BlackBox: Recognizing Perfection

To me, perfection used to mean making no mistakes and proving that you’re better than everyone else, which I eventually came to find was perfectionism and superiority. I watched my understanding of perfection shift as I started to question it. Does it really mean looking a certain way, fitting in, having an easy life and following a script I didn’t even write? I asked myself, what does perfection feel like underneath all of the comparison and shoulds? It felt easeful and organic, it felt like something I had to own rather than work for. In fact, all of the “working” towards perfection was taking me further away from it. The reality of true perfection revealed itself when I stopped trying to be perfect and started being human.

My current definition of perfection means knowing and remembering that humans are good and whole by nature. There is nothing inherently wrong with us, nothing to fix. We can make mistakes, make a mess, feel at our lowest and still be perfect. What if perfection is a seat each one of us has to claim and learn how to sit in?

We collect evidence from the world that builds a case for why we’re not perfect. One of my biggest discoveries around this was during a conversation with a friend. I shared that I thought my biggest flaw was being half black. That sounds harsh but at the time it was true. I grew up with criticism from my own family regarding race. My Italian grandmother in particular used to make backhanded comments, like being surprised I’m her smartest granddaughter given my “circumstances.” And she often lamented about my mother’s refusal to “stick with her own kind.” My childhood was like a song from the musical West Side Story. And I internalized all of it. I figured if this woman, who is supposed to love me unconditionally, feels this way about me there must be some truth to it. And no matter how hard I tried, I would always be different and inferior.

I sat across from my friend, defiantly arguing with her for my imperfection, arms crossed tightly against my chest and lips pursed. I gave her my best sob story, complete with a long list of scenarios like the one above. And at one point she said, “do you really want to win this argument?” I stopped to genuinely consider her question. It was tempting, winning this argument would mean I could continue to hide behind blaming my grandma Mary for my racial identity complex, and burying my power in the stories of oppression and victimization I face by being a black woman in America. Or, I could turn towards each one of those stories and find out if they are true. The choice was mine: shrink inside of the pain or use it to become bigger and more resilient.

“No, I don’t want to win this argument.” The tightness in my chest loosened and my face softened. I’d never told anyone those things before. I blocked most of it out. I didn’t let myself feel the pain in real time, I froze and those moments calcified, hardening me. If I’m honest, I didn’t want to face the pain in that moment either but it was too late. All of that old debris came up to the surface and out of my mouth. This one conversation was the first moment in my life-long practice of accepting my perfection.

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