Perfection or Progression –
A difficult discipline to master is self-awareness. It is when you are aware of the good and the not so good, the skills you possess and the ones which need work. The biases, skewed vision, different experiences, which make you the uniquely flawed individual like the rest of humanity.
Some of the men I work with have begun to develop this discipline and it is hard for them to see themselves as they truly are, with no excuses. It is especially for those who thought of themselves as good partners and fathers only to discover they have a lot of work to do. If we’re not careful these revelations can do more harm than good because the road seems terribly long. They may even ask; “Why try?”
Along with self-awareness, another discipline I try to teach is the truth of progression, not perfection. Oftentimes when we see ourselves, perhaps for the first time, we also envision the amount of hard work inside of ourselves out outside. We have this perfect view of what we want to be and what we think our family, friends, and others want us to be. We throw all of our efforts into becoming this perfect version of ourselves, which doesn’t exist and isn’t attainable, and never come close. We fail miserably.
This is why the path to peace and acceptance is progression, not perfection. We are never going to be the idealized version of what we think we want and should be. We will only wear ourselves out and down. To pursue progression doesn’t mean there isn’t hard work to be done but we recognize the realization of our true selves is found on the journey and not at the end of it.
Perfection or progression, the difference makes all the difference.
I was talking with someone the other day and we were trying to come to grips with a few issues which needed to be addressed so this person could move forward in life. We wanted to learn from his past but not be chained to it. One of the questions I asked was; “Who, if anyone, can criticize you?” The question hung in the air. I continued; “If we aren’t capable of receiving information about areas of our lives in which we need to improve we will never grow beyond our perception of ourselves.”
Being critical of ourselves, allowing others to shed light on dark, perhaps unexplored places, of who we are isn’t easy. I’m not sure anyone enjoys receiving an insight from someone else that isn’t flattering or realizing for ourselves we have a long way to go and grow, in multiple areas of life.
Wisdom teaches us that perfection isn’t ours for the taking but progression is a possibility. To progress, however, we must be vulnerable to the perception of weakness, habit, hurt or hang-up in ourselves and possess the willingness to accept it and begin to change.
Wrestling with the Wind –
The wind has been blowing today, seemingly from all directions, ahead of a cold front which will settle into the area over the weekend. I spent part of the day raking leaves. Raking, gathering, keeping leaves in one place when the wind is determined to send them back to where you brought them from can be frustrating and defeating. The wind can’t be stopped by any force I have, nor can it be altered by anything over which I have control.
After a while I figured out if I would rake small piles, keeping the rake in place to keep the leaves from being blown away, I could eventually form a big enough pile to burn. I also discovered the raking job I was doing today wasn’t going to be close to perfect and I had to be okay with that.
This past week has been similar to my wrestling with the wind today. Many things are moving, changing, and it’s hard to pin anything down. No matter how hard I try, I do not possess the ability to keep things the same nor make them transition slower. Life’s journey has a speed all its own.
So, like the raking method, I take it in small, manageable sizes. I accept what I can that is changing and trust that each partial choice will lead to full acceptance of the inevitable transience of life in time. I’ll also allow for the truth of never being perfectly happy, blissful about change. Wisdom tells me progression not perfection is the way to peace.
Progression not Perfection –
Today in our Incarcerated Father’s class we talked about; “How to be the Perfect Dad.”
I began by drawing a stick figure and asked the men what it needed to be an ideal father. On the face we drew a mouth for praising and giving guidance, ears for listening, eyes for seeing the good in ourselves and our kids, a nose for sniffing out trouble and a big ol’ brain for making good choices which have a long-lasting impact on us and our children’s future. We then went on to hands, feet and lastly I drew a large heart in the middle of the stick figure. “Without a heart which loves, helps, leads and values our children, partners and families, we’ll never be the father we need to be.”
After the exercise, we looked over the list of traits and duties a perfect father has, does and I asked the men a question; “Can anyone be a perfect, ideal dad?” They paused for a moment and said; “No.” “Correct!’ I replied, ‘we seek progression not perfection.”
It’s a good lesson for each of us to learn. We live in a world where celebrities on websites and magazines look amazing, not a blemish to be found. We read articles which extol the feats of men and women and they seem more advanced and evolved than us. We peruse Facebook and other social media sites where friends post photos, quotes, eloquent thoughts and we think to ourselves; “They’ve got it all. I’ll never be a _________ as good as them (fill in the blank).”
We forget so easily that pictures can be photo-shopped, well written pages are heavily edited, most folks only post their best on social media sites and no matter how perfect a person’s life may seem it is anything but…
Too often we have an ideal self and try to live up to it and, of course, we fail and spectacularly! Give yourself a break. Open up your heart and learn to love your frail, faulty, fickled self. Remember; progression not perfection is the way of the sane and contented.
Making Our Way –
You never know what’s going to happen at the county jail! Today it was a ceiling sprinkler that broke and flooded our classroom before I arrived. As a result of this malfunction I had to wait, and wait, and wait. We were supposed to start at 1:30PM but didn’t actually begin until 3:00PM.
