The Singular “Art” of Imperfection

by Marnie Macauley May 30, 2017


marnie-juneAs I deal in relationships, I’m overwhelmed with a nation of people who have adopted “perfection” as the hallmark of our (Jewish) culture. More, too many Jewish people have been made miserable by this exhausting endeavor, which in turn makes me miserable. This month, I’m here to tell you this has got to stop.


If you want the perfect, phenomenal…family…marriage…sex life…date – buy the experts’ books and poof! Get it down in three – or 10 easy steps. We’ve all seen or read the plethora of blather mucking up the self-help shelves over the last 25 years. And while there are tips we can certainly glean – usually common-sense simplicity – the real crime here is nonsense expectations.

Yet, it sells. It sells because the concept of perfection is seductive. It sounds so…American. Becoming numero uno has always been an American dream. Who doesn’t want to make the perfect landing on the Olympic balance beam? Or make a phenomenal break-through to cure cancer? But now, it’s an American cultural pastime in the extreme. “Imperfect” means you can’t swallow 100 earthworms in under 30 seconds.

In relationships, the danger’s even more serious. Surrounded by a culture of phenomenal perfectionism, the normal human can only reach one conclusion: We’re all a bunch of screw-ups.  The very titles of these books imply we’re a mess if we’ve failed to reach personal Nirvana. So, like wiggy mad hatters we buy this stuff. Then, by “Step Two,” when despite our best efforts to follow flavor of the month “expert” drills, our mates won’t list their faults, our children are headed to Tijuana, our dog is eating our “Family Rules” chart, and our in-laws are cutting us out of the will – what we’re left with is: We’re miserable failures who don’t deserve even a Cel-Ray. 

All this despite the fact that phenomenal perfectionism is a bold-faced impossibility! And we’re being duped by a ridiculous and yes, questionable challenge, if taken literally. The “perfect” child? Start saving for shrink bills. The “perfect” mate? Look around for signs to Stepford. The “phenomenal” family? A nice thought. Check their texts.

So let’s make a simple wording switch. Instead of phenomenal perfectionism, how about, “good enough.” “Good enough” doesn’t mean lying in a Barcalounger with a Schnapps in a stupor while the family runs amok, ignored. No. “Good enough” is tough. It demands real work. It requires real commitment, not to an ideal, but to developing the very best in us and to make the very best choices for us, knowing life often deals us tsouris. Good parents sometimes have difficult children. Good wives sometimes can’t get it all done. Good dads sometimes lose their jobs for no comprehensible reason. And only some of that meshugas is within our personal control. “Good enough” lets you do things you can control, your way and in your best interest, without searing your soul to shards.

“Perfect” is results driven. “Good enough” is effort driven – a far more realistic and important quality, regardless of outcome. In fact, we learn more from our mistakes and failures than from our successes. The true “success” is in the trying, the determination, the failure, and the chutzpah to get up once again.

“Perfect” sets up unrealistic expectations. If we’re not “constantly in love” like young bull frogs, if our child was born with a temperament like Genghis Kahn, if the moron we trained gets our promotion, we feel there’s a party going on and our invite was lost in the mail.

“Good enough” lets us set up life in the Real Lane. We understand the difference between rotten circumstances and “rotten” us. We see limits, evaluate them, forge strategies and make solid choices – based on our effort and what we’ve got to work with.

“Perfect” suggests a shopping list. A one-size-fits all M.O. and standard. A Harvard degree. Enough stocks and bonds to blanket Wall Street. A pending escrow on a castle.

“Good enough” allows us to make life a custom job. We can author it our own way. “Perfect” suggest absolutes and takes no prisoners. It’s A-list or F.

“Good enough” embraces forgiveness and acceptance – of workable situations – even if they’re not “perfect.” It requires understanding that there isn’t one but competing values that have to be assessed and factored in truth.

“Good enough” allows us to separate our very human imperfections from our entire self-view. It not only puts other people’s foibles in perspective, it permits us to continue to love ourselves unconditionally.

Life is a glorious work in progress. The next time you see some “expert” hawking “Ten Ways to the Perfect Marriage” or “How to Keep Him Phenomenally Happy Forever,” first consider: “What will it take for me to be ‘good enough’ – the best I can be?” That requires not “perfection” but knowing where you want to go, and setting life by your rules and very personal realities.


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