Embracing Imperfection: Changing Self-Perception

Imperfection is a subjective matter. Your ‘imperfect’ may be what your spouse loves most about you. It can be another word for the things that make us unique and special. Embracing imperfection is best encouraged when we are young so we grow up with some latitude to be different and be proud, rather than self-conscious and insecure. Most damaging of all – judging ourselves as imperfect can lead to the development of shame.

Perfection is self-abuse of the highest order. – Anne Wilson Schaef

I grew up in the DC Metro area. It was an expensive place even 30 years ago. My parents valued hard work and saving and making things from scratch. They were very financially responsible and as a result of that influence, gratefully, so am I. However, I remember so many of the kids I knew having things I didn’t have; and according to my parents, couldn’t have. So I starting working at age 13 to have money for the many things my parents didn’t see as necessary.  Even though we were somewhere in the middle class, I remember a feeling of going without. It left me feeling that I was somehow less than those around me.

Fast forward a decade and I began a career in the drug development industry. After a few years, I was making good money, yet I still felt the need to be thrifty and live well below my means. My behavior was certainly responsible but the belief system behind it was about lack. There was not enough to fill the hole inside. After a decade of working my salary was high enough that I finally felt like I had some. Not enough, but at least some.

Sometime in my early 30’s while looking at pictures of myself – I noticed my smile wasn’t very pretty. Specifically, when I smiled my front teeth seemed misshapen and too small for my mouth. There was a small gap in between my front teeth. The more I thought about my smile, the more self-conscious I became. Soon I convinced myself that my appearance was lacking as a result of my teeth.  I decided to ‘have work done’.

Cosmetic dentistry they call it. Whoever said being pretty was painful knew something about cosmetic dentistry. To prepare for the veneers, they grind off the bulk of each tooth. These teeth once whittled down look like tiny shark teeth. Then they put temporary caps over your tiny shark teeth. The minute you think they’ll behave while you attempt to talk or eat, they become projectiles. If I was embarrassed before, this was a whole new kind of self-consciousness. It used to take about 10 days to have the new veneers made.  Now they can be done while you wait! When my veneers came in they were the wrong color so I spent another 10 days living a Halloween life. You know that dream where your teeth fall out? In my case, it was not a dream.

After 3 weeks and the crowns permanently glued to the tiny shark teeth, I did have a gorgeous smile. However, because of the experience to get to that moment, it was hard to enjoy. When we drag around a perception of ‘not enough’ and then believe an external change is the answer, the feeling usually remains with us, like garlic after Italian food.

As a result of hard work and responsibility, I finally had ‘enough’, except it still wasn’t. So I bought a perfect smile thinking it would change how I felt about myself. It didn’t. Why? Because striving for perfection is more about overcoming a disparaging internal dialogue, until we address the belief system that supports a sense lack, we are hostage to feelings of ‘not enough’.

There’s no need to be perfect to inspire others. Let people get inspired by how you deal with your imperfections. – unknown

How we experience our lives is a direct product of our belief systems. When those belief systems are flawed, we find flaws within us. Chasing perfection can result. Or, we can renegotiate our contracts with ourselves.  We can change what we believe about our worth, starting with our so-called imperfections. Recently I went through a drawer full of old pictures. I saw that smile I once had and it occurred to me that it was beautiful; that I was beautiful. Perfectly imperfect, small gap and all.

I may not be perfect, but parts of me are excellent. – Ashley Brilliant

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