Gratitude for Imperfection

On the train home from Boston the other night, I referred to my friend’s son by the wrong name.

She was very nice about it when she corrected me. “Now that you mention it, he does look like a Josh,” she said. She was sweet, but I was mortified.

Five hours later, I found myself unable to sleep because I felt so embarrassed about my gaffe. My friend had laughed it off and given me a hug, and the other friend who was with us dismissed it as not a problem at all. “We don’t see each other’s kids much,” she comforted, but still I felt embarrassed, which made me feel even sillier because how silly is it to feel upset about this when no one else does?

While reading Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess with my kids, I was struck by Sara Crewe’s practice of letting an inner sense guide her actions and her attitudes despite her external circumstances. In her case, this meant acting as though she was a princess and treating people with grace and politeness despite the fact that she was being treated like a scullery maid and errand drudge.

I decided I wanted to do something similar, but since I don’t really go in for princess stuff, I cast about for a person or ideal that I could emulate in difficult moments. After rejecting the Dalai Lama because I couldn’t imagine what he would if his kids were yelling at each other, I settled on Dorothea Brooke from Middlemarch.

Dorothea’s not a perfect choice for me, but I like her all the more because she isn’t perfect. She has strong moral convictions and she acts upon those convictions even when it’s unpleasant or uncomfortable to do so. She makes mistakes, but she makes them for all the right reasons.

Acting like Dorothea this week has helped me to get out and do what had to be done—my morning walk, my ten minutes of meditation, getting to bed by 10:00, making dinner—even when I didn’t feel like it because those were the right things to do. Dorothea has even helped me to speak more gently to my children than I might otherwise. (Or at least, she’s helped me speak more gently some of the time. I did some very un-Dorothea-like yelling around mid-week.)

But after my mistake Sunday night I was at a loss. Would Dorothea Brooke have messed up her friend’s son’s name? I can’t really imagine it, but if she did, would she have stayed up half the night worrying about? (Actually, I think she just might have.)

My plan to emulate a fictional character had sort of broken down, but I wasn’t upset with myself for not acting like Dorothea; I was upset with myself for making a stupid mistake and then being upset about it even though no one else really cared.

I’m almost forty, and I’m still waiting to feel comfortable in my own skin.

Feeling comfortable in my skin is going to require either not making mistakes anymore (i.e. perfection) or learning to forgive myself when I do something silly. For decades I’ve tried for perfection because forgiveness just feels too difficult, but in reality both feel equally impossible to me.

My inclination is to tackle both the mistakes and the habit of feeling bad about them like I would any other bad habit—take them by the lapels and shake—but maybe that’s not the best approach.

Our minister gave a sermon that same morning about the challenge of feeling grateful for things that happen that we wouldn’t choose. She was thinking of accidents, life-threatening medical conditions, and chronic illness, but while “goofing up in public” and “overreacting to social gaffes” seem tiny in comparison, they might be a place to begin. Small as they are, they do fall into the category of something about me that I wouldn’t choose.

Maybe if I approached this relatively little thing as a spiritual practice of gratitude and sought out the positives about making mistakes, it would ease the discomfort a bit. And because it’s a spiritual practice, I wouldn’t have the goal of actually feeling grateful, just looking at it with a grateful frame of mind, which takes some of the pressure off.

Maybe by practicing feeling grateful for the small unpleasant things in my life—like persistent eczema and getting lost while driving—I’ll be more ready to feel grateful for the bigger things that I wouldn’t choose to happen (and would prefer not even to name) but that are sure to happen nonetheless.

It seems worth a try. If, that is, I can find something positive about making mistakes.

How do you tackle your mistakes and imperfections? Are you able to feel grateful for both the “good” and the “bad”?

23 Replies to “Gratitude for Imperfection”

  1. Perhaps doing something kind and unexpected for the friend whose son’s name you forgot would help you feel better? Your story immediately made me think of Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice and I wondered what she would have done in the instance?


    1. Thanks for stopping by! I hadn’t thought of the possibility of recompense. I’ll have to mull that one over. And I was thinking about Elizabeth Bennet earlier today and wondering why it is I never wanted to emulate her even though I like her character quite a bit. I’m still not sure about that one, nor am I sure what she would do were she to find herself in my shoes. It might call for a P&P re-read.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I am guessing Elizabeth Bennet would have apologized on the spot and then later laughed about her faux pas with her sister Jane. But I look forward to hearing what you think she would do after your P&P re-read.


  2. This post is a great illustration of your blog’s title! The struggle with making something worthy out of the imperfect moments our lives is neverending, is it? This particular type of incident would not be a cause for sleepless nights for me, but there are many other cringeworthy things that I do which end up making me feel horrible about myself, about my life, and about the world as a whole. I used to have a literary character that I liked to emulate earlier in my life. Her name was Mrs. T, a very unique, independent and passionate woman from a Romanian novel (Procust’s Bed, by Camil Petrescu). I had almost forgotten about this book. I should read it again.


    1. Thank you, Lori! You said you liked to emulate Mrs. T earlier in your life. Does this mean you don’t emulate her anymore? If so, why did you stop? (Feel free to answer in a blog post of your own; I’d be interested in reading a post about emulating literary characters!)


  3. Great post! I am so happy that Deborah re-blogged this so it showed up on my reader. I do that “beating myself up” thing all the time! I wish I knew how to stop it. I really like your idea of following the lead of Sarah Crewe and your reminder to be grateful for the imperfections in life and the lessons they might have for us. Thanks 🙂


    1. Thank you for your comment! I admit, I’m relieved to hear that other people are also looking for a way out of the “beating oneself up” habit. Writing a blog post about this one seems to have helped me a lot, although I’m not sure I’m up for blogging about every embarrassing thing I do so I’ll need to find another solution, too.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Well, if you find a generic “cure” for it, I hope you’ll share. I am enjoying browsing your blog, and I love the name!


  4. I’m 55 and going through the 11th month of menopause. I’ve been forgetting lots of things, since my mid 40’s when I started pre-menopause and even now I find my mind goes blank sometimes when I’m even speaking I might forget word or a name. but I’ve learned not to dwell on it. Do you dwell on it when someone else forgets YOUR name? Probably not.


    1. Did you notice I left out a few words in that post? Why I’ve been doing that a lot also. LOL


      1. Very clever how you did that! (I actually hadn’t noticed until you pointed it out, which I probably shouldn’t admit.)

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Don’t feel too bad about calling your friend’s son by the wrong name, because we’ve all been guilty of that at some stage; I once called an ex girlfriend by another ex girlfriend’s name. She wasn’t happy.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ouch. That would be awkward. As far as not feeling too bad, I’m working on it. Thanks for the comment.


  6. Thank you for a very insightful article. I do try to learn from my mistakes and to accept my imperfections, though neither is easy. And I’m yet to develop an ability to feel grateful for the ‘bad’; maybe in time …

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your comment.

      I suspect the lessons I’ve been trying to learn from my mistakes are often not the ones that can be learned from them. At best I look at my mistakes as things to improve in the future, but I think sometimes they’re just things that happen, and the lesson is really one of letting go rather than trying to improve. Or at least that’s how I’m looking at it right now. Tomorrow I might have a totally different opinion.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I hear yah! Boy this could be me all over. I know exactly what you mean about making a gaffe or mistake and then beating yourself up over it. I would like to re-blog your post. It really speaks to me right now. I think IMO that we need to learn to cut ourselves some slack. Thank You.

    Liked by 1 person

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