Living in the Land of the Imperfect

When I was in midst of editing Dancing the Tightrope, someone told me to hang on to the many stories that were landing on the cutting room floor. “Just because it didn’t belong in the book doesn’t mean it’s not a story worth telling,” they said.

The following story is one of those that didn’t make the cut. We pick up the action when I have been talking about the distinction between obsessing over mistakes in search of perfection versus using the process of recovery to bring me back to balance.

Now my mind stays clear under pressure - most of the time. With every error, I have the choice to agonize over the lack of perfection or relish the space of constantly assessing, recalibrating, and correcting.

Agonizing over things not being perfect is a form of emotional abuse heaped upon my head by me. Mind chatter that sounds like a picky mom, overheated football coach or snarky friend takes me away from being able to deal with the problem in front of me. Instead, it fills me with the shame of not being enough.

It doesn’t have to be that way. If I can heap emotional abuse on myself, I can also heap emotional support on myself.

Being out of balance and totally imperfect is the catalyst for movement and growth and life and joy. It’s possible to stay with the pressure and chaos when mind chatter fades into the background.

Choosing to relish this non-perfect, slightly out of balance space might have saved me a trip to the emergency room. Or two.

I was walking into my kitchen with grocery bags and stepped on one of my dog’s bones. Immediately, the bone slid across the wood floor, and my left foot lost traction just as my right foot came off the floor.

My first thought went into the “what the hell, this is bad, I’m so stupid” space, but my mind didn’t stay there. Almost as quickly as the first thought was there, it was replaced with this one: “How do I best fall from here?”

Instead of allowing myself to fall backwards into the granite countertop to my left, I threw myself forward to hit the kitchen island with both of my forearms, still holding the grocery bags. While it happened in mere seconds, in a way, time slowed down as I controlled my fall.

The next few minutes were a blur. I put the groceries down and walked to the nearest chair to gather myself. After my heart stopped thumping and my adrenaline drained, it hit me how close I had come to a devastating fall. I mentally cursed my dog and then myself for leaving the bone right there in the pathway. I committed to do better in picking up scattered dog toys. I didn’t yet quite get the value of being able to correct my body position in the middle of a big mistake.

Then I had the second fall.

This was about a week later. I was sitting in my living room and my phone, which was inconveniently in my office, started ringing. In one swooping move, I stood up and turned to the right, stepping on the rope toy that was half hidden under the chair. Once again, I’m flying, this time straight towards the glass door leading to my porch. Seeing the potential for shards of glass everywhere, I twisted myself further to the right and aimed for the wall, which took most of my weight. My left hand did land on the window, but without enough force for me to go through it. Once again, time slowed down as I controlled my fall.

Once again, I cursed the toys and realized that I would really have to do better on picking them up.

It was another couple of weeks before the bigger lesson hit me. Something out of my control knocked me off balance. What saved my life (or at least saved me from a lot of blood and a concussion) was in how I regained my balance. It was the recovery that mattered.

My lessons from the round pen were translating far beyond the lariat and the horses.

As I flew across the floor, it was so tempting to blame the bone and go into the swamp of giving myself grief over the situation. Just that delay and loss of focus would have landed me on my ass or with my head hitting the countertop behind me.

All too often, blaming the problem rather than solving the problem lands me on my ass.

As I’ve learned to shift into the present moment and look at the problem as it is, not as I wish it was, I’ve found new and better ways to deal with what’s happening rather than getting stuck in wishful thinking.

Where do you find yourself focusing on perfection to the detriment of everything else? How have you learned to focus on the real problem at hand, rather than wishful thinking? In what ways do you heap emotional support on yourself?