"Michael was a good student, a good baseball player, a good musician, and a good friend. A lot of kids at school liked Michael, and he got along well with his parents and his little brother, too. From the outside, it looked like Michael had much to be happy about. But Michael didn't feel happy. He felt anxious all the time. Even though Michael had nearly all A's, he wasn't number one in his grade. Even though he played baseball well, he still struck out sometimes. Even though he was a good drummer and in the school band, he wasn't as good as he wanted to be. No matter how much Michael accomplished, he never stopped making mistakes, and that filled him with anxiety. When he started having headaches every day, his mother took him to the doctor.
The doctor couldn't find anything physically wrong with Michael, so he asked how Michael's life was going. Michael admitted that he was having a hard time. He was always anxious from pushing himself so hard but never achieving perfection. Picking up a pencil from his desk, the doctor asked Michael what he saw at its end. Michael answered, 'An eraser.' 'Right,' said the doctor, ' and do you know that erasers are automatically built into pencils because it is assumed that anyone who uses a pencil will make a mistake at some time?' The doctor pointed out that pencils with erasers are sold not just to some people, but to everyone. No one is asked as they check out at the store, 'Do you make mistakes? If so, you must buy the pencil with the eraser. If not, you can buy the pencil without the eraser.'
The doctor told Michael that the pencil with an eraser is a great reminder of human imperfection. No matter how smart, strong, wise, or practiced a person is in any field at any time, they are not and cannot be perfect. They still need erasers on their pencils. He told Michael to remember the acronym PENCIL for Perfectionists Enjoy No Contentment In Life" (The Anxiety Workbook for Teens, Lisa M Schab, LCSW pp. 56-57).
I can relate to this young man's perception of success. Being successful in his mind, meant that he had to be the best and do the best in all of his endeavors, in order to claim the title of "success." In other words, anything less than "the best," implies imperfection; which translates to the belief that one is a failure.
When I was going through my junior high and high school years, I was blessed with many opportunities to be involved in activities and experiences that allowed me to develop and improve my talents. I was voted as a class officer twice as well as a Student Body Officer. I played on the basketball and softball teams. I was nominated into several dance royalties. I sang in the school choir, performed in school plays, and did well academically. However, in the majority of all of these activities, I was never "the best." In other words, I was imperfect.
I have carried with me into adulthood, this ideal of perfectionism. I expected myself to always say the right thing, do the right thing, and be the right thing. When I fell short in any of these areas, I became my own best critic. I would stew for hours over a perceived failure; weather big or small. I adopted an "all or nothing" attitude. If I fell short of perfection, than I was a failure. This way of thinking automatically set me up for a constant feeling of personal inadequacy.
The fact is, I would never be perfect as a mortal being. It was not the intention of our Heavenly Father for us to become perfect in our mortal state. If we all were sent to earth as perfect human beings, than we would not have a purpose for this mortal experience. The Lord is very aware that perfection requires a process of learning and growth that can only be obtained by experiencing life's imperfections; which then lead us to acquiring the traits and qualities of Jesus Christ, who is our ultimate example of perfection.
In the Book of Mormon we are taught that there is a purpose for our weaknesses. "And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them." ( Ether 12:27)
Humility is a trait of perfection. Without ever having the experience of weaknesses, how would we truly gain humility? How would we truly come to know our Savior and Father in Heaven if we never had experiences that humbly turned us in supplication for divine guidance? Without divine guidance we would never obtain perfection. The only true source of perfection comes through learning to emulate our Father in Heaven and our Savior, Jesus Christ.
Failure is almost always a precursor to success. President Thomas S. Monson said, "The best definition of success I have ever found goes something like this: 'Success is the progressive realization of a worthy ideal' " (Three Gates to Open by Thomas S. Monson).
What I love most about this definition of success, is the word progressive. This implies "proceeding in steps; continuing steadily by increments" (The Free Dictionary.com). According to this definition, success is not a state of being, it is a step by step journey of becoming. This means in the process of becoming successful, we will encounter some set backs and some failures, but we will find success as we continue to proceed steadily toward our realization of the journey of success.
In my battle with clinical depression, the belief of perfection that I clung to, constantly kept my mind cluttered with distorted thoughts of self perception. In order for me to regain my severely depleted confidence, I've had to genuinely pursue a new and healthier perspective of obtaining perfection . I logically understood that I wasn't a complete failure if I wasn't perfect, but understanding and believing are two different concepts. It's been a journey for me to take this understanding that I had, and actually work on applying it and believing in it.
As I have continued to work with an amazing counselor in addition to doing a lot of personal pondering and studying, I've come to recognize some new realizations. I've realized that I most admire other individuals who I consider to be "real." By this I mean, others who also recognize that they do not have to be perfect. These individuals know the Savior to be their perfect example and that is who they strive to emulate. However, they also know and believe in the divine gift of the atonement. They humbly recognize that they are imperfect and therefore require the example of the Savior and the sacred gift of the atonement.
I love to see goldfish crackers smashed on the floor of a family's car and papers falling out of the mini van as kids are climbing out the door to be dropped off at school. I love to walk into a family's home and see toys scattered on the floor, or dishes piled in the sink. I love to hear the experiences of an individual who can humbly express their imperfections, but through these imperfections have come to more fully recognize and appreciate the atoning sacrifice of a loving Savior.
To me these individuals are "real." They are imperfect mortal beings who are humbly striving to become more like the Savior, by applying the atonement in their own individual mortal experience. Success and perfection is a journey. By steadily conquering our imperfections and accepting our failures as another stepping stone along life's journey; we are setting our sight on the pathway to perfection.
President Gordon B. Hinckley perfectly summarized the journey of life; he said: “[The fact is] most putts don’t drop. Most beef is tough. Most children grow up to be just people. Most successful marriages require a high degree of mutual toleration. Most jobs are more often dull than otherwise. …
“Life is like an old-time rail journey—delays, sidetracks, smoke, dust, cinders and jolts, interspersed only occasionally by beautiful vistas and thrilling bursts of speed.
“The trick is to thank the Lord for letting you have the ride” (Gordon B. Hinckley, “A Conversation with Single Adults,” Liahona, Nov 1997, 17).
I hope that along my journey of life, I will remember to recognize the beautiful vistas and successes that occasionally appear among the setbacks and sidetracks. I hope that I will always remember where and how I can find the pathway to perfection even amongst the failures; and most of all to remember to thank the Lord for letting me experience the journey.