Friday, November 9, 2012

Perfection: The New Boring

This is the second installment in the backstories behind my 20 tidbits of knowledge.

I hesitate a little to write this post because it addresses a topic that I don't typically bring up: religion. My religious views have changed drastically over the last few years and while I know it's the right thing for me, it's not always easy on my family. When I don't know how to talk about something uncomfortable, I tend to not talk at all. Which is why you haven't heard me talk about religion up to this point. Thing is, a lot of the things I have learned going through this change in beliefs are the things that ended up on my all important list mentioned above. So it's sort of impossible not to talk about.

For the first 27 years of my life I was taught to strive for perfection. One of the base beliefs of my Mormon religion was to continually pursue perfection and use the repentance process for any mistakes I made.When the time came to meet my maker, if I'd done everything I could, Christ would make up the difference and I'd be on the train to heaven. Which sounds like a good plan, no?

Amongst all my striving to be good and doing all the things I was supposed to, there was always the thought that "you could still do more." There was always more I could do. I'd think I was doing a pretty good job and then come Sunday I'd be listening to a lesson about food storage or personal prayer or serving others and I'd always think... "man, I'm not doing any of this. I should do these things. I could do these things if I really wanted to." But I never seemed to be able to put them into action, at least at any level I thought I was capable of. I always felt a little guilty that in my spare time I did things like watch t.v. or go hiking or some other hobby instead of taking a bowl of chicken soup to the widow down the street. Every week I'd go home from church feeling horrible about myself. I was clearly not as good as the people sitting around me. I felt like a fraud.

During my transition out of the church, because of my new beliefs, I made a conscious choice to stop trying to be perfect. I no longer cared if I was perfect. I didn't really want to be perfect, truth be told. As soon as I made that decision, I suddenly felt free. I didn't have a mountain of guilt constantly weighing me down. I dumped all the things I'd always been told I should do and did what I wanted for once. And it was amazing.

Now instead of feeling guilty for taking some time for myself, I feel happy and recharged. When I do things for other people it's because I genuinely want to, not because I feel like I have to fill up some invisible bucket of "good deeds." I don't feel like I have to censor my personality anymore and my self-esteem has never been better.

What if we were all perfect? Nobody ever made a mistake. Nobody ever burnt a roast. Everybody would always agree because we'd all have the same perfect opinion about everything. We'd all have fit, trim, perfectly shaped bodies. We'd all be perfect at sports and singing and any other thing we tried to do. And we'd all be bored out of our minds.

The people that I've always found most interesting and fun to be around are those that are the most flawed. They swear or laugh at inappropriate things or dress a little crazy. It's when we break out of that perfect mold that we are at our most human. I don't want everybody to be the same. I want to be an individual. I want to be "perfectly" flawed.


Lohra said...

Way to be honest, man. Feels good to get it out there doesn't it? :) I think this is one of the most prolific misconceptions about the gospel. We, as Mormons, have built a whole culture around it - around being perfect. And we are wrong. I think we misunderstand the doctrine of "all we can do". Here's a great post from a brilliant friend of mine:
And here's a not as great post I wrote myself a while ago:
I think we all must confront the doctrine of perfection at some point in our lives and come to a solution that works for us. Perfection is not something I will achieve now or tomorrow or before I die but I will never give up trying, not out of guilt, but because I believe it's the trying that God wants. I am human and I am flawed and I will fail and that's not something to be ashamed of. Just like you said.

heidi said...

Karen, I'm so honored you were willing to trust us (your audience) enough to share this! I can hear you being really open and vulnerable here--and making every attempt to be considerate of your listeners' feelings, and tactful. Uncomfortable things ARE uncomfortable for anyone to talk about. I feel just unbelievably moved that you would take the risk of being this honest, and trust us all with this! I hope we are equally open and vulnerable and tactful in our reactions to you.

I will try to be. Since I didn't grow up in your religion, I think it's unfair for me to try to address any of that. But I think this post is relatable for anyone of any religion: there are things that each one of us has a hard time talking about with other people... Things that we fear others may respond to by taking offense to or by getting upset or angry about, and that in the end we will feel stupid and judged and misunderstood and discouraged from opening our mouths ever again. Who among us hasn't spent significant portions of our lives feeling misunderstood, even by those that love us most? How often do we really feel certain more than maybe one other person will truly accept us? I feel like we've all been where you are right now--after we've gotten brave or dumb enough to share how we really feel... and are hoping that others will still love us... Or even, love us MORE! I feel like you've just given us all the chance to...

Well, to be heroes for a moment.

Even if all of this is a bit new and uncomfortable since this isn't your usual blog post.

I also really grooved with all your thoughts about the dulldullDULLness of perfection.

But most of all: I'm imagining one day when Sylvie is old enough to read this--and picturing how much she will gain--how much she will learn--how... FREEING she likely will find this!

