Striving For Imperfection

4 comments Written on May 10th, 2016     
Filed under: Testimonies and Stories
Megan Herrold is a pastoral intern at Resurrection Covenant Church in Chicago. She is currently pursuing an MA in Christian Formation at North Park Theological Seminary, and is the seminary’s student representative on the ECC Commission on Biblical Gender Equality.

Imperfection (2)Lately I’ve been embracing the art of imperfection.

It started when I began reading Daring Greatly by Brené Brown. She studies and writes about shame and vulnerability. In her research, Brown noticed that women commonly experience shame when they make mistakes or are less than perfect, because we have an entrenched belief that we’re supposed to be perfect in all that we say and do.

Consequently, if we make a mistake, we feel it not as doing something wrong but being wrong—a mistake suggests there is something inherently ‘wrong’ about us.

(I want to mention briefly that in what I’ve read, Brown doesn’t mention anything about the cultural backgrounds of the people in her research, so her conclusions that I discuss here may apply more to white American women than to women of other cultures.)

I really identified with this desire to be perfect all the time. It’s actually somewhat crippling when it comes to taking leadership roles: I find myself in this loop of not feeling comfortable or right for a new role if I can’t do it perfectly, but not being able to do the new thing perfectly until I’ve tried a few times. It’s similar to the Imposter Syndrome Jo Ann Deasy wrote about last month.

In the last year or so, before I even read this book, I had found myself referring to my “perfectionistic tendencies” in conversations with friends, in counseling, and with my internship advisor. But when I talked about it before, I called it part of my personality. Brown’s research suggests a different source for this perfectionism. If a phenomenon is this pervasive among a socially delineated and identifiable group, it’s hard for me to believe that it isn’t at least somewhat socially constructed.

In other words, Brown’s observations suggest to me that I’m a perfectionist because that’s what society wants me to be, or tells me I should be.

Fortunately—or perhaps unfortunately, I’m not really sure—I have a bit of a contrary streak. If someone tells me who I’m supposed to be or what I’m expected to do, I automatically don’t want to be or do it. It’s a good part of why I never saw the movie Avatar. Or Les Misérables. They were both movies that “everyone” was seeing and “everyone” just had to see. So of course, I didn’t.

I heard a speaker at church a few years ago (not the pastor, someone else on the teaching team) make a joke about how he doesn’t really know anything about women; the only things he knows are shoes, purses, and chocolate.

It made me angry to hear someone try to reduce me—and more than half of the rest of the congregation—to those three things, even as a joke. It also made me proud that two of them didn’t apply at all to me. I’m not super particular about purses or shoes. Most of what I own are hand-me-downs and my mom and her sisters have more than once said I should replace what I have because they’re so worn out.
I do like chocolate, but after that joke, I didn’t eat any for months. Just the idea of eating any made me slightly nauseous. I didn’t want to be this person someone else expected me to be.

This time, my contrariness has decided that I’m not going to be perfect anymore. (I laugh at how I try to write that as if I ever was perfect to begin with.) Instead I’ve started embracing the times that I make mistakes (minor ones) as a sign that I’m letting go of other people’s expectations of me.

And it’s just…so…freeing! I can’t tell you what it’s like to have this pressure off. It’s like I’ve lost a huge weight off my shoulders. Or like losing 20 pounds, but not even caring because who cares what I look like anyway? Everything from “Is my hair still perfect at the end of the work day?” to “Did I use the most theologically correct preposition when I was praying during communion?”
In addition, when I decided to feel happy about minor mistakes, I found I had a lot more to be happy about than when I was striving for perfectionism.

Obviously I don’t go out looking for mistakes I can make—why bother when there are plenty for me to make without going to all the effort of actually trying? What a waste of time. And I don’t want to do a bad job in new leadership roles, but it’s helpful to remember that maybe God can use me for good in the midst of my mistakes. I don’t want the fear of imperfection to keep me from the joy of God working through me like that.

So I’m happy to say that I plan to keep embracing my unintentional mistakes for awhile.


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4 comments “Striving For Imperfection”

Great reflections. And helpful to think about the socially constructed nature of our perfectionist tendencies. Those expectations of perfection are even higher when you are a pioneer, a barrier breaker, the first, or someone walking into a contested space. And I love that you have been in spaces (North Park and Resurrection) where your call is embraced in ways that allow you to be fully human, mistakes and all.

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Thanks for your candid thoughts, Megan.  I’m glad you’ve gotten to this place, and may you continue to live into it daily!  

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Hmm, it makes me wonder if, because I expect so much from myself (socially constructed expectation or not), I expect a lot from others, too–maybe too much.  I need to let others be free to be imperfect, too!  Food for thought . . .

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Thanks Megan – These projected stereotyping categories are constructed in all aspects of women who lead or as JoANn has pointed out are pioneering in some way. Thanks for letting go … it helps everyone to experience the diversity of leadership styles that women come with. So beautiful to know we can simply be ourselves … and that is more than enough … for most people anyway … LOL

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