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  • jeniferfoster2

Do I need perfection?

Updated: Oct 1, 2023

I think you know that I’ve been interested in starting a retreat. I have much anxiety about this; but, that is what I was thinking about while on my walk today. I started thinking specifically about lawyers, although what I was thinking about is certainly not exclusive to them, it’s the profession I’ve had most direct contact with over the past twenty years, and thus was where my brain started.

I was thinking about the culture within the legal profession that we have to have all the answers; we have to be perfect and it’s wrong to ask for help. At my past job, I used to work closely with law students. They were almost always in their last year of school, and I worked with them in their first real-life court experiences (and often their first time working with real clients). I always found it amusing that students in literally the very beginning of their careers thought they should already have all the answers and be perfect at their jobs. Honestly, as their supervisor, I often pulled on my social work background more than my legal background in working through their anxiety, stress and defense mechanisms.

But, why do we do that to ourselves? And, as I said, this isn’t true only with lawyers. I’ve seen it with friends and family, who fight to be perfect parents, or perfect at their jobs. We see it with careers and commitments. I don’t want to do xxx unless I know I’ll be good at it. But how silly is that? I’ve also seen it with people and relationships. I don’t want to be with XX if they don't live up to this laundry list of qualities I’ve put together I have to immediately feel trust, respect, love, passion, excitement, and safety. What a funny and ridiculous concept!

The other thing I’ve realized about myself recently is that I often feel I shouldn’t do something unless I have been trained in it. The strange thing is, I’m not exactly sure where this insecurity comes from. It is not prevalent in my family. Anyone who knew my mother well, would remember her saying, “I may not always be right, but I am never wrong.” My father started multiple businesses throughout the years, and each was in different arenas – running from cars, to real estate, to computer software to signs. My siblings definitely fall more in line with my parents. Me though? If I’m not trained in it, I feel incapable of doing it (probably why I have multiple degrees).

This came up recently when I was at the Handicapped Scuba Association Instructor training. I was speaking to one of the instructors about some of my aspirations. I don’t know that it was related in his mind, but later in the weekend, he said, “when I started this company, I didn’t know what I was doing. No one trained me.” I’ve thought about that over the last several weeks. Why do I feel so reliant on someone else to tell me I’m qualified? I mean, obviously, I couldn’t practice law without first having gone to school and having passed the bar – but, I could probably lead a retreat without first getting some certificate saying that I can. I think that is partially what I want. A stamp of approval from someone else saying I’m ready.

It also strikes me as funny that as I’ve gotten older, I’ve sometimes been less confident. I actually led a retreat of about 50 participants when I was a freshman in college! I’ve taught classes to kindergarteners through law students and professionals. I’ve been providing therapy for almost twenty years. And, yet – the idea of doing these retreats brings up all sorts of anxieties, especially surrounding my need for perfection and a stamp of approval from someone else.

I appreciate in other cultures, they often face difficulties as a community and not necessarily as individuals. I like the idea of working together to meet challenges. For instance, why should a parent have to feel solely responsible for raising a child? Isn’t that child going to grow up and join in the community? Shouldn’t we all care about the welfare, education and health of that child? It sort of baffles me that in the US we don’t. Having worked a bit with families in which there is abuse, it’s my experience that very rarely does someone start off wanting to be abusive to their children. Sometimes (not always, but sometimes) parents have been worn down by responsibility, and their patience runs low. I’m not justifying the behavior, but I am curious how much a society could cut down on abuse, if parents were given support (I’m thinking of support as mainly emotional support – but, parents could also use some support as far as with time and keeping the kids occupied and engaged or even financial).

I think there is much good that happens in an individualistic society. I don’t want to give the impression that I don’t see the value in it. But, there is also value in community. There is strength in being together. There is strength is sharing ideas and building them with each others’ input. There is value in realizing that an individual challenge, challenges the community. There is a benefit to people taking on challenges together rather than solely. We are social creatures, after all.

But, maybe all that love for community approach to problems is just me wishing that someone would give me the thumbs up for moving ahead with some of my dreams? And, now we are back to vulnerability.

My boyfriend recently showed me a youtube video of Denzel Washington giving a graduation speech. (I will post the video below if you want to watch it). In it, he talks about how we should “fall forward” rather than fall back. Or, in other words, take risks in life. He gave the statistics that Reggie Jackson struck out 2600 times, apparently the most in the history of baseball. But no one remembers that; they remember the homeruns. He also says that Thomas Edison had 1,000 failed experiments, but that the 1001st experiment was the light bulb. (Here is the video. He speaks for more eloquently than I am writing it: )

So, in order to find success, we have to fail. Must. It is required. Sigh. It is hard to put ourselves out there. It is hard to create the path rather than take the path that someone has already set. It is hard to step out of the ordinary without a guide. It is damn scary.

I know I have written about this before, and yet, I’m being confronted with it on a daily basis. I’m just going to have to get over it though. Sometimes we fail. It’s okay. It’s necessary. Life is not perfection. You aren’t perfect and neither am I. There is beauty in the imperfections. But, damn.

“Imperfection is beauty, madness is genius and it's better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring.” Marilyn Monroe

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