"Ninety percent of staying in shape," says one of my professional-athlete clients, "is getting to the gym." I've heard high-achieving people say the same thing about pretty much every human enterprise: Successful musicians just show up, day after day, to practice their instruments. Successful businessmen show up for their customers. Successful writers show up at the blank page. Ask any of them and they'll tell you that most days, they come nowhere near perfection. What makes them winners is not instant excellence but the sheer dumb repetition of showing up.
The same is true of the even more significant task of sustaining human relationships. Consider the people who have most blessed your life—are they the folks you remember as perfect or those who were simply, consistently there for you? You don't have to be perfect for your friends, your children, or your beloved; you just have to show up.
You may have noticed that this article, though edited since its initial shitty-first-draft incarnation, is still far from perfect. Do I wish this were not the case? You bet your ass I do. My inner perfectionist (an immaculately dressed socialite who carries an arrest warrant, a flamethrower, and a bad case of rabies) is outraged by my literary shortcomings. But I have learned to let her fuss without succumbing to the anxiety she encourages. Long experience as a profoundly flawed person has taught me this unexpected truth: that welcoming imperfection is the way to accomplish what perfectionism promises but never delivers. It gives us our best performance, and genuine acceptance in the family of human—and by that I mean imperfect—beings.
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