Monday, April 29, 2013

Imperfection Trumps Perfection

I used to think that being perfect was the ideal.  Now I embrace imperfection.  It all started a few years ago, when I got divorced.  I have written here a little about my divorce before, not wanting to repeat myself, but time and experience brings fresh perspective to the past.

My marriage to my physician ex, my kid's dad, started to go downhill when I was in residency and we started a family.  Neither of us were equipped to have intelligent discussion about it, so we shoved our problems under the rug, I as much as he.  I projected an image to the world, my world - residents and attendings and future job possibilities - that everything was peachy keen.  Turns out the person I was most fooling was myself.  It took a long time and a lot of counseling to admit that; first to myself, then to him, then to our world.

I feared honesty.  Mostly for my kids.  Sure, all marriages struggle, but ours was gasping for air.  My daughter, Cecelia, at age 4 could see it.  "Mom, how come we never do things as a family?  I do things with daddy, and I do things with you.  Aunt Annie and Uncle Dave seem so happy - they touch and hug.  Why don't you and daddy do that?"  Children's words cut to the quick.  There comes a point when you worry that the fantasy you are creating for yourself and those around you is detrimental to your children.  What was I modeling?  Certainly not good relationship.

I recently read a book from one of our guest posters, Melissa Yuan-Innes, called The Most Unfeeling Doctor in the World.  She writes comical and insightful short essays in this one of her many books about medicine.  The essay I am remembering while writing this post describes her desire to switch from a Type A to a Type B personality.  She takes it on, Type A style, both successfully and unsuccessfully.  Which is to say she mostly fails, but in her failure she wins awareness.  We can't really change who we are, but we can damn well try and usually gain something from the effort.  I empathized with her as I read, jokingly (um, half seriously actually) thinking of her as my Canadian twin.

I hike.  I do yoga.  I run.  I read voraciously.  I drink way too much coffee.  I am a single mother.  I am a doctor.  I burn the candle at both ends.  I do the best I can with the Type A personality that was hard-wired from birth.  Everything I attack is Type A - parenting, relationship, and work.  If I find myself with a short block of free time I reflexively fill it with activity, only later reflecting that I might have spent it better sitting on the couch and staring into space.  It's hard for me to unwind.  I can't change that, but I can change how I view outcome.  I am not perfect, no matter how hard I try.  And I'm finally coming to the conclusion that it's all right.

I am the epitome of imperfection.  A few years ago, it would have killed me to admit that.  Now it is freeing.  I am free to embrace my kid's stepmom as a wonderful addition to our lives.  I am free to embrace my true feelings around life situations.  I get mad, I get sad, I get happy.  My children experience this, the messiness of me and my life, whereas before I was a shell of a human being covering up all my emotions.  I think this allows them the freedom to express themselves as well, warts and all.  If I can allow myself to brag on my kids (this is the perfect forum) my daughter is a Duke/TIP scholar in math, an avid late into every night reader, and a creative singer/songwriter who hits the mike running every week at a recording studio.  My son is a math genius (according to his teachers), another avid reader, and carries so much emotional intelligence in the first grade that I get e-mails from his teacher about specific incidences with peers and adults that transform the classroom into a mini-utopia.  But my oh my those siblings can Fight with a capital "F."  And sometimes Cecelia gets into moods that rival the worst teenagers - Ack, at 10 already, who knew?  Sometimes I get ruffled - she is wildly intelligent and preys unconsciously on my weak spots - and yell back.  But we ride it out, and we learn from it.  It makes us closer as a family.

I created all this.  We created this.  The good and the bad.  Me, their dad, their stepmom, all of our extended family and support.  It's not perfect, it's perfectly messy.  But there is something amazing underneath.  Perfection, bah.  Toss it out.  Until you do, you cannot fully embrace life; because life is imperfection.  When you accept that notion, all you Type A MiM's or future MiM's out there - that is when life truly begins.


  1. I've read your previous postings on your divorce, specifically how you handled it and have moved on in your life, including the relationship you have with your ex and his new wife. It is very impressive.

    1. Thank you (curtsy:). When you look at it from the perspective of your kids, and their emotional health, everything is worth the effort. I recently stopped over on a road trip to visit my ex's brothers family. I am creating a new, deep friendship with my ex's sister - I was her maid of honor. It feels so good to mend fences and become another resource/family member to the adorable nephews and nieces I worried I would never see again. I am so much happier with the way things are now than I could have imagined.

      Blogging on MiM was a key outlet to get me through all that. I feel like I owe this community the world (or at least an occasional post, ha ha) for helping me maintain my sanity.

  2. Love this post. So glad MiM has been a key outlet/sanity factor for you. Your words have helped and will help so many.

  3. Replies
    1. Uh oh Ramona, where did April go???!!! Talk soon:) - thinking of you too, thanks.

  4. Good to embrace that range of true feelings, and thanks for helping us to feel that range too, through the words and stories you share so beautifully.

  5. Beautiful, and so true. One of my book club members once mused, "We compare our inner lives with people's outer lives." Our whole society does this, but medicine is all about appearances too. (Yes, you have to be competent, but it's very important that you appear confident, knowledgeable, accessible, etc.) What a relief to just put that burden down. Anna Quindlen spoke about it wonderfully:

    Big thanks for the plug! My acupuncturist noticed that I was more Type B, so at least I got one vote that way. And now that I think of it, embracing the title "The Most Unfeeling Doctor in the World" is part of that laughing at imperfection. The rest of you can have your research and MVP awards--I've gotta go take care of furious patients screaming at me from across the emergency room. Right on.

  6. Your welcome. Thanks for the link. That was a fantastic commencement speech. One worth reading again. In appreciation, I'll share one of my favorites. It might be a little too Jessica Lea Mayfield, but I love it. What an amazing, too short-lived voice in this world.

    I can channel my Type B too. But it takes enormous effort, and doesn't that make it Type A?

  7. I have a very minor fantasy that one day, I'll give a commencement speech or a TED talk, even though I have no idea what I'd say, so thanks for sharing DFW's speech. "This is water"--recognizing what surrounds us--isn't that what MiM is all about?

    I say we should B it out until we become B's, just like other people have to fake-smile their way out. Alternatively, it could be like a blood type. AB's all the way! :)


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