never stops teaching.
Journaling for awareness. Growing for life.
I had my engagement ring cleaned recently. There seemed to be some residual play dough and lotion stuck in between the prongs. The jeweler was sweet, complimenting the setting and asking about how my husband had proposed sixteen years ago. She casually noticed a little flaw in the diamond and told me that if I ever intended to replace it, they could fit a new diamond into my existing setting. I smiled politely and bit back the urge to explain why that wouldn’t be necessary. My husband bought my ring at age twenty-three with his savings, and I couldn’t imagine ever replacing it. The moment felt similar to the time I had walked into the dermatologist for some hydrating cream and walked out with a recommendation for laser treatment. (Sigh.) I know everyone loves a good upgrade, but wouldn’t it be nice to find happiness in what already is without the ongoing scramble for perfection?
Forgive the symbolism, but in a way, I am my ring. Solid, pretty sparkly, a show of love, and… imperfect. If I were to go for every upgrade, I’d be living a stressful life, one set up for disappointment. My problem is that I have a tendency toward behaving like a human doing instead of a human being. I have a busy mind, I like to get things done, and for better or worse, I put my heart into everything—no half-assing over here. So it would be very easy for me to get on the perfectionism highway if I didn’t have a firm grip on my own compass. The reason I took up meditation was because I needed to make myself sit still and breathe, to appreciate a moment before anticipating the next moment. But it is difficult to be present and not try to improve upon every little thing, when the world is screaming, you should be doing better; you should be doing more!
I am amazed everyday by what people can accomplish. Professional business cards now done multi-hyphenates such as CEO – Interior Designer – Spin Instructor, or Sales Associate – Business Coach – Personal Closet Organizer. Parents balance careers and managing a household with PTA meetings, private lessons, game schedules, and talent show bake sales. (And I’m running around somewhere in there, in awe of the energy, creativity, and commitment of my peers.) I am so grateful for the hard work of my community, of my friends and family. But I’m okay if everyone takes one “should” off the to-do list—something that doesn’t bring them more alive or more at peace. There are so many things to strive for, beautiful things, and what if we made one of those things taking time to hold a mug of tea, to hold a child, to walk with someone in need of a friend, to laugh at our imperfections, and strive simply to be sparkling symbols of love. We work so hard, but do we notice what is at work? We strive to be balanced, but do we feel a sense of balance? We want to be accomplished, but are we accomplishing what really matters? We aim for radical self-care, to stay healthy, young and beautiful, but do we recognize the real beauty in our lives? And when the flaws become apparent, do we go for a trade-in, hoping it will be a better version? Or do we deepen in awareness and in affection for what we have, flaws and all?
Let me digress for just a minute. My son, six years old, is a little artist. He goes through phases with his art, often drawing a series of pictures related to one topic. I have collected six weeks of skyscrapers, four weeks of ships, and now we are on to sea creatures. This afternoon, while I drew a green fish, he worked meticulously on a blue whale. It had all the important details, but he couldn’t get the shape of the tale to match the image in his mind. This was frustrating for him. We talked about artists’ interpretation—how it doesn’t need to be exact—but he erased and drew, erased and drew. Finally it was good enough and he decided to color it in, but in the process he got a spot of orange where it didn’t belong. At that point, he was ready to throw the drawing away. It just wasn’t what he’d hoped it would be. I convinced him to let me hang the whale in the kitchen, but I noticed how he would look away from it when he passed through.
I thought to myself, it’s terrific that he wants to be great at something he loves to do, but what is that tipping point into taking it too far? Is it relative to when the inner critic takes over? Is it when we develop the need to be more than we are… to be perfect? And just what makes a flaw, a flaw?
I went back to the art table where my fish was laying among scattered pencils and markers, and I drew a bright orange mark on his back. Then I hung it on the wall next to my son’s colorful whale with the orange spot. When he noticed it, he said, “It has an orange dot, Mama.” “I know,” I said, “It’s my favorite part.” He smiled up at me. A few moments later, he was back at the table making a whole school of fish and whales with orange dots. His drawing’s flaw was no longer a flaw, his problem was no longer a problem; the orange dots became one of the most creative parts of his day.
This little moment with my kiddo is one I hope to learn from myself. I suppose the trick to warding off our cultural tendency towards perfection, is to celebrate the process, not just the outcome. And then to accept the outcome as a part of an even bigger process—growth that never ends. The roads we’ve tread, the lives we’ve touched, the story we’re writing as we step into one thing, and then the next, is a story to celebrate. Even the miss-steps. Because they set us on colorful new paths. The mistakes become beautiful. The spots on what we create remind us to think outside the box and carve new adventures. (And the spots on our faces can remind us of sunshine—they don’t all need to be lasered. Yes?!) The joy is in the journey, in the expression, in finding solutions to the challenges, and in embracing new perspectives!
We will never be everything until we can really be something—until we can be who we are. Not like all the others, but spotted with creative difference. I believe I’ve earned every nick, every wrinkle… and I am still enough. So I will not be upgrading my diamond. You see, that little flaw is my favorite part!