“This is our perfection: to find out our imperfections”
– St. Augustine (as paraphrased by Sr. Joan Chittister)
I was born a perfectionist.
One of my earliest memories of my perfectionism was the habit of making my bed every morning as a kid.
To be a kid who makes his bed is extraordinary in itself. But I took things to the next level. I would spend an inordinate amount of time fussing over every wrinkle and crease. It had to be perfect.
Ensuring my bed was perfectly made was a sign of something deeper. I started my day with perfection because I wanted my whole day, and life, to be perfect. To be predictable. To be safe.
I craved predictability because I was also a severe stutterer. My days were fraught with the fear of not knowing the next word that would cause my speech to sputter embarrassingly out of control. I craved safety because I was often teased by friends and family when I stuttered.
No matter how hard I tried to hide my imperfect speech, it wouldn’t cooperate. The more I fought, the worse it grew.
I was ashamed. I avoided speaking, and I had little self-confidence.
As I reached adolescence and early adulthood, it slowly dawned on me that the work of my life was not to stamp out all my imperfections but to let the imperfection itself become perfect.
One day, I simply decided to accept my speech, just as it was. I would not try to become fluent; I would just speak. Over time, something amazing happened. I became happier and more at peace with myself – and my stuttering became less severe.
I want the same for you too. So embrace the following five ways I learned to find perfection in imperfection:
1. Accept that you are imperfectly perfect
Yes, this sounds like an oxymoron, but I have found it to be true in my life. In my pursuit of perfection, I was expending my precious energy on an impossible goal and, ironically, worsening my situation.
Only after I exhausted myself trying to be perfect did I see the truth about the impossibility of the task. I realized then that my stuttering was part of me and that I was perfect just the way I was.
This revelation allowed me to focus my energy on the blessing in my life, such as just being able to communicate at all.
This revelation caused me to feel a powerful sense of relief and freedom that I applied to multiple areas of my life.
Feeling stuck in some area of your life due to an unrealistic view of yourself? How might seeing yourself as imperfectly perfect give you the breakthrough you need?
2. Open yourself to the risk of exposure
Some of the most painful memories of being a severe stutterer involved the merciless teasing by schoolmates, the pitiful looks from strangers and acquaintances, and the demands of family and friends to “just stop stuttering.”
I began to shut down. I thought that by keeping silent, I could make all my problems go away. But I knew instinctively that I would only be harming myself.
The day I decided to speak up, I risked exposing myself to even more ridicule that seemed too painful to endure. Instead of being ridiculed to death, I felt more empowered each time I exposed myself as a stutterer.
Over time, the unexpected began to happen — I stopped internalizing the looks and comments of others. I no longer saw them as a reflection of myself. I took the words of Eleanor Roosevelt to heart — “ No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” This alone was worth the risk of exposure.
Think about the worst thing that can happen by exposing your flaws? Is it survivable? Is it worth the risk? Might it lead to a deeper level of intimacy with others?
3. Allow your imperfections to change you for the better
Seeing how our imperfections can make us better people is hard because we don’t face them openly and honestly. We are great at seeing the downsides, but not the upsides.
What golden opportunities for personal growth and wisdom are lurking within your so-called imperfections?
My stuttering helped me become an efficient communicator in unexpected ways. I learned to develop my listening skills. I also became good at developing my thoughts before speaking and became a keen observer of non-verbal cues.
When I did speak, my thoughts were clear, succinct, and added to my discussions in meaningful ways.
Even though I speak with much less effort now, I still listen more and pay attention to the non-verbal aspects of communication.
4. Let your imperfections be an inspiration to others
You’re probably struggling with this idea. But think back to the last time you heard an inspiring story. The main character most likely did not have a perfect life.
By accepting my stuttering, I have been able to do things I previously thought were impossible. I have done a number of public speaking events, some in front of large audiences. Speaking in front of large crowds is never easy, even for fluent speakers. Sometimes I struggle, but I don’t let it stop me from accepting opportunities to speak in public.
My story has inspired other stutterers, and people struggling to overcome personal difficulties, to face these difficulties head on.
Don’t be afraid to tell your story. You never know who you will inspire or who’s life you might change.
5. Remember that the journey is lifelong
Even with all the progress I have made in my life, I still sometimes struggle with accepting my speech difficulties.
On some days, my stutter worsens due to tiredness, stress, or anxiety. Sometimes self-doubt creeps back in. On these days, I recommit to my decision to not let imperfection silence me. I continue to speak up, even on days when I don’t feel like it.
You may feel this way too from time to time, but know that it’s a part of the journey. Recommit to your principles and plans. Enlist the help of friends. Believe in yourself.
Be transformed by your imperfections
Don’t let your imperfections hold you back.
Don’t let them be the reasons why you cannot accomplish your goals and dreams.
Accept them. Use them. Let them transform you and others for the better.
The world needs you – just the way you are.