Congratulations, Kay! And you, too, Seth. I was genuinely affected by what you wrote. And, delighted that you broke into a masturbation rant. I hope all of Kay's other readers will follow your example! :) (Well--I guess I'm joking about the masturbation part although that would be awesome--but your speaking from the heart is so admirable and such a wonderful way to show solidarity with Karen and something I hope all of us WILL imitate!)

I have a sort of footnotey thought I will share as a footnote to this.

Kudos K!

heidi said...

Footnote: As a majorly dorky/nerdy/devoted reader of your blog, right after finishing this post I was reminded of one other from long ago...I don't know if your other readers will remember, but you once asked (in "Ramblings" from May 2011--I had to look it up) if you should be more real and unfiltered on your blog... If that was even a good idea.

Here's some snippets of what you wrote:

"there are always things I’d like to write about. But I can’t. Either it’s just not the right time, or I can’t find the words, or I don’t have the courage to do so."

"I wonder how many people have the same sort of things they’d like to say but don’t... Do you think it’s possible that in reality we could say what we wanted to everyone but don’t because of how we think they’d react? It just seems like there are a lot of relationships that aren’t developed into something deeper because of fear."

"should we rock the boat? I mean for the greater purpose of deepening relationships and increasing communication and understanding? I wonder sometimes if I’m too robotic in my approach to people. Where there’s not enough giving of who I am and not enough taking. ‘Taking’ in the sense of digging deeper into people…"

GOLLEE, Kay--what a brave post that was!

You even got Paul to comment at length. But the gist of what he said was:
"each reader will be a different person with different responses. Your relationship with each of us will help dictate that. But I admire you trying to do so. And I think a lot of you shines through here: your compassion and your intelligence and your curiosity."

I also think HE said it would likely be hard.

And then here's a bit of what another commenter--Budsly--said...
"I think you shouldn't be so scared. I'm sure you would learn a lot about people if you gave them the benefit of the doubt. They may not react as you think they might. It doesn't do you any good to be fake around people.(Not being who you really are) Besides, how can you remember how fake to be? For some people you have to be more fake than around others. It makes things too complicated..."

[BTW: I found this view on how complicated it would be, remembering precisely how fake to be, hilarious}

and then: "There are more people out there besides our significant others that love us unconditionally, but often times we are too afraid to let them."

I also responded--took me awhile but I think the main idea was--I think it IS possible to be open--I practice doing that most of the time--and it takes effort and it takes skill, which get easier over time--but why pussyfoot around and waste our one short lifetime here on earth NOT BEING REAL??

YOUR AUDIENCE SPOKE! None of the commenters said--nah, shut your trap. We said: Give it a go!

And you finally gave us what we asked for!


Paul said...

Wow Karen, that post was amazingly open.

I guess I'll start with: obviously I was not raised LDS and so a lot of the specifics I do not relate to. But, as a reformed (ha ha) Catholic, I absolutely resonate with your experience of guilt. In a way, the experience of attending confession every week drives home the point to children that no matter what you do or how hard you strive, there is no perfect. Or maybe even 'good enough'. In fact, I remember well a nun's answer to "what do we confess if we haven't sinned?" "You have always sinned." It burrowed under my skin, although it's hard for me to remember that child.

You know, people sometimes talk of growing apart from a religion. It's an interesting phrase. As we move out of religion, there is certainly growth involved. And like all growth it can be painful. I was fortunate that my nuclear family was not upset by my movement away from the church. Hell, my father is an athiest, so he was probably proud! But my extended family didn't quite understand. My grandfather in particular felt that I was abandoning an important part of existence. If I thought he would have heard me, I may have tried to explain my feelings to him.

Karen, this is why your post seems so BRAVE. To stand in the face of possible misunderstanding and say to the world, "THIS is who I am and THIS is why I feel it." Thank you for that.

P.S. I second Heidi. What is the point of BEING without being real?

Rachel said...

So, I've been meaning and meaning to comment on this post. Mostly I was just going to be like, "Yay for being okay with being you!" but then there was all this deep commentary, and I felt all shallow, and felt I should contribute more, but it's too hard, so I'm going to comment anyway.

Yay for being okay with being you!

Rachel said...

Also, I want to say that I have long since let go of religious guilt, but I still really struggle with perfectionism, worrying that I'm not doing enough or being enough.

heidi said...

The recovering perfectionist in me is envious that Rachel one-upped us all by that first delicious comment of hers that got all meta on our apples... (Using a fake swear out of respect for other followers of potentially delicate sensibilities...) By ENACTING the triumph of self-acceptance over the pull of perfectionism! Darn you Rachel. You have it backwards--if there's a problem, it's that you are TOO good. (If this were FB I would like my own comment.)