“Critics are men who watch a battle from a high place and then come down and shoot all of the survivors.” – Hemingway
This is one of my favorite Hemingway quotes (and I have a lot of them), but it touches on what I have been thinking about today, just from a different angle. The critic who I have been battling isn’t one who is watching from afar, and she is my toughest.
What summoned her today was the fact that I am doing the very thing that scares me the most- turning myself inside out, revealing all of my imperfections for all to see and for all to judge. This is the complete opposite of what I have done for most of my life.
This is not to say that I have lived my life disingenuously, or not intentionally anyway. But for most of my life, I believed that the safest bet was to hide all things imperfect. Because perfect, I was convinced, was how you earned respect, attention, friendship, achievement, love, on and on. So, I had to make the perfect grades, have the perfect hair, wear the perfect outfit, say the perfect thing, be the nicest, the most popular…on and on.
This is an excruciating way to go through your life and clearly leads to anything but perfection. As we all know, perfect doesn’t exist, and so you are constantly failing. The only way to avoid failure is to refrain from trying anything that is not a sure bet. Taking risks is not an option and trying something new is avoided at all costs.
I am sure for those of you who know me, this seems impossible. This is coming from the girl who most say is fearless. This is the girl who has been on her own since she was 17, who up and moved to the Democratic Republic of Congo to live in the jungle for six months. This is the girl who is petrified of heights but decided to climb 8 fourteeners in one summer (mountains over 14,000 feet), who has run 5 marathons and one ultramarathon. This is the girl who leaves her entire life behind and moves to Arlington, Texas to be with the man she was convinced was the love of her life…3 months after meeting him.
So, clearly, and thankfully, I outgrew it. I’m not exactly sure when or how this happened. Maybe because I lost both my parents at a young age and just didn’t want to miss out on the things they did. Maybe because I saw how miserable they were when they were alive and didn’t want to live my life like they did.
Regardless, thank god. Although I can’t exactly say that this approach has been any easier. And yes, mistakes have been made- huge, painful, life-changing mistakes. But I would not take back one of them. I will spare you the normal clichés…yes, I have grown, yes, it all works out in the end. But, nothing has been safe. Nothing has been predictable and nothing has been ordinary.
But because I finally gave myself permission to make mistakes, I finally started to actually live. And my life has been anything but ordinary. Far from perfect, let’s be clear, but nothing status quo about it. When I make mistakes, they are rarely small. But I do not regret any of them, save one, and that is because I hurt someone I love with all of my heart.
So, what I have learned is this. ‘Perfect’ is hugely flawed. ‘Perfect’ is boring. Perfect is comfortable. It is conforming. It is confining. ‘Perfect’ is something pretty to look at but will never be something you can sink your teeth into and laugh out loud as the juice trickles down your chin.
‘Perfect’ is ordinary.
So, today, I am doing my best to sit her down, my ever-present, relentless critic, and tell her how things are going to be. I will make more mistakes. I will expose my imperfections and most likely humiliate myself. She will judge me, you will judge me, and I will get my feelings hurt.
So join her if you must. Go ahead, all of you, point and shoot.
But I promise you this, I will survive.
And please, all of you, I beg of you, go out there and make mistakes- huge, beautiful, imperfect mistakes.
Your faithful gypsy,