Anyone who has spent more than about five minutes around me knows that I have a problem with being a perfectionist. I’m incredibly hard on myself when I make mistakes, and I tend to focus on the negative things I’ve done or said even when the positives vastly outnumber the negatives. I also know that I’m not alone in this trait, although from the stories my mother tells I’ve suffered from it more severely and for longer than many.
I don’t like being this way, and in the past decade I’ve actively worked on trying to embrace my imperfections. Having a daughter has helped enormously in that, both because I have many more opportunities to screw up and also because she suffers from the same trait. Watching her struggle with it has helped me to see it more clearly in myself. I’m also very forgiving of her imperfections, which makes my standard for myself seem extreme.
Somewhere in the past decade I’ve also come to see that being imperfect (and recognizing it) makes you a better teacher and mentor. Making mistakes can make you more compassionate with people, since it’s hard to distance yourself from someone doing something very familiar. When you share a mistake with someone you also have a good idea why they may have done it, which improves your understanding and forgiveness.
On that note, I’m happy to report that I was nearly an hour late to a Skype research meeting today. The fact that the person involved was scolded by me about two weeks ago for being only 20 minutes late to a meeting was not at all lost on me, so I opened by telling him he needed to scold me. Being the nice man that he is, he declined the opportunity, which of course only made me feel worse. But I am happy to report that my mistake and his patience have given me some much-needed perspective, and for that I thank him.