The Myth of Perfection

Photo credit: David Hofman Unsplash / Post: Diana Turner-Forte

Rehearse. Rehearse. Rehearse is the refrain of a dancer or anyone in the performing arts. The work of polishing pieces for stage seems endless and sometimes futile. Bringing together a group of people from different backgrounds, varying skill levels, and expecting them to work in sync 100% of the time for a flawless production holds all the ingredients of a failed project. I mean anything could happen: someone could slip or pull a muscle or misstep and nearly fall. And that’s just a fraction of what could happen.

Even with everyone committed to the same goal—getting the product to the stage—a perfect performance rarely happened. In my experience the plethora of notes, reminders, more rehearsals between performances, and just before the final performance left everyone wondering if we would ever get it right.

Is this not a metaphor for life? It’s the constant, conscientious efforts at improving relationships, refining situations, adjusting behaviors and attitudes to relate in meaningful ways with the environment and everything around us. With each interaction, like a rehearsal we seek to grow and improve our own lives as well as the lives of others. American Dancer, Teacher, Choreographer of modern dance, Martha Graham (1894-1991) had this to say about practice:

“Practice means to perform, over and over again in the face of all obstacles, some act of vision, of faith, of desire. Practice is a means of inviting the perfection desired.”

For a Type A personality and recovering perfectionist, perfection is something I’ve struggled to overcome. Learning to make the proper adjustments to behave and act differently relieved my near-constant state of tension and emotional fatigue. Sometimes it seemed that instead of fully living I spent more time stumbling into black holes of financial distress, unhealthy relationships, and an incessant underlying frustration and anger. I confronted these negative perceptions by committing to personal inner work. The energy that fortified my competitive edge was freed up for compassion, authentic love, and peacemaking.

The transformation required a shift in mindset (literally) instead of feeling as if I was always falling down, being attacked, or personally challenged. I began to view my encounters with people and situations as potential miracles. I could do this regularly if I attuned to the words of Albert Einstein:

“There are only two ways to live. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”

Eventually out of sheer exhaustion I opted for the latter. The perfectionist persona had to go. Living with the terror of failure, frozen into a paralysis of inaction created such imbalances in my body, mind, and spirit that I knew I had to change. Living out of alignment with the soul has detrimental affects on the psyche and body. It took a while for me to realize and admit that I was the cause and prime player in my own unhappiness. While the spark of insight seemed like it came in a flash from nowhere; accepting responsibility for adjusting habits and attitudes took some work, deep inner work.

And as you might guess, the work was like turning around an ocean liner on a stormy sea—slow, tedious, and relentless. But that wasn’t the half of it, the healing involved the mind in re-imagining an alternative outcome, something I read about years earlier but failed to heed. I couldn’t quite grasp the benefits of such efforts until I opened up to exploring and experimenting with the creative process.

I first had to delete the word perfection from my vocabulary. Perhaps the better word for realigning myself with spirit is excellence. Maybe excellence was what I was striving to attain all along. Personal excellence also invites us into ongoing relationships in which we express the best of who we are. There is nothing to prove.

How did I re-align myself and create different outcomes in my life? I engaged in a three-prong process:

  1. Recognize that I might be the problem and do a personal inventory of my behaviors (actions words, and deeds).
  2. Re-imagine a different conclusion. For example, let’s say you are in the midst of a disagreement that is getting progressively worse. You envision a healthier outcome. Sometimes this is hard to do in the moment. However, you can do it later. In your mind retrieve the scene and rewrite with a more harmonious conclusion. You need to use your mind and emotions for the full impact. This takes practice!
  3. Pray.

If you struggle with overcoming perfection or remaking your days into miracles I share with you part of this blessing for presence from John O’Donohue. May it serve as inspiration.

“May you awaken to the mystery of being here

And enter the quiet immensity of your presence.

May you have joy and peace in the temple of your senses.

May you receive great encouragement when new frontiers beckon.

May you respond to the call of your gift

And find the courage to follow its path.”

Post by Diana Turner-Forte

Diana Turner-Forte

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Gaye Abbott, Natural Passages Consulting, 2/4/22. Please feel free to share this post and link to WildlyFreeElder


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