Practice Does Not Make Perfect

2014-04-14 23.29.01

“Practice makes perfect,” La Chica says as I tell her we need to practice her math facts like her teacher suggests.

“No,” I tell her, “Practice is practice. There is no perfect.”

She wonders why she needs to practice then. Why am I always asking her to practice her drums, her math facts, her writing, her patience, her bike riding, using kind words, adjusting her attitude? She asks why we bother if we’re not trying to get to Perfect?

Because there is no perfect, honey. We have all been taught to chase that carrot–reach perfection. Practice makes perfect, adults smugly told us. Keep trying until you nail it. The sonata on the piano, the gymnastics floor routine, the graduation speech. We grow up chasing the illusion of perfection in every role. The ultimate host, the healthy yet delicious cook, the wise yogi, the CEO. We work out chasing Kelly Ripa’s arms, we work 80 hours chasing Partner at the firm, we spend too much at Whole Foods to raise the healthiest children since the rise of the agrarian period.

Who else is tired? I know I am. Let’s practice for the sake of practicing. For the process of knowing we’re resilient. For the experience of doing hard things. For gaining fun and joyful experiences. For being brave. For obtaining new skills because they’re interesting.

When we “fail” at what we’re practicing, we tend to beat ourselves up over it. It’s a natural reaction for so many of us, because we had been practicing! We should know better! But practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice makes improvement. Practice makes peace. We need to teach our kids this, because we need them to remember this when they’re adults. We need to remember this ourselves as adults.

A friend is having a difficult time with a lot of stressors, and feeling anxious about it all. She’s feeling like she’s pulled in so many directions, has so many obligations to fulfill, roles to play. And she doesn’t want to let anyone down. At the core of it, she doesn’t want people to think she’s not competent or good enough. She doesn’t want to be seen as a slacker or bad mother or thoughtless host or careless friend or unloving wife or distracted sister. She’s mired in not feeling Enough. The shame creeps in and paralyzes her.

Then she spirals deeper into shame when she compares herself to others, and feels that others’ problems are more serious–terminal illnesses, financial difficulties, housing issues. How dare she feel overwhelmed when so many others with “real” problems struggle through life?

Compare, compare, compare. Judgments, judgments, judgments. I talk with her about the need for self-talk, being kind to yourself, identifying the fears, tapping into your Enough, stopping the comparisons and judgments. She gets it intellectually. But she feels stuck in this stress of feeling like she’s not filling any of her roles adequately.

And here’s the thing. Conceptually, getting unstuck is actually very simple. Simple doesn’t mean easy–this can hurt a bit, but it’s not a complex or mysterious concept. Stop those automatic thoughts of feeling inadequate as they arise. Examine them for truth and reality. Change those thoughts. Do this again, and again, and again. Practice, practice, practice. Is it easy? No, not at first. But you will improve. It will get easier.

Because practice does not make you the perfect person who can cope fabulously with a job and family and social life and household and aging parents and bills, without breaking a sweat or being late. Practice lets you off the hook for sweating, for dropping balls, for being late, for saying no to people. Practice understands. Practice forgives. Practice says, “Thanks for showing up. Glad you made it. Thanks so much for trying. You are Enough.” Practice opens space for kindness and compassion. This is the space where peace lives.

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13 Responses to Practice Does Not Make Perfect

  1. Karen Lanser says:

    Love the shift in perspective! Practice lets you off the hook … so very well said.


    • Thank you so much!! I find it so interesting how these sayings slip off our tongues so easily…and the effect it has on people who haven’t believed the message yet–my daughter freezes in anxiety in case she’s not perfect…and I realized ah, we TELL her we expect perfection even with the flippant comments we make! Let’s let our kids off the hook, let ourselves off the hook!!


  2. Val Boyko says:

    Love this denunciation of perfection!!
    For me practice is a practice.
    Set aside the outcome and be with it.
    With practice it can become a habit or ritual.
    If we continue we gain some mastery.
    Val x


    • Yes, love that–practice is practice….nothing more, nothing less. I’m going to tuck that away for my tired brain to use!! Thank you!! And so funny–I am actually putting the finishing edits of a post about habits 🙂


  3. Nora Jessome says:

    I like yoga. One practices yoga. Even the most accomplished yogis still practice yoga. There is a lesson there and I think you captured it! thanks


    • True wisdom there, Nora! I never really understood why people talked about “practicing” yoga until I figured out oh, practice…we never get to perfect, that isn’t the goal! I’m a slow learner 🙂


  4. The shadow called perfection that so many of us chase! Thanks for more good insights.


  5. zar4h says:

    This was such a lovely read:) My mother always taught me..practice does not make perfect; rather it makes it a habit! Something I try to keep in mind
    Love Zara


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