Owning My Vulnerabilities
When I was little, I wanted to be perfect. Maybe if I was perfect, my mom would love me and wouldn’t think that I’d wrecked her life by being born. Maybe if I were perfect, my dad would be as proud of me as he was of my younger siblings. Maybe if I were perfect, my husband would look up from the TV and would talk to me again. There are so many things that could have been if only I were perfect. There’s only one problem with this idea; perfection simply doesn’t exist as a state of being for humanity. Each and every one of us is deeply flawed, and those flaws are both our greatest strengths and deadliest weaknesses.
My ultimate goal is to write books. Perhaps it is a pipe dream, but perhaps it is my future. There’s only one way to find out. Regardless, the pursuit of this goal has led to me spending hours reading into character development. I read a particularly poignant post on creating believable character flaws. A character’s strengths and weaknesses should be derived from the same underlying trait. A particularly brave hero may make rash decisions that endanger their companions. A desire for perfection can lead to strong motivation and work ethic but can also lead to crippling anxiety and fear of failure. Writing is often a mirror held up to the soul of both the writer and the readers, and our perceptions are the warps in the glass.
Kintsugi is the Japanese art of mending broken pottery with gold. The idea is that what is broken becomes more beautiful. Having spent much of the last decade in therapy or counselling of some sort, I find comfort in a worldview that values imperfections. Unfortunately, it isn’t enough for us to patch our flaws and make them pretty. The flaws of humanity run so much deeper than the cracks in pottery. For us to value our own imperfections, we need to identify and accept them, and then build them into our strengths.
Academics have always been an area of strength for me. Imagine being a teenager and presenting your mother with the marks from your final high school exams and being asked derisively “Where’s the other 2%?”. I was crushed. I’d studied obsessively, often well after everyone else was in bed and had done everything that I was supposed to. Yet I still wasn’t good enough. At the end of the day, I will never be enough. But we don’t ever have to be enough for someone else. We need to learn to be enough for ourselves. Rather than focusing on the missing 2%, we need to be aware of the 98% that we do have. The happiness of others does not rest on your shoulders.
Instead of treating our vulnerabilities like a laundry list of failures, we need to learn to look at ourselves through the lens of an author developing a character. How can I use the traits that I have in order to make the best of any given situation?
I’m still learning this process. Some days are more difficult than others and I am overwhelmed by the weight of failure hanging over my shoulders like the sword of Damocles. My vulnerabilities often find new and interesting ways to manifest themselves and I am completely unprepared to deal with their evolution.
After all, I’m not perfect.