Okay, I’ve finally admitted that I have a problem. For the last thirty-five years, this affliction has managed to call all the shots, suck a good portion of the joy out of my life, and attempt to halt my personal growth in its tracks. It’s the desire to be perfect – at everything. Now, don’t get me wrong, I haven’t created this false exterior of flowing gowns, candlelight and pretty pictures. Instead, I’ve just sort of played it safe.
Recently, in a desire to shake the perfection monkey off my back, I’ve started taking tennis lessons. Tennis was something that I loved as a kid, but I never felt good enough to play with other people (you can never win playing against the wall) so I just let the hobby slide away into oblivion. No more. I began lessons six weeks ago, and while I love it, I must admit that I’m a bit ashamed of my behavior. I’ve turned into the John McEnroe of the Rec Center. With each missed shot I growl and utter mumbled curse words with each sigh of exasperation. I’m overly competitive, with myself and everyone around me. What is it that makes me run in for the smash every chance I get? And I live in a retirement community! I’m sending 90 mph rockets across the nets toward people who’ve just had a knee replacement! And not in a game, in warm-up! Yet, I just can’t seem to help myself.
If you’ll allow me to lie down on the couch here, I’ll tell you how I think all this started. I was raised by a tough, no-nonsense Italian father. While he just wanted the best for us, God rest his soul in heaven, he imparted this wisdom by saying “Don’t be Stupid.” It was a loving refrain we kids heard quite a lot. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t harbor any resentment towards my dad for it – I know his attentions were good. That’s just who he was. He had a kind heart – but a rough delivery. I remember the time he rescued small kitten that had become separated from its mother. He called me, all warm and fuzzy feeling, to tell me about it. “Oh you should see this cute little thing,” he said. “It’s so small it didn’t even know how to drink – so I pushed its head into the milk until it got it.” And so it was. Although it was tough love – it was love just the same– and in a desire to please my dad, I guess I developed a phobia of looking stupid. When you think about it, that’s a real growth killer.
But with age, comes wisdom – and now that I can see the pattern, I can change it, right? I recently heard a spiritual-type quote that really resonated with me, “You’re a human BE-ing, not a human DO-ing.” Hum, that’s deep. It means that our identity and worth are not tied up in the things that we manage to accomplish each day, but instead simply by virtue of being human. By that account, it’s okay to be “stupid” occasionally because imperfection enables the necessary steps toward mastery. Without giving ourselves that luxury we’re trapped in the present – separated from all the great things we might become.
So here I am, with a new revelation at work in my life. Today I will allow myself to make mistakes – to be stupid. I just hope the old people will be able to get out of the way.
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