AS GOOD AS IT GETS
When I was a child, I was badly bothered by obsessive-compulsive behaviors. I could never exit a store in less than an hour because I felt compelled to stop and look at every trademark and symbol on each can of soup, cereal box, or toy. If I did not stop and look at it in a certain way, I knew something terrible was coming down the pike for me. At night it was worse. I would have to check every lock and make sure it was in a perfect vertical position or I knew there would be no sleep that night. When I needed to go to the bathroom, I had to go an odd number of times; an even number was not in my reality. I made Jack Nicholson in As Good As It Gets look healthy and whole.
Even as a child, I knew that my parents did not have the wherewithal, financially or intellectually, to “fix me.” I had to figure out a way to survive. I did a lot of soul searching and decided to self-medicate with self-help books. It was torturous and troubling to have to read that stuff, but I was determined to get better. Eventually, I came to understand what I was up to. I was trying to make my ‘imperfect’ world ‘perfect.’ Over the years, I have learned to manage my obsessive compulsions, but they still rear their ugly heads from time to time, and when they do, I affirm them. I say, “Thank you for reminding me that you’re still there, but I do not need to act you out any more.” Then I walk away. I am living proof that we can heal ourselves if we are determined and resolute.
I understand now that there is no perfection in life. That is what makes life so delicious. That is what makes us keep trying. Once we understand that we cannot achieve perfection, we free up a whole lot of energy and the real work can begin.
The Greek word for perfect is telios, which translates “fulfilled, complete; fulfill yourself, complete the work you are called to do.” Sometimes we bandy about words without fully understanding what they mean. When we look at the root meaning of the word ‘perfection,’ we understand that perfection is a process, not an event. Because it is a process, it shows us there is work we have come here to do. My work is writing and teaching. Both are my calling and the two are intertwined in me. In order for me to do my work well, I need to allow myself the freedom in which to do it. I used to think that freedom meant doing whatever I wanted to do. Now I understand that freedom is much more than that. Natalie Goldberg taught me that “real freedom is knowing who you are, what you are supposed to be doing on this earth, and then simply doing it.”
Some of us are obsessed with writing perfectly. We are not called to write perfectly. If everything we wrote was perfect there would be no need for the writing process. We could all save ourselves a lot of time, trouble, energy, and pain. Most writers, and creative people in general, suffer much. When the book is finished or the project is complete, there is self-doubt. When we learn how to release self-doubt and stop seeking perfection, the very struggle, confusion, pain, joy, laughter, tears, and suffering involved in the process of writing becomes meaningful and worthwhile. Writing is cleansing, revealing and healing.
There will always be obsessions; there will always be self-doubt, but even Jack Nicholson in As Good As It Gets found a way to compromise on his obsessive behaviors to make his relationship work. Compromise is a good place to start. By giving ourselves the freedom to write fearlessly, we will find fulfillment, completion and wholeness, but that’s as good as it gets. We will never find perfection.
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