“How did you do on your math test?” my father asked as I opened the front door and stepped into the living room after school.
“I got a 98.”
“What happened to the other two points?”
Looking back, I’m pretty certain he was making a joke. He said it with a smile, and I know now he was proud of my grades. But the 13-year-old, awkward, insecure Marilyn took it seriously – just one example of my lifelong journey to be perfect. I always thought trying to be flawless was an honorable goal.
Then I read Brene Brown, who suggests that striving for perfection may not be as positive as I had been taught. It is a way of thinking that ‘’If I look perfect, do it perfect, work perfect and live perfect, I can avoid or minimize shame, blame and judgment,” she says.
So trying to be perfect was really my self-defense mechanism? That made a lot of sense. Exploring the idea further, I realized that my perfectionism has resulted in lost opportunities. I gave up activities I couldn’t do well, like tennis, golf and piano. I never had much confidence in my singing ability, so I hid in the back of school choirs and never considered performing with “real” singers.
This month, however, I was presented with an unexpected growth experience. I was driving Irv, who has a wonderful voice, to choir rehearsal at our synagogue for a gospel service. (Yes, you read that right, gospel music at synagogue. That’s why I love Beth Evergreen so much!)
The amazing Val Robinson, music ministry director at Zion Temple Church, was to conduct, and talented singers from the Evergreen Chorale were joining synagogue members to form the high-caliber choir.
This music makes my heart sing; I might as well join the choir rather than waiting in the lobby. I can always lip sync, I thought.
So I courageously sat down among the altos. We started practicing a hymn, and I was struggling to stay on key. Disturbed by my lack of talent, I was ready to give up and leave the room. Then I had an epiphany. My voice is not my greatest strength; my pitch is far from perfect. So what? It’s supposed to be fun. I can do this. I can sing quietly, skip the parts I don’t know. I can be part of something bigger than myself, suspend self-judgment and simply enjoy the experience. I will embrace my imperfect pitch. And so I continue to sing, albeit quietly and shyly.
P.S. If you are nearby, please join us for the gospel service at 7:30 p.m. Friday, June 14. It will be a blast!