Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Pobody ever needs to be Nerfect...

We're all perfectionists. I'm not talking about the kind whose sock drawer is color coded or who addresses envelopes using a ruler. No, it's deeper than that. We all want perfection out of our lives and out of ourselves. To live the dream life, without troubles or annoyances or whiny children or rainy days. Those of us who believe in a Creator and Sustainer reluctantly give up the notion of control over the circumstances life brings us. And sooner or later, hopefully, we find solace in knowing there is no such thing as happenstance.

It's the desire to reach self-perfection where we sometimes go wrong. I don't mean to say that striving to become the best we can be is always a bad thing. It means we are "B'nei Aliyah," or people who are always striving for improvement. It's the trademark of a Jew- he's never happy staying stagnant. We just need to make sure we don't so get caught up focusing on the goal that we forget how to get there.

The other day I had a discussion with someone about this. She said, "We're not aiming at perfection, we're aiming at progress."

How often do we feel like giving up simply because we haven't yet reached our goal? Do we really expect things to change overnight? Or, in our quest for complete perfection, are we unwilling to accept each small step as a milestone?
"My davening (prayer) was terrible today; I had barely any kavannah (concentration) during Shemona Esray, it’s almost as if I didn’t daven."

"I cheated on my diet yesterday. That's it, I may as well give up completely and indulge in the chocolate mousse left over from Shabbos. "

“Gosh, I’m such a bad teacher. My student pushed my buttons and I reacted improperly by lecturing her. I’ll never make an effective educator.”
Do any of these internal dialogues ring a bell? It doesn't have to be these - it can be about a struggling friendship, a tension with a spouse or coworker, or a difficulty dealing with a child or student. Maybe it's the frustration with a Middah (character trait) that needs fixing or a skill which is yet to be mastered. Whatever the specifics, one thing is similar: focusing on the setbacks will inhibit us from reaching success.

Nobody watches a baby taking his first halting steps and says, “Well, she wasn’t very smooth, and she fell after a few steps, so she may as well just stick to crawling forever.” That’s pure idiocy. With practice, and quite a few falls flat on her tush, (and a lot of kisses and encouragement from the overprotective parents), she’ll walk. Oh, she may be 12 months old, or 18 months, or may even be delayed until age 2, but she’ll make it.

Consider those mental conversations above. True, the final goal has not been reached. True, you may have fallen flat on your tush. But look back- did you take one shaky step, or even five or six? Look at the progress, not at the setback.
Yeah. Davening today was a tad on the pathetic side. But... I did show some emotion during the Bracha (blessing) for health, as I begged G-d to send a cure to a sick girl I know. That may not be perfection, but… it's progress!

Okay, I’m not in total self control when it comes to leftover chocolate mousse. But... last night at a vort (engagement party) I did turn down the delicious sweet table and chose to eat only from the fruit platters. I’m not walking gracefully yet, but I’m taking a tiny step.

I did make a pretty bad mistake today with my student. But… everyone makes mistakes, and through my errors I’m learning about my field. I gave a great lesson and my students really grasped the material. Nobody became an experienced teacher overnight. I’m working hard - I should give myself some credit.
Any situation- the struggling friendship or marriage; the difficult child or coworker; the underdeveloped skill, behavior, or personality trait- can all be made easier through changing our perspective. It takes work to re-teach yourself to choose positive thoughts. But it’s worth it in the long run. And when you get stuck, remember those words of wisdom, and aim for progress, not perfection. After all, Pobody's Nerfect.