Waiting is hard. Especially when you are geared up and ready to go teach a class of men who’ve been cooped up for many hours at a time. When I was finally able to get out of the foyer and into the bowels of the jail I was escorted to a small room with no dry erase board, only a few desks and was located next to the jail’s common area which meant it was loud! As I sat there waiting for the men to arrive another inmate from a previous class I had taught came in the room. At first it was small talk but eventually he shared his story of being let out but through a series of bad decisions he was back inside after only being gone for 5 months. It was heartbreaking and you could see the disgust on his face and hear the despair in his voice. He ended up staying for the class and at the end I told him; “If you want to keep coming and take the class again, you can.” He smiled and said he would. I hope he does.
One of the lessons we learn in the class is; “progression not perfection.” There will be difficult seasons which come either by our own choices or life never being easy. The question is; “what will you do when things don’t go as planned?” Hopefully, this young man will make the right decisions, recover and continue finding his way toward his better self. Hopefully the same can be said for us all.
I was listening to a few people participate in a discussion this week on the topic of Donald Trump. The Donald is polarizing! I have yet to meet anyone who’s neutral on him and this presidential race unless they’ve given up on the election entirely.
The central point/question of the conversation was why some people seem to find it impossible to apologize. People who are wrong, off course, exhibit faulty judgement, have it shown, proven, to them yet they still refuse to say; “I’m sorry.”
What does this reveal about a person’s character? Last night, in our incarcerated dad’s class, we talked about the five characteristics of a good man. The first characteristic is, “Self-Awareness.” We defined self-awareness as; “someone who can look in a mirror and see who he is; the good, the bad, what he does well and what he needs to improve.”
Only with honesty and humility are we able to understand our true nature, strengths and weaknesses, and there is no such thing as being free from flaws or defects. Accepting our own limitations does two things; it frees us from the pursuit, illusion of perfection when it comes to ourselves and it lets us love others better because we understand our journey is one of progression not perfection.
Most mornings begin with putting on a pot of coffee, taking the dogs outside and washing any dishes left over from the night before. Today, I followed my usual routine and had a greasy iron skillet left over that needed to soak. I placed it in the soapy water and went to get ready. By the time I had packed my bag, started the truck, prepared the now brewing coffee and put my dress clothes on I had forgotten about the iron skillet. As I was leaving the now darkened water caught my eye. What to do? Leave it or roll up my sleeves and scrub? I chose the latter.
Life has a way of not going according to our plans. We’d rather avoid the dirty work. It’s much more enjoyable when everything seems clean and ordered. However, oftentimes the hardest, grittiest, messiest parts of our journey come at the most inopportune time. We have a choice; do our best to perpetuate an illusion of perfection or get down in the grime of life and clean it up.
Yesterday evening, as the sun set and the autumn cool air settled in, I gathered some wood, placed it in the fire pit, started a fire, sat in an Adirondack chair and stared at the stars becoming visible in the quickly darkening sky. I breathed out the hustle and bustle and breathed in relaxation. Silence and beauty, what more could you want after a busy day?
Then, out of the corner or my eye, I spied a bright light. I looked over and let out a frustrated “sigh!” The farmer who owns the land adjacent to ours had come on his big, green, John Deere tractor to rake the hay he cut earlier in the day. “Ugh!” What was a serene, peaceful moment of reflection and relaxation turned quickly into a noisy, dusty, beams of lights in my eyes disappointment.
I understand the days are getting shorter. I know the seasons are changing. I recognize the driver of the big, loud machine would also rather be somewhere else but this knowledge still didn’t stop me from being annoyed. As I sat there stewing a few questions came to my mind and spirit; “Is the fire no longer beautiful? Are the stars any less in number? Did the fall breeze cease?” Of course the answers to each of these were; “no.”
In life few things are, or stay, our definition of perfection. Wisdom teaches us that acceptance and embrace of change, disruption, the passing of “perfect” moments is vital to peace of mind and spirit. Being able to adapt, finding the gift, and the good, even in moments of frustration and disappointment is needed and necessary.
Earlier this week the non-profit organization I work for, of which the Fatherhood Engagement program is a part of, had its yearly review.
A representative from Washington, DC came to Columbia, TN to check us out. It was an audit of everything from finances to program implementation to staff efficiency and competency.
Key members of the team, including myself, had to give formal presentations explaining what we were doing, why we’re doing it and the impact we’re making. There were questions asked, suggestions for improvement made and at the end of the week a summary and evaluation of our program’s effectiveness for reaching families who live in South Central, Tennessee was given.
I am pleased to say everything went well and the team received high marks for leadership, staff versatility and our program’s overall productivity and success. We’re not perfect but progressing very well. After the federal examiner left, the staff breathed a huge sigh of relief.
Being held accountable is not easy. Having your program, job skills, family, personal life put under a microscope isn’t easy. Wisdom, however, teaches us that it’s necessary. Truthfully, all of us are capable of deceiving ourselves. Our egos generate excuses, escapes and excellent ways to push the blame onto something or someone else.
Self awareness and examination is difficult. To allow others to help us see what we do well and where we need to improve takes a willingness to be vulnerable. When areas of weakness, shallowness, selfishness or sinfulness are found we are challenged to accept what has been revealed and change what is possible.
Perfection isn’t an option but perception and progression is the way forward.