There are things I’m not good at.
They range from the small (I’m remarkably bad at putting together even the most rudimentary Ikea furniture) to the more substantial (I’m a truly impressive procrastinator). There are issues I can work on (filing invoices on time, eating more whole foods) and traits I am pretty much resigned to (chronically banging into coffee tables, falling down Wikipedia rabbit holes).
When I was a bit younger, I felt a lot of shame and self-recrimination about even my most minor flaws. I fantasized about the day when I would finally be perfect: when my only faults would be being too fabulous, too fit, too successful. Surely, if I just endlessly castigated myself ruthlessly for every bad quality, I would someday reach perfection! I’d be so flawless, people wouldn’t be able to look directly at me; I’d burn their eyes like the sun!
As you can imagine, that perfection did not…uh… happen.
What did happen is I mellowed out a bit, and slowly came to a big realization:
Even my biggest flaws – the things that really drove me nuts about myself – had some parallel in a positive trait that I actually LIKED about myself.
Every bad side had a good side… and vice-versa.
Yes, I wrestled with my temper – but I struggled with anger because I was a generally passionate person and connected to my emotions.
I sometimes struggled with procrastination – but that procrastination was rooted in a deep desire to do my best work, as well as a tendency to let my mind wander creatively.
I was prone to escapism – but my strong imagination made that escape possible.
I had difficulty doing anything I found unfulfilling – but that meant at some core level, I knew what work I did want to be doing (and that meant I could take steps towards that goal).
Having this realization didn’t mean I needed to wallow in every unhelpful habit and self-destructive pattern; it meant that I could stop thinking about “bad” traits as if they were alien, loathsome flaws that I had to stamp out entirely. Instead, I could think of these flaws as extreme manifestations of certain qualities that were actually just fine (or even great). I could choose to focus on adjusting behaviors, instead of “perfecting” myself. I didn’t have to hate them (or myself!)
I could love my demons. I could make them my friends.
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This subtle change in thinking substantially reduced my perfectionism and levels of self-flagellation. My black-and-white thinking – x is a BAD personal trait, and y is a GOOD personal trait – wasn’t actually very helpful when breaking habits and changing my behavior. Changing my perspective allowed me to have a sense of humor about my flaws…and thus tackle them more effectively.
Think about even your worst freelance habits; the ones that make you want to quit or fire, um, yourself. Chances are that they’re rooted or mirrored in some trait that you like, something laudable – something wonderful. They’re part of you.
Now can you use that perspective to have compassion for yourself, even as you work towards being your best?
This all doesn’t mean you can’t (or shouldn’t) try to improve yourself and change bad habits. It just means that you don’t have to beat yourself up because you’re imperfect. Your flaws are manifestations of your most essential qualities. They make you unique. They make you interesting.
Oh, I can hardly look at you – my eyes are burning! Your imperfections, you see… they make you so perfect.
Kate Hamill is a freelance writer, playwright, and actor. She lives in New York City and consumes a truly frightening amount of Sriracha daily. Follow her on Twitter at @katerone.