January 3, 2018

How a visit to my Dentist led to my Life-Altering New Year Resolution.

This new year, I’m making a rather strange resolution.

Notice how most of our resolutions are about striving for perfection in one aspect of our lives or another? My resolution this time is quite the opposite: I’m going to allow myself to be imperfect.

I’m going to be open to making mistakes. I’m going to make some space for and within myself where it’s okay to fail. Sound counter-productive? It’s not, as I’ve come to learn.

All my life, I’ve been a perfectionist and proud of it, until my life began to crumble around me—in gentle and gradual, but certainly discernible, ways. I’ve had a painful, clicking jaw condition since I was about eight years old. Despite many doctor consultations and treatments, there was very little improvement. Then, many months ago, I happened to mention this to my dentist while I was there for an appointment.

“Are you a perfectionist, Shraavya?” he asked me, seemingly out of nowhere.

“Yes, kind of,” I answered, rather proudly.

“That’s your problem,” he said. “It seems like you subject yourself to extreme judgment and don’t let yourself off the hook when you need to. I can see that you clench your jaw tight, and I think you probably grind your teeth in sleep. You might have a lot of pent-up frustration, which is causing all this mess.”

“Excuse me?” I thought to myself. “I thought I was talking to a dentist, not a psychiatrist!”

I thought he was going to prescribe some medicine, and maybe teach me some jaw exercises to relax the area. But the treatment he suggested was totally unexpected. And at the same time, it felt absolutely right.

“Meditate every day, for about half hour,” he suggested. He also gave me a night guard, just in case. That’s it. No pain killers, expensive medicines, or other procedures. His parting advice was: “Strive to give your best, but be okay with ‘good enough’ every now and then. It doesn’t make you a failure, it’s just what makes you human.”

I am not new to meditation and its world of benefits.

But I’ve been guilty, like so many others, of not sticking with it regularly enough to reap its fruits. At his words, I began to meditate regularly for a while—before falling off the wagon again. But his words had stirred something within me. I realised that what he’d said was probably true. Being a “perfectionist” meant that there was no room for mistakes, which in turn meant that there was no room to just be human.

Who would’ve thought a visit to a dentist would lead to soul-searching?

I’m a performing artist and for a few months, I’d been going through a creative block. I had absolutely no inspiration to create something new nor did I feel satisfied about my work that I’d already completed. I’d been suffering from severe self-doubt that had escalated to self-criticism. I’d been procrastinating on a lot of projects because I was afraid of not doing them perfectly. In the middle of this frustrating chaos, the dentist’s words came back to me.

This perfectionism of mine may not be a clinical condition, but it was certainly affecting the quality of my life. It made it hard for me to love myself because I just couldn’t love someone with flaws, and I kind of despised myself for having those flaws in the first place. I couldn’t be happy unless things were perfect in my eyes, and that had ruined many things in my life. I had to come out of this trap I’d set for myself while I still had some control over it.

Whenever I tried to dance or act, I would get supremely frustrated if it wasn’t perfect, and I would start condemning myself. How could I call myself a professional artist? Was I good at or worthy of anything at all?

I realised that my professional space was not a good place to start when it came to accepting my imperfections. So I decided to do something new, something that didn’t require me to be perfect. But here was the catch: in my mind, I required myself to be perfect at everything!

It was going to be an uphill struggle, but I had to make that journey. I had to let imperfection into my life. So, with a battle raging inside my head, I tried sketching.

I’m not very good at drawing, and all my life, I’ve usually avoided things that I’m not good at. I wouldn’t try them, even for fun, because it didn’t feel like fun to me—it felt like failure. So as I sat at my desk and started sketching, I experienced a sort of mental diarrhea. The angry thoughts in my mind wouldn’t stop. I criticised myself, others, and the world: none of us were good enough. But, I continued to sketch rather imperfectly, giving it the best I could, and trying to be okay with being just “good enough.” Five sketches later, my mind had calmed down a little bit, and my sketches had turned out better than I had thought. Ironically enough, it was only when I let myself be imperfect did my work turn out better than expected.

This is the lesson I learnt: the more I strive to be perfect, the more I shut myself down; the more I let myself be imperfect, the more I grow toward betterment.

I’ve started to carry this lesson into every aspect of my life, be it my yoga practice, my meditation sessions, my profession, and even my relationships. So, have I arrived? Have I been able to accept all my imperfections and be Zen about it? Far from it! I had a breakdown about things not being perfect just yesterday. But today, I’m okay with that breakdown. I’m a little okay with being imperfect at accepting my imperfection.

Having been a student of psychology in the past, I understand that there’s adaptive and maladaptive perfectionism. I understand that clinical conditions may require experts’ attention. I understand that self-diagnosis is not a good idea at all. But this word—perfectionist—is often used by most people as a compliment, and perfectionism is casually thought to be a desirable trait. I’m probably a victim of that mindset as well, but I’ve discovered that I am capable of letting myself off the hook, one wholehearted yet imperfect attempt at a time.

That’s why this year, my resolution isn’t to achieve a perfect state in anything, but to find peace in being imperfect and allow myself constant room for improvement. Perfection is a destination that only exists in fantasy; imperfection, failure, and growth make a very real, human journey.

Happy New Year, dear ones! May your imperfections lead you to your fulfillment.


Author: Shraavya S. Narayan
Image: Author’s Own
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Copy Editor: Callie Rushton
Social Editor: Yoli Ramazzina

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