Be As Perfect As You Are
by Jennifer Paros
“Too many people overvalue what they are not and undervalue what they are.”
-- Malcolm Forbes
Lately, I have been working on unraveling my impulse to try harder, along with an addiction to feeling strained and stressed – as though these conditions are true indicators of putting in proper effort and guaranteeing desired results. I love to write and draw, but when the work is marked with heavy effort it becomes chore-like, a signal that I am attempting to outrun fear and insecurity by trying harder.
When I was a child, I wanted to be pretty the way I thought some other girls were pretty. I took to getting different haircuts to try and achieve “pretty”. But each haircut led to a greater sense of hopelessness. I felt jealous of the girls for whom being pretty seemed easy - and undeniably separated from what I wanted.
One day, while tagging along with a schoolmate, Liz – who had long, thick, straight blond hair – we stopped by her home and I watched as she went to the bathroom mirror and pinned her bangs back with small clips and put the rest in a ponytail. I stood in awe of her comfort with her own reflection, with her hair, with the choices she was making.
At the time, this just reinforced my envy. But, in truth, it wasn’t her looks of which I was jealous. It was how unburdened her relationship to her physical image was, while my own was loaded down with a thousand stories of not being good enough. I wanted to be free like Liz and thought it was her appearance that had freed her, rather than her thinking.
I was in a place of perpetual “trying” – consistently expending effort with the underlying expectation of failure. I thought I was striving for something, but the truth was, I was pulling against a negative. The expectation of failure existed because I had already judged myself as not good enough, and so my eyes were always looking for “evidence” for my case – and finding it no matter what actions I took.
This is what trying too hard is. It is effortful, pressure-filled, tinged with a bit of desperation and generally unsatisfying. Any victories gained become drained of their glory soon enough by the fear that fueled the untrusting approach in the first place.
“The myth of ‘no pain, no gain’ is prevalent in our society. My philosophy is a bit simpler: ‘no pain, no pain.’”
-- Michael Neill
Recently, I saw a video of a little girl drawing. First, the girl rifles through postcards of reproductions of artwork, then chooses one. Propping it up beside her, she takes out a clean piece of paper and begins drawing from the picture. As someone who draws regularly, it was liberating to watch her. She was matter-of-fact about the whole thing, judging neither her choices nor their outcomes. She was just doing what she set out to do. There was no trying hard, and she was free because of it.
Years ago, in an attempt to point out the folly of being hard on our work and ourselves, a favorite art professor of mine said: “Every line you make is a gift.” She was directing the class’s attention towards reverence for the integrity of making marks on paper specifically, but in a larger sense – for the whole of our experiences and ourselves – beyond any criticism our minds might hold.
At the time, her words reminded me of what a simple, beautiful act creating can be – much as I was reminded while watching the video of that little girl. Much as I could have been reminded watching my childhood friend create her expression at the mirror, had I not been trying so hard to get something already available inside me.
A vantage point of reverence is invaluable. In its light, trying too hard drops away in deference for the truth that everything is intrinsically and easily whole and complete as it is. It means we already “have it”. There is no “fixing” because nothing is wrong as it is. And without the fixing and seeking, there is no trying too hard. There’s no battle against self or the world and no striving outside of us. Now we’re looking within for what we want, revering it and inviting it to come forward for full expression.