3 Steps to simplify your life:
Step 1: Give up false Self-Identity
Step 2: Give up being perfect
Step 3: Give up being right
Forget about being perfect, let’s be curious. When you are trying to be perfect, you become rigid; when you are curious, you become creative.
Growing up in Taiwan, just like all the other kids in Asia, I was trained to strictly follow the rules. If one chose not to, the negative consequence could be harsh. For example, back in the 70’s, if someone robbed a bank, they could receive the death penalty.
When I was 12 years old, my favorite class was art. One of the assignments was to create a picture of a vase just as the one shown in the art book. I did this assignment with my friend Nina. As I was having fun making my vase look like a mosaic, with all different shapes and colors, Nina said, “Oh, no, you are doing this completely wrong! We are supposed to make our pictures look exactly like the one in the book.” The stubborn part of me refused to make another one, even though I understood what the rule was.
After turning in my artwork, it was time to review the results. Mr. Wong stood in front of the class and said, “Look at this picture. All of you in this class turned in this assignment exactly as I asked, except this one!” My heart dropped, “Holy shit, that is mine! I wish I could run away right now! Nina was right, I am in trouble!” I glanced over at her, and she gave me that “I told you so” look. Mr. Wong continued, “Indeed, this is the most creative piece I’ve seen in a long time. The shapes and colors in mosaic style bring a sense of playfulness and different meanings to us. The spirit of art really is to inspire others and to be inspired!”
Mr. Wong chose me to represent our school to compete with kids from other school districts. I felt flattered and scared at the same time. On the day of competition, after I set my easel up among other kids in a beautiful park, I panicked. I saw the watercolor picture done by the boy right next to me. There were beautiful palm trees, and by the sidewalk there was a bench and people walking around so vividly. It was an amazing painting! I said to myself, “I could never paint a beautiful picture like that…”
Finally, I got the courage to pick up brush and start to paint my picture, and I immediately messed up! The little perfectionist inside of me started talking: “The cloud is supposed to be fluffy, and the sky is supposed to be blue!” I used the wrong colors - dark gray, green and purple. Watercolor is the most unforgiving media. You can never go back to erase it if you don’t like the colors. I was very upset and I started to cry. I just wanted to pack everything up and go home.
Mr. Wong came by, and I told him why I wanted to give up. He looked at my picture and said, “No, you are doing just fine.” He picked up the paintbrush and added red, purple, orange, yellow and brown colors on the part where I messed up. It was magic! With just a few strokes on top of the mistake I made on my painting, it became a stunning sunset picture with dramatic colors in the sky. I couldn’t believe what I saw with my own eyes. Mr. Wong said, “See, sometimes the sky looks just like this!” This experience opened my eyes to see how my perfectionism had caused me to feel hopeless and helpless; and how giving up my need to be perfect actually brought a brand new perspective to my situation.
Being perfect is for “dead people”. Why? The heart rate of dead people is perfectly flat, and they will never make another mistake. They are done, and their lives are over! When you strive for perfection, you can be paralyzed by fear of failure or feelings of inadequacy and end up not wanting to do anything at all. The beauty of being a human being is that you are going to make many mistakes, and that’s okay. It’s how you learn. As long as you are alive, you have an unlimited ability to improve yourself! You get to play and go on a journey of self-discovery!
Being curious is the cure for perfectionism. Today, pick one thing you are afraid to do, set your fear aside, and focus on being curious – be creative, resourceful, and have fun! If you can learn to enjoy this moment, it is more than likely that you will continue to enjoy your adventure in the next moment too. This is how you simplify your life - by giving up being perfect!
“There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” - Leonard Cohen
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Wen Chi Chien, M.A. LPC