I’m a recovering perfectionist. Many of us are obsessive pedants, paralysed by the need to have things “just right”. We are often useless at delegation because we worry that nobody else can do the job as well as we can. And we don’t enjoy our successes because we’re too busy fretting that they’re not as exciting as the next person’s Insta-worthy achievements.
Chasing perfection is exhausting. It saps us of our happiness.
G-d, in His infinite wisdom, saw that nobody could fix my obsessions with perfection, so He sent me a personal Happiness Coach. Her name is Shaina, and she couldn’t give rocks about being flawless.
I’ll use yesterday as an example. Between Shaina’s facilitators and teachers, most of her school day is documented. We receive gorgeous, funny and sometimes emotional photo and video updates daily.
Yesterday’s collection included snapshots of Shaina and her class in a PT session with “Coach”. Shaina loves Coach and bounces into school on the mornings that we tell her Coach will be there.
Coach ropes Shaina into every activity, despite her physical challenges. Her classmates cheer her on loudly when it’s her turn to skip, run or hop. She squeals with delight as she “races” against her peers in a modified version of whatever exercise they’re doing.
Yesterday’s session included stretching exercises. In one photo, all the kids are bent over, legs stretched far apart as they reach to touch the ground. Coach bends over in front of the kids to show them what to do. Right next to her is Shaina. She can’t open her legs wide, but there she is, reaching down to touch her toes. She’s thrilled with her achievement- at the front of the class, Coach’s “pet”.
As soon as I saw that photo, I realised that happiness is the acceptance of our imperfections. Shaina doesn’t need to do what everyone else does to be happy. She doesn’t flinch at the fact that she can’t perform the exercise correctly. She knows she’s done her best, and that’s good enough for her. We could learn from her, especially as we approach the High Holidays.
Jews don’t celebrate the New Year with mindless reverie. For us, this is a season for reflection and self-assessment. Introspection is valuable if done right; damaging if done wrong. For some reason, people believe that a self-audit should leave us feeling inadequate. Shaina teaches that an honest self-assessment allows you to acknowledge that doing your best is good enough- but you have to do your best.
If we’d put as much effort into facing our challenges as she does, we’d get further. When we learn to accept our imperfections, we feel happier. If we celebrate the value of doing our best, we are invigorated.
As I prepare for Rosh Hashanah, I’m looking to Shaina as a spiritual coach. She has plenty to teach.