Posted by: Kate | April 27, 2008

Intentionally Imperfect

I had an unexpected reaction to my own post yesterday.

After hitting “Publish,” I started thinking, “Maybe I should do some research and try to grow some indoor plants again.  It can’t be that hard.  I can follow directions.  I can learn things.”  Then I got irritated with myself, for reasons not quite clear, and found a distraction.

Then I got some comments, which is always a thrill.  I can see the blog stats, I know people are stopping by, but I just love when people take the time to let me know.  There are some of you whom I know read this blog regularly – you know who you are, Jen –  but don’t comment much, and that’s fine.  It’s just funner for me to get feedback, sometimes.

Except this time, the comments were making me think, again, “I could do this.  Here is free advice, coming right to my inbox.  I could find more information, and end up with a veritable greenhouse in my living room.”  And I’m sure I could.  I don’t, to my knowledge, emit carbon monoxide or paint fumes at lethal doses, nor do I sleepwalk or pump bleach through my faucets.  I have the intelligence and discipline to learn a new skill; after all, I’m largely self-taught with knitting and cooking, right?

And yet, instead, I was getting irritated with myself, again.  After a bit of internal – and external – grumbling, I think I’ve figured out why.

It’s because I kind of enjoy not being good at some things.  I enjoy my failures, once in a while, because they’re not embarrassing or lethal, in the larger scheme of things.  (The souls of plants departed might disagree.)  I already exist with a relatively high sense of pressure on myself, to do things well: the cooking and the knitting and the parenting and the wife-ing and work and driving and a number of other frequent activities, which I value and take pride in, and would be anywhere from unhappy to appalled if I failed.

Once upon a time, I was hugely competitive.  I hated to lose at anything, from a simple game to a grade below an A.  I graduated fourth in my high school class, a particularly interesting accomplishment since I wasn’t actually there for my senior year of coursework, moreso again because Moira, ranked fifth, started a petition amongst my classmates to prevent me from ranking at all.  (I just skipped my tenth high school reunion, can’t think why…)  I refused to play Monopoly with my father, because I don’t know of one single time, ever, when he has not simply, well, monopolized the board.  I could never, ever walk away from an argument with Willem, no matter how petty or ambiguous, just for the simple need to win.  The insecurity of losing, of failure, was something I could barely tolerate, and only grudgingly.

Over time, I consciously worked through it.  I learned how to fail, how not to be the perfect student, daughter, wife, friend.  I surrounded myself with people willing to support me, to at least give me the benefit of the doubt, even when I screwed up.  I learned to experiment, to learn from the mistakes, to accept imperfections.

And I consider my widespread planticidal rampage to be an imperfection, something that good people, good homemakers, do well and that I routinely bomb.  It’s a little embarrassing, true, but survivably so.  I’m more able to enjoy the small victories, and am content with the knowledge that houseplants sit around their little campfires telling horror stories about me.


  1. Quite true. I’d never thought of celebrating failures. I guess we concentrate on them too hard and forget our achievements. Don’t worry, I’m tragic with plants, I can’t bake a cake to save my life even though I’m a pretty good cook otherwise, I can’t save money even though I’m not a spendthrift but I do the important things reasonably well.

  2. It took me a long time to be okay with not being good at some things, and to let others be better than me at other things, too. We all have our talents – mine is not Monopoly, either – or math in any form. Go you.

  3. My dearly departed Cilantro plant joins the multitude that have perished at my hand. The worst I’ve repeated twice: those giant 2’x3′ indoor planters for starting seeds ALL dead. I find cactus or succulents survive well though. Bravo for embracing failure, my own personal coping technique for failure is denial.

  4. Failure is interesting, isn’t it? I can’t grow plants either, I can’t park straight, and I suck at most forms of team sports. But I, too, used to be way more competitive (graduated 2nd, went to 2 Ivy League schools, graduated with high honors, that sort of thing…). Then I realized just how stressful it is when you put more pressure on yourself than anyone else because other people can only press so much, but that inner voice is constantly there and can make your life miserable 24/7.

    I also found out that I enjoy some things I thought I hated because I wasn’t particularly good at them. I didn’t hate the activity, I hated losing.
    And with others, I just didn’t want to compete. I thought I hated exercise because I hated basketball, softball, gymnastics, all stuff we did in a competitive environment. Then I discovered step aerobics. It was just about jumping around to music, which I love. It’s not about competing, about being better than anyone, about being faster, more coordinated… it’s just about enjoying the act of moving to music. I used to go 7 times a week because it was so much fun.

    It’s OK not to be perfect. I think it’s the imperfections that really make us appreciate activities we’re not “perfect” at because we don’t get sidetracked by the pleasures of success.

  5. Gosh, I’m glad my self-esteem esteem isn’t based on you New England types! I could not have gotten into Ivy League nor get high honors. Nor be 4th in my class. The more pressure I put on myself, the worse I seem to do.

    However, I learn much from failures or big bumps in the road of life. I may not be the first one to reach the summit but by the time I do, I truly appreciate the beauty of what I have learned.

    I’m not perfect but I’m pretty amusing most of the time. 🙂

  6. I can’t sew, but the rest of my family can sew anything, anywhere, anytime. I just never could get it, no matter how hard I tried and how many sewing machines I nearly took to their deaths. And they all make fun of me, so I just make fun of them right back because guess who gets stuck hemming all of my pants. HA!

  7. Very interesting post. I hadn’t thought of that but it could be why I act like knitting needles are lethel objects and react in horror when invited to scrapbook.

  8. Perhaps, too, it’s something you’ve logged as part of your identity. “Hi, I’m Kate, and I kill indoor plants.” Learning to not kill them would be altering a small part of your self-image, and since you’re at a pretty contented spot in your life right now, really there’s no need to alter any part of your identity.

    Or something.

  9. One of the things you’ve excelled at is being a fanatastic friend with a nose for when your friends need a lift or an ear or a smile. While no one is perfect no matter what they in your previously competitive arenas, you are terrific!!!!

  10. I don’t know much about plants, but I just felt like leaving a comment.

  11. If God is a plant, your a** is grass. 🙂

    Sorry, Kate, kidding, don’t know what got into me. Just seemed to fit with the subject.

  12. […] into any sort of competitive event.  I’m not sure if it goes back to my evolution toward a less-competitive lifestyle, or an over-awareness of the sheer unlikeliness that I would win given the numbers of it all, or a […]

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