Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Problem with Perfection: Life is Not Pass/Fail



I tend to keep score on myself.

I don't do it consciously, and I don't write it down anywhere, but I do it. It's always there, running like a ticker in my head. It's that little voice that keeps track of my choices and reminds me if I'm winning or failing.

Did I go to work? Win. Did I not complete my entire task list? Fail. Did I take a shower and get dressed? Win. Did my hair not look its best? Fail. Did I eat healthy meals and no processed junk food? Win. But did I add a Dr. Pepper to my lunch menu? Fail. Did I pray before I went to bed? Win. Did I get distracted or forget to pray for so-and-so? Fail.

No seriously, I critique my prayers.

It's a habit, and a bad one. But I catch myself doing it all the time. This morning, for example, I was running late to leave my house for a meeting before church. As I was grabbing my keys and headed for the door, I realized I'd forgotten to pray. I paused, and the negative thought process kicked in.

Why bother, if it's just going to be last-minute and rushed? And why didn't I get up earlier in the first place? And where am I supposed to kneel down since my laundry is attacking my room? Why didn't I fold my laundry yesterday? Do I even know which half of these clothes are clean and which are dirty? Am I going to be a bad mother? 

The problem is, I set the bar too high.

There is always room too improve. Too much room, usually. It's overwhelming. And I have this nasty habit of defining what I think success should be, and then berating myself if I don't achieve it.  But here's what I've thought about this week:

1. Success is fluid. I'm big on To Do lists. I live and die by my day planner and sticky notes. And if too many things go undone at the end of the day, it's easy to feel like I failed. But the thing is, God knows me perfectly. He knows how my day has gone. He knows if work was hard, if I have a headache, if traffic was slow, etc. He knows my emotional/mental/physical capacity perfectly, at that moment, and He knows the best I can give, on that day, at that moment. He knows that today's best might not be yesterday's best, and it might not be tomorrow's best. He knows exactly what I have to offer, even when it feels like I'm sucked dry and I have nothing left to give, and that's all He asks of me, right then, at that moment.

2. Desire counts for something. God knows where my heart is. He knows that, if I could, I would wish for 20 more hours in a day to accomplish all the things I want to do and be and see, etc. He knows I would travel to foreign countries and adopt all the orphans and feed all the homeless people and have a mansion big enough to house them all and stop world hunger while I'm at it. He knows where my heart is, and He knows I can't get to everything I wish I could. But I know it still matters to Him that I would, if I could.

3. Even small efforts matter. I tend to naturally think that if I can't do something perfectly, why bother? If I can't run 10 miles, why even bother putting on my running shoes? If I can't read my scriptures for 20 minutes and think deeply and draw fascinating and insightful parallels to my daily life, why bother even picking them up? Like this morning, when I was rushed and immediately felt guilty that I hadn't made time to pray. It almost felt like a mockery to get on my knees in such a rushed frenzy on my way out the door, like I was treating God like an afterthought. But I don't think He saw it that way.

I'll tell you what I did: I got on my knees, for all of about 5 seconds. I told Him I was sorry I didn't have more time, and that I was late and I had to go. I said I'd try harder next time. And you know what? I think that 5-second prayer mattered to Him, as silly or half-hearted as it felt. What mattered most to Him was that I'd gotten down on my knees at all.

Did I love someone today?

At the end of every day, this is the question I want to start asking myself. I don't want to ask myself about the laundry or the groceries or the work assignments or solving world hunger. I want to ask myself, "Did I love someone today?"

Did I call or text an old friend, just because? Did I pause for a few minutes, when I was in a rush, to chat with someone else? Did I try and make someone laugh if they were having a bad day?

Life is NOT a pass/fail exam.

So, stop keeping score. Stop focusing on everything you didn't get done. Turn off the little voice that says, "OK, you had a pretty good day BUT..." Stop setting impossibly high standards for yourself. Do your best (whatever that means at this moment, on this day), breathe, and let it go.

27 comments:

Sarah V. said...

I am like this too, as much as I hate to admit it! I think I am going to save this post in my favorites folder! :)

Brooklyn McKenna said...

I just had a really long comment typed up and then my computer dumped it :( But I feel this exact same way. I've decided that as long as I am better today than yesterday, even if only by a miniscule amount, then that is what matters. And that some times I won't be better than yesterday, because life is hard! And we are human.
Desire definitely counts for a lot in my book!

Jen said...

Love this. I could say a ton on the subject, but mostly it boils down to a hearty amen.

Katie said...

I really loved what you said about prayer. I feel that way so often. Like, if I can't put forth my best effort into praying then why bother at all? But I know He doesn't feel that way at all. Thanks for the reminder.

kara lynn said...

often what i try to think as well is who can I bless today? Which helps me see perspective. but thank you--this has been my life long menace. thanks

Myke Lewis said...

I remember one day as a missionary promising that the next day I would live a perfect day. I would do everything right for just one day. It sounds so silly now but it's something I've struggled with then and since then.

Mindi+Otto said...

I love this. I've never thought about it like this, and I just love it. Thank you.

Ana from Sweet Serendipity said...

Great inspirational post!

karajean said...

