New Year’s Eve, or as we called it in my bartending days, “Amateur Night,” has long been my least favorite of the holidays. Partly, because people seem to feel compelled to drink beyond their ability to speak, but mostly because we task ourselves with looking for ways to be better. It’s all about the resolutions. Well, after the booze, it is anyway.
This is it. This is the year we’re going to stop smoking, lose 10 lbs., read more, learn a foreign language, or save more money. It’s a time for reflection, which is a good thing. It also seems to be a time for taking stock in all the ways we fall short. And that, I think, is a bad thing.
So, what if this year, rather than make attempts to change ourselves in a way that pushes us closer to perfection, we let perfection go. Why? Because perfection alienates. We spend a great deal of time spit-shining our image. Never has that been more magnified than with the advent of social media and digital images. That photo didn’t capture your best side? Delete it and take another one. Looking a little “fluffy?” Download an app and whittle that waist down. There’s a mindset that we’re as fantastic as the edited images we upload. The problem is that we aren’t.
We’re messy and we’re hard to understand. Some days our spouse is the love of our life and some days we grit our teeth and roll our eyes. Our kids have times when they’re firing on all pistons and we’re thrilled….then they struggle. Sometimes they struggle for years. Sometimes we struggle for years with them. Sometimes we’re feeling great financially, and sometimes we can’t sleep at night. Some of us battle anxiety, depression, our weight, substance abuse, and demons we can’t even name. Life is a see-saw and when there’s a sudden shift and you land on your ass, the ground that rushes at you is hard and unmerciful.
In my younger years I knew exactly how I wanted to be seen. I needed to be thought of as always in control; competent, unflappable, fearless, confident, and tough. I embraced that role. Thought it made me someone people could depend on in tough times, someone friends could call on in a crisis. I was, I would eventually learn, the opposite. Years ago, a very good friend found herself on some rough seas. The world was closing in on her. She was struggling mightily, and ultimately made some decisions that landed her in the hospital. Did she really want to die? I don’t know. Maybe she was just tired. Sometimes, I think life can just make people really, really tired. Fortunately, she recovered completely and worked her way back to stability, peace, and happiness. She’s a truly exceptional person in a multitude of ways, so that’s been a blessing for me and for the world at large. When I asked her why she didn’t come to me when she was struggling, she told me that she was too embarrassed. She said I “seemed to have it all together.” If you know me now, you know that’s laughable. I was none of those things I had pretended to be. The cold, hard breakdown is this: I like control because I’m insecure, every day I worry that I’ve failed my children in a multitude of ways, I second guess every word I put on paper, and I used to feign toughness because my heart was perpetually in the process of breaking. We’ll be kind and call me a carefully coiffed hot mess. I cried when I left her. I’ve never disliked myself more than I did in that moment. Living a lie had caused me to fail someone I loved.
Perceived perfection alienates people. Remember that. Write it down. Know that there are three things never intended to be perfect: Music, art, and people.
The illusion of perfection makes people smile in your face and foster a superficial relationship with you, all the while running in the opposite direction. Why? Because no one wants to feel like a failure. When you seem to be lounging in your bubble bath in your castle at the top of the hill, anyone with any sense will walk away rather than render themselves bruised and battered trying to climb a mountain they know they’ll never summit.
So, this New Year’s Eve, why don’t we make a pact to let the pursuit of perfection go.
That’s right, let it go. In fact, kick it out on its ass where it belongs.
Maybe perfection is actually in the pursuit of life. Maybe it’s the experience of the struggling relationship, that less than perfect figure, the uncertain career path, the juggling act that is paying too many bills with too few dollars, and other imperfections that force us down rich paths and in fruitful directions we hadn’t planned on going. Maybe it’s those unplanned journeys that leave us with broken hearts, tear-stained faces, and skinned knees that push us along the path that leads to the development of character, determination, and grit. Nothing fills the soul like overcoming.
I know from personal experience that the best results in life are often born of restrictions. It’s brick walls and glass ceilings that force us to make creative decisions, leading us on expeditions we never would have planned. If life is perfect, if the world is your oyster, there is no growth, there’s just existing.
This year let’s make resolutions to live bigger and brighter. Reflect more, BE more. Carve out time to sit with someone and be vulnerable. Practice being genuine. Laugh at ourselves. Give more and take less. Love ourselves. Be inclusive. Celebrate imperfection and the unintentional art that is its result. Give love. Foster friendships with people who wax where we wane. Practice kindness. Grow.
This year, I’m telling you there’s nothing you need to fix. You’re fantastic just as you are. And I know what I’m talking about.
Bring it, 2021.