“Perfection is the enemy of progress,” according to Winston Churchill.
It’s the time of year when we try to do too much, change too quickly. Already expectations are lowering, and reality is setting in. The sky is gray, the temperatures cold, and I am coming to grips with the fact that I cannot eat toffee every day. (At least, not a lot of toffee every day.)
It’s the mid-January new year letdown.
More people die this time of year than on average. I imagine they make it through the holidays, finish off the toffee, take down the tree, look out at the gray weather, decide the New Year is not looking significantly better than the previous one and give up the effort to keep on living.
I spoke with my grouchy friend yesterday. This is the same grouchy friend who has cursed my cheerfulness in the past—and is a source of unflagging pessimism—so I should have known what was coming. He says there is no cause for rejoicing in the new year. He says the days are growing longer, and that means intolerable heat is around the corner. He says any promises he makes to himself will be broken. “I gave up goals and dreams in the summer of 1971,” he says.
He thinks I am a fool. I think he’s right. And I believe this may be one of my best qualities.
Because the older I get, the less seriously I take myself. I used to obsess over not looking my best, walking around with spinach in my teeth or toilet paper on my shoe or a tag hanging out the back of my shirt. I used to beat myself up (usually hours later, while doing the dishes or trying to fall asleep) for some dumb thing I said—something that someone could have taken the wrong way.
“Ack!” I’d yell aloud while washing my vegetable steamer. “Why did I say that?!”
Accepting that I’m foolish removes this burden. If I don’t take myself too seriously, I can’t expect anyone else to. If I accept that I am imperfect and just treat myself with love, I can hope folks will follow suit. I might wonder (as I did last night), what I am doing in the kitchen at 1 o’clock in the morning eating the last of my sister’s homemade toffee.
“Should I really be doing this?” I might ask myself.
But now I answer, “Who wants to know?” And there is silence.
It turns out that no one cares if I stay up too late eating toffee. There is no editorial committee reviewing my statements from the previous day, informing me of how they might have been more clever or less embarrassing.
As a result, I feel a lot more free.
I can make that phone call, not knowing what I will say until I say it. I can have a conversation with a stranger—not caring so much about what they think of me, but letting them know that I am interested in them. But the key to all of this—to any of this—is action. I have to forgive my gaffes and blunders in advance and do something rather than nothing. I have to do something imperfectly if I am to make any progress at all.
Today, I am doing sit-ups. I can only do a few. My form is terrible. I cannot see how this will ever make me stronger. But I’m doing them anyway. And, while it’s much too early to tell, it’s possible that I’m making progress.
Till next time,