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Monday
Oct152012

Permission to be Imperfect: Blogmother Responds to Reader with Character Flaws

So I got this question via email and it gave me an excellent opportunity to address a topic I’ve been wanting to cover--- Black women really need permission to be imperfect!

 Reader Question:

I know you're an attorney and not a psychotherapist, but what would you suggest to someone like me who has struggled with being the horrible/character flawed person who's trying to live above the the craziness? How would I go about making a difference if my character is flawed? - Horribly Flawed Reader

Dear Horribly Flawed Reader,

Congrats! You’re human.  The truth is that all of us have character flaws. As we should, we are works in progress.

I’m going to assume that you are in your 20’s so you are right on track. In your 20’s you worry about what other people think about you. You try to meet other people’s expectations. In your 30’s you try to figure out what your expectations for your own life should be- you start looking around and wondering whose life you should be living. Though I am not there yet, I suspect that in your 40s, you just don’t give a rip. Death is knocking at your door and you’re trying to grab as much out of your remaining days on the planet - you don’t have time to worry about other people and their expectations. (Awaits angry letters from the 40+ readers.)

But let’s assume for the sake of argument that  you are the anti-Christ, the right hand of Satan, the evilest of evil- you are a terrible, horrible, no good very bad person - you can still “make a difference.”

The truth is that most people in need aren’t going to ask for references. They really don’t care all that much about who you are or where you came from. They need help and they’ll gladly take it from someone as horribly flawed as you.

Somewhere in your community this weekend, there is an event that needs volunteers. I’m an introvert so I have literally volunteered in places where I didn’t speak more than a dozen words from the time I left my car until I returned. The people weren’t interested in my thoughts or ideas or character they needed very specific things done and they needed me to do them.  There are groups who don’t care what your motivations are, they aren’t interested in your resume, they just need a warm body to lift a spoon, hand out water, direct people where to park, hand out t-shirts, enter data, etc. I suspect that after you do more work making a difference, you might discover that you might be slightly flawed, but not horribly flawed. 

So here’s a reading list you might want to consider as you work this out in your own brain.

 

  1. You Are Not Your Brain: The 4-Step Solution for Changing Bad Habits, Ending Unhealthy Thinking, and Taking Control of Your Life by Jeffrey M. Schwartz and Rebecca Gladding - I suspect a great deal of your issue is your perspective and you brain. I suspect that your ideas about right and wrong, good and bad, perfection and flaws were formed during your formative years--- ie when you were a child. You are no longer a child and holding on to the coping skills and judgements of the adults who raised you is just DEADLY as a fully grown adult. You are who you decide to be, not who those people said you are or would become if you weren’t perfect. This book really helps you diagnose negative thinking and silence those thoughts. Your brain is probably deceiving you. I know- it’s crazy right? But it’s true. This book teaches you how to make your brain work for you instead of against you. The greatest health crisis in Black America isn’t AIDS or Cancer or diabetes, the greatest “health” crisis is actually a mental health crisis of having TERRIBLE or nonexistent coping skills. This book helps you develop coping skills that are appropriate for the young woman you are today, not the child you were a few short years ago. 
  2. The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brene Brown. It’s a little bit touchy-feely, but it’s short and easy to read and the 10 Guideposts in her book go straight to the heart of your assessment that you are not enough. In fact one of the earliest chapters is Exploring the Power of Love, Belonging, and Being Enough. You don’t think that the person you are now is enough to help make a different. That’s not reality. I know this because the fact that you could email me means you have a computer, you speak and write in English, you know how to browse the web and you know who to send an email- do you realize that there are millions of people in this country that would love to know how to do any one of those things and would be happy if you took time out to teach them? Brene also has another book called I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn't): Making the Journey from "What Will People Think?" to "I Am Enough" Do you see a pattern here?
  3. Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust - I mention this book all the time because of the impact Immacule Ilibagiza’s story had in my own life and the life of this blog. When you read this book you, you will discover that as flawed as you are, there are people who are far more flawed- downright evil. You will see the capacity for seemingly “normal” people to commit horrific acts of violence against their own neighbors. But you’ll also see the acts of incredibly flawed people save lives. Immaculee’s savior wasn’t perfect. 

My heart softened toward the pastor. Sure, there has been many times during the past few months I’d been furious with his behavior, and some of the things he’d said were insensitive, ignorant, and cruel... but he had risked everything for us, and he had saved our lives. Left to Tell.

Permission to be Imperfect

 Black girls often get saddled with the coping skills of our grandmothers and great grandmothers. Where do you think our mothers got their coping skills?  Unfortunately, the coping skills of those women were developed during segregation and in some rare cases slavery. 

A Black woman who thought too highly of herself or was “uppity” might have found herself in mortal peril. So many of us were raised to covet FALSE humility. Don’t get too big for your britches. We were also raised with the idea that EVERY imperfection was high stakes imperfection. Every screwup was catastrophic. Every misstep would lead to death. And our grandmothers and great grandmothers weren’t wrong- they lived during a different time where “standing out” from the crowd might have brought some dire consequences. They were raising daughters to survive during that time. Their choices and decisions were rational--- for that time. 

 

I suspect that the expectations and standards you have for yourself were passed on by people born in a different time who had to cope with life under different circumstances. Where there was no margin for error. So any perceived error in your own character is devastating. Except your flaws aren’t devastating- they might even be a feature. 

 

So before you being a renovation on your life to repair all of the flaws you think you have, you might want to get a second opinion. I bet you aren’t nearly as horribly flawed as you think you are. 

