The gift of imperfection

The beginning of a school year is filled with excitement. New classroom, new teachers, new books, and new school supplies for the brand new school year. The freshness of starting anew breeds a sense of optimism and of hopeful expectation that the year will be one of great success and growth. These are all good things.

Shofar and Tallit

However, the beginning of a school year is also a good time to remind ourselves that no matter how high our expectations might be, there is no such thing as perfection. In fact, imperfection is this world’s hallmark.

Life is a journey, we learn from our missteps

The Ramban (Nachmanides) discusses why the Almighty created man in two stages – first as an unspeaking life form, and then as a speaking being. He explains that the first lesson of mankind is that life is intended to be a process and is not supposed to be perfect.

Good parents and teachers help children understand and accept imperfection in themselves and in the world around them. Many well-intentioned and loving parents unwittingly teach their children to be perfectionists.

Every single child will experience countless tiny failures (since, after all, the “perfectionist” is living in an imperfect world). Children who expect, or are conditioned to expect, perfection often develop a low self-image and lack confidence in their ability to accomplish – because doing things means doing them perfectly, and that just about never happens.

Consider how learning comes naturally

Proper education of children — in school subjects or in life– builds on their successes. Consider the way children learn to speak:

You don’t sit down with your 16-month-old daughter to familiarize her with the sounds of the 26 letters of the alphabet and their combinations, and then have her practice holding her tongue in place for each. She just speaks!

When a 16-month-old sitting in a high chair gurgles “mah, mah, mah,” the baby’s mother jumps up, claps her hands and calls her mother to tell her that the baby started talking: “She tried to say ‘Mommy!’ ”

Why don’t we insist on perfect syntax from the beginning? Because we understand that one day “mah, mah” will become “mommy” and “walwa” will become “water.” We accept imperfection that allows us to get closer to perfection.

Celebrating accomplishments, big and small

The antidote to perfectionism is to revel in the happiness of accomplishment. And don’t discount the small ones, because they’re not small. What do we think big accomplishments are made of anyway?

So as we approach the new school year let’s remember to rejoice in our children’s successes and build on them. As we were meant to do.