I have some friends who are in twelve-step programs. Every once in a while, we talk about the things they're learning and/or talking or reading about as part of those programs. It turns out that, in addition to the 12 steps (which define a path for the recovering person to follow) you all hear about, there are traditions (which govern how the groups work). And, there are little phrases and acronyms that help people get through a myriad of situations.
The more I hear about these catch phrases, the more I think that everyone could use them too. They apply in so many situations. The one I'm thinking of today is Progress, not Perfection.
I see it everywhere. This morning, for example, I came to my knitting chair, where I'd left Dwarrowdelf resting peacefully last night, and picked up my knitting only to find that a good 4 inches worth of the stitches had slipped off the needle. Why? Perhaps because I caved to laziness and had stopped mid row, making it harder to slide the needle tips far enough away from the end to protect the project from just such a mishap.
I was annoyed with myself. I was mildly frustrated at having to pick up all those stitches.
And then, I was reminded of just how much progress I've made in knitting. I clearly remember the days when this would have felt like a disaster! When getting the stitches back on the needle would have felt like an all but insurmountable challenge.... And now, it's a mild annoyance.
Sure, in a perfect world, I'd never drop a stitch, much less let dozens just fall off the needle. But this isn't a perfect world. My knitting (and my responses to it) show progress - not perfection. And I'm thrilled with the progress. Perfection is for machines.
I see it in my house. My family room "looks lived in." On the coffee table, in addition to the candle that ought to be there, is a text book, a catalog, a novel that the reader finished last week, napkins from the pizza two nights ago, a skein of yarn, a magazine, a set of speakers that would work with the iPod if we could find the controller (and hooked it up to the base that is upstairs). The table next to my chair has no room for the coffee cup I'd like to rest there. There are at least two pair of shoes on the floor -- and what used to be a stack but is now sort of a spray of paper from my notes. There are two empty water bottles and a random screwdriver on the side tables (nestled among patterns, yarn, notes, and a camera.
However, there are no DVDs lying about in the hopes that someone will find their cases. There are no empty DVD cases. There are no empty cups or glasses. There are no plates. Miraculously (what with the cat's penchant for hauling socks around), there are no socks on the floor.
Weeks ago, I'd say it was a disaster area. It's so far from perfect --- but it's not as bad as it has been (many times). And I'm not as stressed about it as I have been in the past. Both of us are showing signs of progress -- not perfection. But I'm okay with that. Perfection is for Stepford Wives.
I see it in my parenting. While I may not have become the calm, reasoned, compassionate, understanding yet firm mother I strive to be, I have become calmer. I have become better at not taking everything personally, so that when my wonderful teen daughters are -- well -- teenagers, I can resist lashing back when they lash out. When they make mistakes, or push limits well past acceptable boundaries, or get their Entitled hats stuck on too firmly, I don't yell at them in anger. Do I still get angry, definitely! Do I still raise my voice, sometimes, but not every time... and that's progress. Do I still feel hurt from time to time, you betcha. But ... I also feel more understanding, and am more able to step back long enough to say things like "let me think about that" before reacting. I'm making progress. And I doubt I'll ever be perfect. Perfection is for robots.... and except for Andrew, robots tend not to have feelings. Since once can't be a perfect mother without feelings.....
Progress - is about getting closer and closer to a goal. Any goal. Even a repeating goal (like, say, having clean laundry). And if every day, I made progress on some front, then I'm doing good. I'm getting closer to some goal.
Perfection seems to mean being in a place where you have no goals to strive for. B-O-R-I-N-G!!!
I think I prefer progress.