Thursday, August 5, 2010

perfectly imperfect.

{via here}

My parents have this anecdote they tell.

As the mother and father of two practically grown children, they frequently get asked for parenting advice or input. “How did you do it?” people ask. “How did your kids make good grades? How did you help them succeed in school?”

And then, the big one: “Did you apply pressure?” People are always concerned about kids folding under pressure.

To which my parents just laugh.

They look at each other, and they say: “Annie always put pressure on herself. We didn’t have to do a thing.”

Of course, my parents parented. I was not — and am not — the perfect child. But when it came to school, the story they tell is true.

I would come home from school, pop in a nature CD, and sit at my desk for hours, doing homework, most of which I enjoyed.

My parents didn’t tell me to make straight As. I just wanted to.

My parents didn’t pay me for my report card or offer other rewards for good grades. It was just something I did.

In fact, sometimes my parents would tell me it’d be okay if I got a C. “We’ll still be proud of you,” they said. And I knew they meant it.


There’s another anecdote, but this one, I tell. And I am not proud of it. But I tell it, and when I tell it, I laugh. Because I hope I’m better than this now.

I was in the 11th grade, and my English class had been assigned to do a book report on The Scarlet Letter. I was thrilled. It was a creative project; we were supposed to design a book cover and jacket for the book. I happily got to work. These were the projects I loved.

The deadline came, and I turned my project in. A few days went by before the teacher handed them back. I turned it over. I’d gotten a 98.

A 98.

Most people would be thrilled with a 98. I mean, that’s a good grade. A really good grade.

But the 16-year-old me had questions.

Why a 98?

Why not a 100?

There were no comments below the grade, and I wanted to know: Why not 100?

I realize now that this sounds absurd. And when I begin grad school this fall, I have no intention of turning my nose up at any grade, especially an A.

It probably also sounds like I was some kind of psycho, never able to settle for less than perfect.

This may be partially true.

But there was really a deeper part of me that was just curious.

I thought my project was great.

But obviously, it could have been better. Two points better.

And I wanted to know how.

So I asked.

After class, I went up to the teacher, and I asked her, “Why did you give me a 98? Was there something I could have done better to make a 100?”

She stared at me.

I think, for a moment, she was in shock.

Then, bless that woman, she smiled. “Annie, you got a 98. That’s practically perfect. Just accept it!”

I still don’t know why I didn’t get a 100.

It was, as it turns out, inconsequential.


Thank goodness, I’ve done some growing up since then. Today, I think I’d be perfectly happy with a 98.

But I still remember that smile on the teacher’s face, reassuring me that I didn’t need a 100.

I didn’t need to be perfect.

I still don’t.

In fact, I can’t.

And I’m learning to embrace it, this imperfectness that I tend to shun.

Let me give you an example.

I took cake decorating classes for fun this summer. Jordan was busy, and I figured it’d give me something to do.

And I hated them.

I mean, really hated them.

I thought I would love them. I’m creative. I like working with my hands. I enjoy a good cake.

But I hated that class.

And when the last session rolled around, and my icing tasted gross and my cake fell flat, I decided: I’d skip it.

I called my mom, and I said, “Do you think I could skip my cake class tonight? It’s the last one…”

To which my mother laughed. “Oh, skip! Of course you can! You never liked it anyway!”


So I skipped.

And it felt good.

And now, I’m comfortable telling people: Not only did I hate the class, but I just wasn’t good at it.

Inevitably whoever I am telling will smile and gently touch my shoulder.

“Oh, Annie! Don’t say that! I’m sure you were wonderful!”

No, folks. I wasn’t. I’m not fishing for compliments. I really was terrible. And you know what?

I am okay with that.

I learned how to make a few flowers. I could probably decorate a semi-decent looking cake if I wanted to. But I don’t want to. Not really.

If that class was a lesson in anything, it was a lesson in life.

I don’t have to be good at everything.

I don’t have to be perfect.

Tuesday, I went to the doctor for my yearly physical. It’s a day I dread for weeks. I’m not much of a worrier (that’s Jordan’s job, and goodness knows one of us needs to stay sane), but I worry over my annual doctor’s visit more than any healthy woman should.

It’s pathetic.

And as I sat there, talking with my doctor, answering uncommonly intrusive questions about my overall health and well-being, my doctor paused.

She looked at me.

And she said, “Oh, Annie! I’m not your professor! There’s no right answer here!”


I set up these ridiculous goals and boundaries for myself. It’s how I work.

My parents didn’t set them for me.

My teachers didn’t set them for me.

My doctor certainly doesn’t set them for me.

Jordan doesn't set them for me.

I just set them for myself.

And when I don’t reach these goals, or when I don’t answer the questions correctly, a little voice inside me says: “You’re a failure.”

(I know, by the way, who that voice belongs to. And he is wrong.)

Because, guess what?

I’m not who I was at 16.

I am not perfect, but I am not a failure.

I am me.

And that is, always has been, and always will be


"God didn't make you, with all your uniqueness and idiosyncrasies, and then say, 'Well, what in the world am I going to do with her?' No. He had a purpose and a plan, and then he made you. Equipping you with all the characteristics, traits, and possibilities that you need for that plan."

{via here}


jenna said...

Yes... this is something I need to be reminded of sometimes...

Sabrina said...

Sigh...Amen Mrs. Annie!