 

If you want to make a difference, you don’t have to be perfect, you just have to be willing. 

Yours in Imperfection,

The Blogmother


Reader Comments (11)

Thank you! Some things I can't fix. I find work arounds and call the "flaws", part of my charm. :)

October 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDonnadara

You pretty much nailed it about your forties, though I must acknowledge I stopped giving a dan in my mid thirties, now in my forties I give even less of a damn. Apparently your fifties is when you let it all hang out. Just think, I'm only two years away!

As for imperfection, I've got tons, and I'm not working on any of them.

October 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRoslynholcomb

I'll be 35 next month, and I'm thisclose to not giving a flip about other's expectations. I hope black women and girls don't read the innanets thinking they have to be perfect in order to live well and make a difference. You do not, ladies! Gina nailed it about outdated coping skills being applied to the modern age.

Sincerely,
Another flawed person

October 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDaphne

I think my question for the reader is who decided that she had character flaws. Is this a conclusion she made for herself or is this something someone told her (with love? It's always with love, isn't it?)

I ask this because sometimes a character flaw is dependent on who is making the determination. For example, working in a traditional corporation setting, with its hierarchy, constant deadlines, one-up-manship, back-stabbing and structured setting left me depressed and angry. The more managers attempted to "manage me" or correct my flaws, the more I withdrew and more set in my ways. The problem was that I liked myself. I liked that I was always looking for new ways of doing things instead accepting routine methods. I liked the fact that I was interested in doing different projects and socializing with people with backgrounds and interests different from mine. The superficial character of most workplaces annoyed the hell out of me as did some managers' need to "pull rank". It ticked me off that all of the women in my department shopped in Ann Taylor Loft. And it began to irk me that because I was the only Black person in the department, I was expected to be a clone of Condoleezza: the smiling, accommodating Negress who does as she is told because she was so grateful to be invited to the party.

I simply would not get with the program.

One day it occurred to me that it might be easier for me to change my environment than to fix myself. But where to go and what to do? There was really no one to talk to about the deep, abiding dissatisfaction I felt in life; I was a first generation college graduate/corporate employee. And I was really tired of people telling me how grateful I should be. My first step was to complete a MBTI assessment, a MAPP assessment and Strengthfinder 2.0 and for the first time I didn't censor myself. I didn't worry about who I should be or who I wanted to be. I answered truthfully. As it turns out, my results were pretty consistent across assessments. In short, my answers suggested that I am an INTP. I knew I was introverted but I never really grasped the implications of being a natural nonconformist or odd duck in an environment where conformity and consistency was highly valued. Well, to shortened the long story of what came afterwards, the "character flaws" of non-conformity, the desire for variety and flexibility, and the unshakeable need for autonomy didn't work so well in a big corporation but those same "flaws" made it really very easy for me to move into self-employment via freelancing and contract work.

October 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMonica

<I>Death is knocking at your door and you’re trying to grab as much out of your remaining days on the planet - you don’t have time to worry about other people and their expectations. (Awaits angry letters from the 40+ readers.)

I'm 40 and I'm not at all angry. There is something incredibly freeing about reaching this age/point in my life where I kind of don't give a flying fig or feel like I have to apologize for being black, fat, having natural hair, wanting to wear sparkly eyeliner, and read trashy novels while extolling the values of the public library.

October 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBrooklynShoeBabe

Monica, you just described my relationship with corporate America to a T. I work great autonomously and when I have flexibility. I hate the cooped up, caged, controlled, 'owned' feeling I get from being made to conform to the values of corporate America. And all because I need to have health insurance. Were it not for that need, I'd be back on my own in a heart beat.

October 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSandra77

Hi,
I'm in the 40+ age range and she's right you don't give a sh*% what people think. You've lived longe enough to trust your instincts and you know that if you're not happy no one around you will be. I wish I knew that when I was in my 20's, it would have saved me a lot of time.

October 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDedra

Thank you so much for responding! Yes, I'm in my 20's. I'm 29 to be exact. I'm just trying to figure it all out and get a move on with my life without worrying about mistakes. I need to make a difference. You've given great advice and I'm gonna have to think a few things over and over again until it sinks in. There were a lot of great points! Thanks again!!!

October 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCalvette

Thank you, thank you, thank you for this post. This is definitely what I needed to read.

October 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterYetti-Writes

Amen to this post! Loving the comments too. The book recommendations are awesome, thanks so much...if you don't mind my adding, please don't ever underestimate the power of the Good Book, God's book that is, the Bible! I don't care what denomination any one is, because it does not matter. I don't even care if you're a full fledged atheist the Word is powerful and all transforming, there you will find all the answers you need for life. People pay obscene amounts of money for worldly knowledge from men and some go their whole lives without taking a chance on God breathed knowledge, always seeking, but never finding. I've read so many helpful books, but nothing greater than God's true living Word!

Two Kinds of Wisdom

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. 14 But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15 Such "wisdom" does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

Amen!
"May God continue to bless you in Jesus name"!

October 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCheri

@cheri I don't assume that my readers are Christian. The can believe in the God of their choice or no God at all. I think you've made several assumptions about the book recommendations. First of All Left to Tell is filled with religious references as the author attributes her survival of a genocide to God's grace.

The other two books deal with mental health issues in a modern context.

Because you are a Bible reader, you know that Jesus met people where they were. He taught them using stories and parables using terminology of the world of the day to explain their relationship with God.

I don't underestimate the power of the Bible, but I also don't assume that all of the modern world's wisdom is contained therein.

October 22, 2012 | Registered CommenterThe Blogmother

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