My bishop is big on to do lists and he talks about them all the time. He says that the danger of writing you life in list form like that is the fact that there are ALWAYS more things that can be added to the list, until there are more undone things at the end of the day than completed tasks. I try to remember that when I feel overwhelmed with my own personal lists.

Sherri Romney said...

I love this post.

Elise Frederickson said...

I'm having a Katilda-induced aha moment. "He knows that today's best might not be yesterday's best, and it might not be tomorrow's best" Maybe being your best isn't always about being better than the day before. Because guess what, some days you are on your period or work is really overwhelming and your best might not even compare to yesterday's best. I think that's the true beauty of life, you don't have to constantly be at the very tippy top of whatever "best" is. You just have to be good, and have a pure heart. And if that means you get better every day, good. If that means that you actually allow yourself to have a less-than-awesome day, that might be good too. Because how can you have super great days if you don't sometimes have super not great days?

That got super ramble-ey. The moral of the story is, you're brilliant. And this post rocks.

katilda said...

So glad you liked the post! Also I noticed that you blogged about sweet potatoes and so I must go comment on that. haha

katilda said...

Darn your computer! But I'm glad you agree with me. And sometimes, I am not better today than I was yesterday. I like Elise's comment below about how that's OK :)

katilda said...

Thank you for your hearty amen :)

katilda said...

And heaven knows if anyone can relate to being tired and/or busy right now, it's probably you!

katilda said...

I love that! It helps so much to focus on other people instead.

katilda said...

I have totally said prayers like that! And then I'm disappointed by about 9am. haha

katilda said...

Oh you are very welcome :)

katilda said...

Thanks friend!

katilda said...

SO true! The list can always get bigger and the standard can always get higher! It's virtually impossible to ever get it all done.

katilda said...

Thanks girl!

katilda said...

I love your super ramble. I like what you pointed out about today not having to be better than yesterday. I've heard that sentiment before and then it's stressful when you're like BUT I'M WORSE THAN I WAS LAST WEEK, I KNOW IT! It's true, sometimes there are less-good days. And that's OK! And besides, who decided they're less-good? Maybe it's still way-good even if it doesn't look like last week's way-good. I'm making up words.

Stesha Jordan said...

wow I really love this post. You are totally right, it is not pass/fail and we need to remember that. Thank you for sharing!!

xxS

Megan said...

this post is amazing. amazing. i needed this so so much. and i'm pretty much convinced you should be my personal mentor in life because you always say everything i need to hear. i loved this. thank you for posting this!

Megan said...

That is such a great point, Elise! Loved it! Both of you guys just need to write me and talk to me every day because I need your insights to life.

Elise Frederickson said...

Further insight from yesterday's relief society lesson:

"We cannot become perfect at once, but we can be a little better day by day.

The child grows from childhood to boyhood, and from boyhood to manhood, with a constant and steady growth; but he cannot tell how or when the growth occurs. He does not realize that he is growing; but by observing the laws of health and being prudent in his course he eventually arrives at manhood. So in reference to ourselves as Latter-day Saints. We grow and increase. We are not aware of it at the moment; but after a year or so we discover that we are, so to speak, away up the hill, nearing the mountain top. We feel that we have faith in the Lord; that His providences are always beneficial; that we are connected with Him; that He is actually our Father, and that He leads us along in life.

Do not expect to become perfect at once. If you do, you will be disappointed. Be better today than you were yesterday, and be better tomorrow than you are today. The temptations that perhaps partially overcome us today, let them not overcome us so far tomorrow. Thus continue to be a little better day by day; and do not let your life wear away without accomplishing good to others as well as to ourselves.

Each last day or each last week should be the best that we have ever experienced, that is, we should advance ourselves a little every day, in knowledge and wisdom, and in the ability to accomplish good. As we grow older we should live nearer the Lord each following day."

I was sitting in RS trying to reconcile this with my comment last week. Because good ol Lorenzo flat out says "each last day should be the best that we have ever experienced." Here's the thing, I like that, I do. But it totally overwhelms me. How am I supposed to constantly be best? I think the secret is that best is relative to what you're comparing it to. Maybe on Saturday I served 20 homeless people, but on Sunday I didn't do anything remotely comparable to serving 20 homeless people. Does that mean my day was worse and I was therefore not progressing? Nope.

Best doesn't mean comparing. I haven't quite figured out how to put in words what best DOES mean, but I'm getting it. And I like what you said about your "less-good" day still maybe being "way-good" even if it doesn't look like last week's way-good. I'm pretty sure that's it exactly. Ultimately, the Lord knows our hearts. Pres Eyering (I'm pretty sure) once explained that every choice we make brings us closer to the light or pulls us away from it. I think we know when we've had a day that either kept us consistent with the amount of light we had or got us closer, and I definitely think we know when we've lost some light in a day. And that's why we have repentance. So even on the days when we aren't our "best" and we make mistakes that pull us away from the light, we recognize that, change, and do BETTER the next day. And thus, we are always progressing even when we are making mistakes and having less-good days.

/super ramble part 2

ashley @ little miss momma said...

Did I love someone today?
So so so PERFECTLY said! That particular sentence struck a chord in me. Well said! xoxo!