Striving for Progress in a Perfect World: Strategies for Putting Yourself at Ease When Falling Short Means Falling Off
Often during the Christmas Holiday our minds may be a typhoon of bitter memories– images of past holidays perhaps ruined by our worst behaviors. In our hearts, we may repeat stories and narratives of self condemnation, self- judgment, discouragement and despair. As much as we might fight it, we may allow these storms of self-defeating mental habits to convince us we are unworthy or incapable of meaningful change– robbing us of the peace of this joy-filled season.
Those of us who, by the grace of our God and despite our addiction histories, have salvaged careers that demand “perfection” as the only acceptable, face an especially challenging emotional struggle. As a practicing lawyer, I’m constantly made aware of my own personal and professional imperfections— by bosses, co-workers, clients, judges, colleagues and especially by opposing counsel. And we wont talk about the many contributions to this awareness offered by parenthood and marriage!
Yet, inspired by the stories of, and working closely with, those walking the recovery path with me, I’ve managed as well as they have to maintain that hopeful determination that keeps each of us moving forward in recovery and in life– including in our careers (and marriages!)
One of the most important breakthroughs my 12-Step Sponsor helped me with was learning how to be “resolute”– firmly committed and determined to succeed with a task– while also remaining “flexible.”
Perhaps you, along with many of us, still struggle with the old idea that once a goal is identified, plans are formed, set in motion, and the process is strenuously managed until the outcome is achieved as planned. There is a rigidity involved in all this that doesn’t tolerate deviation, life’s random swerves or unforeseen circumstances. There is a belief at work that it can all be predicted, accounted for, and controlled.
Those of us in this boat– well, we may not yet be comfortable with those parts of ourselves that can’t bend without breaking! In the 12-Step arena, many of us have humbly asked the God of our understanding to remove our shortcomings and defects of character only to be continually overwhelmed by the sheer number He’s left in place.
At such times, I have to remind myself of the Scriptural message in James that tells me each of my character defects and related shortcomings point me right to the areas of my life I still need to work on. Trying and failing at anything– whether changing our worst habits or changing the world– are just routine facts of life.
That is why we must learn to allow ourselves to be comfortable only with our progress, and not with perfection. For now, let perfection be the goal of those better disposed to deal with the pain of repeated failure. Perfection may be a goal for us at some time in the future. But for now, be comfortable focusing on progress in your life.
Is this an excuse to give less than 100% of our actual capabilities? Absolutely not!
The distinction between progress and perfection is relevant to attitudes we hold about ourselves and others. As we do what we are able to the best of our abilities, we slowly learn to recognize that others are doing the same. We recognize and begin to accept their shortcomings are really not so different than our own. Rather than zeroing in on the differences that supposedly separate us, we start focusing on the attributes we share– even, if not especially, the Not-So-Great ones!
Moving toward “progress” in a culture obsessed with delusions of “perfection” requires a firm foundation of personal humility. Thus, a couple of important recovery principles to always keep in mind might include:
1. Learn to become comfortable with the progress you make in each area of your recovery walk; and
2. Learn to recognize your own shortcomings in others that you might otherwise be quick to judge and engage with in unhealthy and unproductive ways.
3. Think of ways to measure your progress in the areas of greatest importance to you.
Practicing these principles of humility in all of our affairs gives us the strength to persevere over time and ultimately sustain the resolutions we make until we achieve the goals we set for ourselves.
Applying these principles in YOUR recovery walk, you will not only find you are free from the bondage of that obsessive craving that once colored your life. You will find the new peace and freedom of mind and attitude that comes from breaking free of the mental chains of self-judgment, of believing you can control outcomes that you cannot, and from the grandiosity that tells you you are capable of more than your individual abilities may truly allow for.
Be content with “progress.“ You will always be at the apex of your personal power, effectiveness and “perfection” when:
1. You are doing what you are actually capable of doing, not more or less;
2. Doing it to the very best of your ability in the present moment; and,
3. Allowing the God of your personal understanding to manage the ultimate result.
I wish all who are walking the path of recovery with me a blessed and joy-filled Christmas Season and extend my best wishes to you for a prosperous and transformative New Year.
“Connecting Insight & Action with Achievement”