Ooops -- oh well! : The antidote to perfectionism

One of my spiritual teachers used to talk about the futility of trying to be perfect as a human being.  When she made a mistake, she would immediately say -- with a dollop of amusement --“Ooops!”  She would then add to that a resounding “Oh well!” to let people know that, no matter what, she would definitely be making mistakes.

It is often observed that we are not human beings having a spiritual experience, but rather we are spiritual beings having a human experience. I really enjoy thinking about my life journey that way now. What I know to be true is that, as humans, we will never be perfect no matter how hard we try – so maybe it’s time for us to stop attempting to achieve the unachievable. As spiritual beings, however, we can – if we choose to – access our lovely sense of amusement with the human part of ourselves and simply say “Ooops -- oh well!”

We learn by our mistakes, for those of us who wish to do so. Life is kind of an up-and-down proposition for most of us: sometimes we’re up and feeling wonderful and sometimes we’re down, not doing as well as we’d like. This is normal for those of us in human bodies.

When we’re up and life is going well, that is such a blessing! I believe that it’s important for us to fully enjoy those times – as long as we understand two things:

1)   This too shall pass,


2) We won’t learn too much about ourselves while we’re there.

Unfortunately, it’s not as nice while we’re in one of those ‘down’ times. I find that, for myself, those times are often preceded by some kind of a mistake I’ve made that I’m feeling ashamed about. But I’ve learned that the best thing I can do is remind myself that out of confusion comes the possibility of clarity. If I can sidestep the shame by being able to lighten up a little and say “Ooops -- oh well,” then I can be free to pay attention and learn something important about myself. Including that I shouldn’t necessarily believe all the pronouncements from the committee in my head. And the good news is that this, too, shall pass -- especially if I am gentle with myself while I’m in those more difficult growth periods.

I can think of many, many mistakes I’ve made in the course of my lifetime – in fact, I’m sure I make at least one juicy mistake every day, when I hear “Ooops!” escape from my lips. My amusement occurs when “Oh well!” follows closely behind. I believe that some of my worst mistakes have occurred as a result of my childhood baggage, yet unhealed -- I am definitely a work in progress -- when I mistrust the people in my life whom I can actually trust the most.

I distinctly remember a time a few years ago when I doubted a dear friend’s love for me because I thought she had forgotten my birthday – I know, it sounds small of me, and it was the small me, the little Candace who was ignored and neglected throughout a troubled childhood. On some level, I was even aware that I was acting out based on memories of love I didn’t receive back then. But as a result of that mistake and how I handled it, she and I didn’t speak to each other for a long time. Thankfully we were eventually able to find our way back to each other, and today our friendship is stronger than ever.

I think my worst mistakes usually occur when I’m not being gentle enough with myself – when that committee in my head tells me what a stupid, lazy, ugly (or whatever self-shaming word comes to mind in that moment) good-for-nothing person I am. At those times, my biggest mistakes are a) in allowing that to continue and b) in choosing to believe those voices. Since the only thing in this world that I have power over is myself, it is up to me to shift out of that as soon as I possibly can. I’m grateful that today I understand that not only can I shift it, but also that it is my absolute right to treat myself with dignity and self-respect.

Of course, there may be some huge negative actions for which “Oops” may be completely inappropriate and inadequate, such as recklessly injuring someone while driving drunk or spending the family’s rent money in the casino. While it’s never all right to intentionally do things that hurt another person, sometimes our actions do inadvertently cause pain for others. When our ‘mistake’ has been something serious, with far-reaching and hurtful consequences, we will need to forgive ourselves and ask forgiveness of others. And yet, even in times like those, we can choose to learn what we can from having made the mistake – and hopefully never have to repeat it.

I’ve come to believe that one of the most debilitating addictive behaviours we have, across the board as human beings, is perfectionism. We seem to constantly expect it of ourselves, of others, of life itself.

But we aren’t, they aren’t, it isn’t. And it will always be that way.

Not perfect.

When we can truly accept this inevitable fact, we won’t need to raise our bar so outrageously high while we seek to find that perfect world. Instead, we will be able to allow ourselves to make our mistakes and even look forward to them, knowing that our best life lessons will come from them. Since we aren’t ever going to be perfect, and neither will anyone else, wouldn’t it make our lives easier if we decided to stop feeling so disappointed in ourselves and the other imperfect people in our lives?

So the next time you make a mistake, maybe you can start by remembering that there is no way you will ever be perfect. Try instead to summon your amusement -- laugh at yourself, just a little -- and say  “Oops – oh well!”

Even Britney Spears, famous for more than a few high-profile stumbles, unknowingly had a similar mantra already recorded with her famous song 'Oops, I Did It Again'....a phrase that a malicious tabloid press delighted in using as a headline every time she made another mistake.

But I like the gentler, wiser, kinder oopsian interpretation.

And if the paparazzi (either the kind with cameras or the ones in our heads) don’t get that -- Oh well!

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