander today?
What doorways, what thresholds,
what boundaries will you traverse?
Where will your heart find the opening
into the next open meadow?”
–Beth Weaver-Kreider
*
“Poetry is just the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash.” ~Leonard Cohen
*
“No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world.” –Robin Williams
*
“One gives one’s life to be and to know, rather than to possess.” –Teilhard de Chardin
*
“A smile starts on the lips, A grin spreads to the eyes, A chuckle comes from the belly; But a good laugh bursts forth from the soul, overflows and bubbles all around.” ~Carolyn Birmingham
*
“Sorrow prepares you for joy. It violently sweeps everything out of your house, so that new joy can find space to enter. It shakes the yellow leaves from the bough of your heart, so that fresh, green leaves can grow in their place. It pulls up the rotten roots, so that new roots hidden beneath have room to grow. Whatever sorrow shakes from your heart, far better things will take their place.” –Rumi
*
The Love of Morning
by Denise Levertov

It is hard sometimes to drag ourselves
back to the love of morning
after we’ve lain in the dark crying out
O God, save us from the horror . . . .
God has saved the world one more day
even with its leaden burden of human evil;
we wake to birdsong.
And if sunlight’s gossamer lifts in its net
the weight of all that is solid,
our hearts, too, are lifted,
swung like laughing infants;
but on gray mornings,
all incident – our own hunger,
the dear tasks of continuance,
the footsteps before us in the earth’s
beloved dust, leading the way – all,
is hard to love again
for we resent a summons
that disregards our sloth, and this
calls us, calls us.
*
Even
after
all this time
the sun never says to the earth,

“You owe me.”

Look
what happens
with a love like that —

It lights the whole
world.

–Hafiz
*
Pied Beauty
by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Glory be to God for dappled things –
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.
*
“There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.”
–William Stafford
*
“Perfectionism is a virus which keeps us running on the treadmill of never-enoughness. It is inherently deadening for how it strives and never arrives. Failure is embedded in its very pursuit, for our humanity can never be homogenised. The only antidote is to turn away from every whiff of plastic and gloss and follow our grief, pursue our imperfections, exaggerate our eccentricities until they, the things we once sought to hide, reveal themselves as our true majesty.” –Toko-pa Turner


Gratitude List:
1. Reminiscing with the leader of the college jazz trio I sang with. I may not be able to sing like that anymore, but that experience pushed me to trust my voice in a way that will never leave me. And maybe now in mid-life, when I am again trying to understand the role of my writer’s voice in the world, I can weave some of that sense of confidence into my forward movement.
2. These two kids–boy and cat–playing toss the mouse. They’re hilarious and very entertaining.
3. This is a momentous day. My dear sister-in-law is being ordained to the ministry this evening. She is one of the most pastoral people I know and has been since I met her thirty years ago in college: she’s a good listener, she’s good at drawing people out, she asks questions that get you thinking more deeply. She has a caring heart, a powerful intuition, and a deep, deep understanding of people and communities. This has been a long journey, and I am excited about celebrating her work in the world. An ordination like this is not so much the beginning of a ministry, but the recognition that she has been doing this work all along.
4. Seeking the sweet spot between striving and perfectionism.
5. All the lovely birthday blessings! I begin my second century buoyed upon the well-wishes of a marvelous community of beloveds.

May we walk in Beauty!

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