Accepting the Imperfect
Don't let imperfect be the enemy of good
In Accepting the Unexpected, I step away from writing about travel to comment on the bigger journey of life. While the topics may vary, the central theme is always the same: living life means learning to deal with the unexpected.
I got two Bs in high school.
It’s true. And yes, more than 25 years later, it still irks me.
Blame on my Enneagram 1 need for perfection. Blame it on the fact that I can’t let go of the little mistakes that caused those two Bs in math classes that didn’t matter to my eventual job as an English teacher. Blame it on an inconsistent education for the first 12 years of my life.
Yeah, I still have a hard time accepting those two Bs on a transcript that no one else has cared about for over a quarter of a century.
It’s silly, because I graduated in the top ten of my class. I went on to college and graduated with honors. I eventually got my Master’s degree in my field which transformed my teaching career. And I did that all without getting A’s in two upper-level math classes in my junior and senior years of high school.
It’s just one example of many of me letting imperfections get in the way of a generally good situation.
But maybe it’s not just me. It’s possible that I’m just noticing it more now that I’ve reached middle age, but it feels like a lot of us are stuck in a world of “not good enough.” We want perfection from our sports teams and our politicians. We want big changes and do nothing but grumble when we don’t get everything that we want. We put on blinders to the impacts of our desires because we believe that it has to be all or nothing. Compromise, it seems, has gone the way of the dodo.
I suppose we could blame social media for the way it has siloed us into spaces where we only interact with people with whom we agree. Or we could blame our politicians for a toxic work environment where nothing gets done. Or, and hear me out, we could blame ourselves for constantly looking for the negative and seeing imperfection as a sign that nothing is going right.
What if we took just a moment to consider the positives around us? Not feel-good stories that impact small numbers of people, but actual near-universal positives that could potentially touch many lives? What if we started looking for ways to build on the positives in our own lives? What if we started using those pieces of news and personal stories to show those who oppose us how our stances and positions could make all of our lives better instead of telling them why they are wrong?
Ok, I admit it. It does sound a little Pollyanna-like, but for some reason right now, my perfectionist, peacemaking self who avoids conflict at all cost is feeling unreasonably optimistic about the future. (After all, I’m admittedly giddy about the Inflation Reduction Act and am so excited about the possibility of being to afford both solar panels and an electric car in a few years as a result.) A couple of weeks ago, my favorite podcasters at Pantsuit Politics, when discussing current legislation, said that we shouldn’t allow the imperfect to be the enemy of good, and that has really stuck with me as I’ve looked at so many areas of my life.
There are so many changes I would love to make to our house, but right now we’re in the “fix the big structural issues before we get to do the fun stuff” stage of home ownership. We built a sturdy retaining wall on the back of our house that only we regularly see. It is a huge improvement over the rotting railroad ties that were there before and has allowed us to stabilize our driveway. From a distance, it looks amazing. But I still can’t get over the wave in the wall when I inspect it up close. However, it’s our wall. We built it and it is doing exactly what it needs to be doing. It’s definitely better than good.
Our kids are in different schools this year for the first time since daycare. It’s been a huge transition, but it has been so good for our daughter and our son has had a good start to his school year as well. Is the situation everything that we could hope for? No, it certainly isn’t, but it’s definitely better than good.
My classroom still doesn’t have windows, I have a few classes that are fuller than ideal, and I spent most of the other day fighting with the scanner on the copier, but I’m loving teaching again. I feel appreciated. I’m loving my colleagues and school and while I don’t believe there is such a thing as a perfect teaching position, right now it feels good.
In a season of my life where my faith in God has strengthened while my confidence in the people leading his Church here in America has all but disappeared, I’ve stopped looking for perfect and instead am seeking good. I’ve asked myself what role I can play in the lives of others seeking to do the same. I’m not just looking for good, I want God to use me to be that good for others.
There is no such thing as perfect. When we demand perfection from ourselves and others we just end up being disappointed. But there is nothing wrong with good. That doesn’t mean not seeking better and that doesn’t mean we stop pushing for more, but it does mean that we aren’t defeated by imperfection. Instead, we use that imperfection to learn how we can build something better in the future.
So I’m not giving up on seeking better. I’m not giving up on improvement in my life, my family, my community, or my country. But I’m also not going to stop progress for the sake of perfection. I’m willing to concede that in an imperfect world full of imperfect people with significant diversity, not everyone will be happy at all times.
But that doesn’t mean we give up trying.
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I love this perspective!!!
An excellent essay that I read just as I was starting to ruminate about a similar academic issue from 33 years ago! Well done.