The other day I was lecturing on the art of happiness and the importance of forgiveness during the college class we’re teaching when one of our students stopped me cold.
I had been going on at some length about how we’ve all been “done wrong” somewhere along the way by somebody, be it a parent, teacher, old boyfriend/girlfriend or the BFF who turned out to not be our friend forever. Forgiving those people, I told the class, is like taking out the trash: it frees you from carrying around the burden of anger and resentment and allows you to get on with the business of creating your own happy life. Chances are, whoever you were mad at has gone on just fine without you, so why would you want to let them continue making you miserable? Forgiveness, I said, frees the forgiver, which is why it’s essential to do it.
“But what about forgiving yourself?” inquired one of our bright articulate students. “What about being able to forgive yourself for all the mistakes you make? The things you do wrong? I wrestle with that one all the time.”
Wow. And here I thought I was the teacher.
What a reminder of how challenging it can be to cut ourselves some slack, sometimes—particularly those of us who are on the path of self-discovery and improvement. When is it time to acknowledge that we probably did the best we could given whatever circumstances we may have encountered, and that it is absolutely OK not to be perfect? In fact, being IMperfect is an essential (and humbling) reminder of what being human is all about.
Boy, have I had to learn that one—more than once.
I grew up believing that I had to be, if not perfect, far better than pretty much anyone else around me. My mother was a devout Jehovah’s Witness who raised her three children in the faith. As someone who was definitely different—far from the mainstream of American religious life—I was told it was imperative to be an example to others. Not just sometimes but all the time: in our dress, in our speech, in our demeanor, in our behavior. We had to be above reproach, every minute of every day. It was quite a burden.
I left the church at age 17 and went my own way. By the time I was 21, I was one of the first television anchorwomen in the country. Once again, I felt the need to be perfect. Were people looking at me, noticing me, talking about me, even writing about me? Absolutely. Everywhere I went. And once again, I had to be keenly aware of what I did, what I said, what I wore, what I looked like. I had to be perfect—or so I thought.
Which I wasn’t, of course. None of us are. But a large part of my spiritual journey has been the struggle of letting go of Perfect…and just being me. The best “me” I can be, I hope, more often than not, but still a long way from perfect. I imagine you are too. So let’s forgive ourselves, and celebrate the joys of Not Perfect. Of being more than enough, just as we are.