Being Attached to your Imperfections

We’re all imperfect.  That is not a surprise.  It’s something you hear everyone saying, “everyone has flaws, just gotta learn to accept them.”  Acceptance, it seems, is the way to deal with your imperfections.  You are imperfect  and that’s ok, so you should learn to accept your imperfections and be happy with yourself.

For the longest time, I had idolized this thought.  I took a close look at myself and pinned all the things I thought were terrible about me.  And what did I do?  I accepted them.  I took them in as part of me.  I joked about them, I talked about them freely, I let people know about them up front, I made them part of my personality.  I had ingrained my imperfections into myself so much so that my friends or colleagues didn’t even see them as such anymore, but rather, as just being me.

A great example of this is my sleeping habits.  I have terrible sleeping habits.  I go to sleep late, and wake up early.  When I do sleep, I sleep terribly, always waking up in the middle of the night, kicking, moving, whatever.  Every now and then I’ll get so terribly tired that I’ll crash and finally get a good night’s sleep, but I’ll be lucky to get those once a week.

So what did I do?  I owned it.  People are aware of my sleeping habits, I joke about it openly.  I’ve actually won the “Vampire” award at my company for being the most active during the night hours.  Whenever I go out I’m always willing to stay late because I know that if I came home, it’s not like I would be able to sleep, so might as well keep going.  Drink some tea or coffee at night? Sure, why not, it’s not like it would’ve made a difference either way.

After a while, not sleeping, as well as several other flaws/imperfections, felt like a part of me.  Or rather, I found myself thinking that what made me interesting as a person were my imperfections.  Perfect people are boring, I would think to myself.  I’m interesting and unique because of my flaws.  They became a topic of conversation, a way to engage people, or even an ice breaker.

All of a sudden I started idolizing my flaws.  I thought it was awesome that I couldn’t sleep, or rather, that I didn’t “need” sleep to function.  I stopped seeing it as a flaw and more as an attribute of what made me me.  I am the guy that rarely sleeps.  Isn’t that awesome?  It’s like a super power!  Insomniaman!

I tricked myself into making my flaws something positive.  It’s actually surprisingly easy to do.  I’m not indicisive, I just value the needs of others more and want their needs to be met.  I’m not terrible at time management, I just really care about my work and really want to get everything done.  

You can probably see how this can turn awry.

I very quickly became attached to my imperfections. I could try to improve any one of them, but that would be like giving up a part of myself.  What am I if not the bummed knee insomniac who would rather have someone else decide the music list for the night?  Who am I?  Will I still be an interesting person?  How could I be?

As you can tell, this lead to a mini identity crisis.  After much reflection, you kind of realize that the above is just not sustainable.  Sure, being purposely damaged and imperfect may offer me some level of allure to the general public, but compounded they’ve become a huge hazard for both my physical and mental health.  Not only that, but I almost felt childish, as in, I can’t believe that after all these years I still have these same problems. As my 13 year old self, I would’ve never fathom that my sleeping habits would’ve persisted over a decade later.  It felt embarrassing, as if I had made no progress in life.

From that revelation, the rest kind of just fell into place.  Our imperfections don’t make us who we are, they are transient attributes that will come and go throughout our life.  Holding to any particular one of them is selfish and preventing the real you from growing.

So I took a major turn, and for the past couple of years have been trying very hard to improve upon myself.  I’ve had some successes and also a lot of failures, but from anything you can derive useful information.  In the case of sleep, I read several books on the subject, tried several combinations of routines and even got a sleep-quality tracker.  After a while of experimenting, I finally found a routine that worked for me.  Though my sleeping habits are still quite in flux, I at least now know what to do in order to stabilze them when I really need to.  It’s unfortunately not always possible given everything else going on in my life, but I have at least made strides towards eventual sleep nirvana.

My attitude when speaking to people regarding my flaws has also changed.  If I speak about them at all, I’m no longer boastful, but rather, inquisitive for any advice they may have for trying to overcome them.

Do I miss being the damaged guy with imperfections?  Sometimes.  It’s hard to get rid of that feeling entirely, but I’m sure I’ll be at peace with it at some point.  I guess part of it is internalizing that, though someone that’s damaged may be interesting, someone who was able to overcome their damage is even more so.

Written on June 20, 2013