I learned an interesting life lesson this week. . . about being a perfectionist.
I have been called a perfectionist, and I never liked that. Because I'm not a perfectionist when it comes to so many things. As a teacher, I don't plan my class lessons down to the minute (I hardly "plan" my class lessons at all). As a choreographer I rely on what I call "accidental greatness." This is jokingly/seriously become the motto of Megill & Company. I often will create something and be surprised by the fact that I like it. I often leave lots of room for interpretation and thus plenty of room for accidental greatness. As a performer I absolutely love improvisation. And, as a researcher, good enough seems, well. . . good enough.
So, I never thought I was a perfectionist. But, I discovered this week that there is one instance where I believe anything less than perfect is simply unsatisfactory. And, that is when I let others down.
I am very much willing to admit when I make mistakes, and I am very much willing to suffer the consequences of my own mistakes. But, when I make a mistake that affects others, I am an absolute terror to myself. There is no forgiveness. There is no acceptance. There is no compassion.
I learned this week that I expect myself to be perfect when it comes to my obligations to others.
I forgive myself in creative situations, in teaching situations, even in learning situations. But if my mistake affects my peers or colleagues, THAT is another story. This week I made a mistake that I could have avoided. I knew better and had no excuse for my mistake. I couldn't blame ignorance. I could blame misunderstanding.
It was flat out my fault.
But, humans make mistakes all the time. So why was this different? In reflecting upon my situation, I learned that I was not upset because I made a mistake, but because it affected people I care about. My actions affected people whom I respect and hope respect me in return. In other words I had let these people down and to me that was not ok.
The reality was that it wasn't even a big deal. It was solvable and in the end it worked itself out.
But, the lesson was inside of this situation. I desire that people like me. I desire that I make people happy. I want to ease their suffering. I want to aid them in whatever way possible. I want to be a net positive in the lives of others. I like making people smile. I like seeing people relax in my presence because they know that I will accept them as they are. But, there is a cost to this desire.
In Buddhism desire equals suffering, and in this situation is is perfectly true.
There is a cost to my desire to do good. When I let others down, I believe that I have failed. When I have disappointed others, I believe that I have proven myself unworthy. Thus, when it comes to others, I expect perfection. I expect myself to be nothing short of excellent in my interpersonal interactions. I desire others happiness to such an extend that even the smallest mistake can shatter my sense of self.
I must learn that I will disappoint people. We all will.
There is no such thing as perfect, and when we make a mistake that affects others it is exactly that. . . a mistake. An oversight. A misunderstanding. A miscalculation. An accident.
People will be disappointed in me. I must learn to accept that.
In the meantime, I will continue to try by best. Not because it make others happy, but because it makes me happy. I enjoy a job well done. I enjoy coordinating shows, organizing choreography, helping people when I can. But, there is no guarantee.
Making mistakes is part of life. Learning to recover from our mistakes is our practice.
When have you made a mistake and felt bad about it? Did you do everything you could? Have you forgiven yourself?