How to Be Happy with Life’s Imperfections

The outfielders dropped fly balls, pitches soared over home plate, and the shortstop hurled a throw into the dugout. As we watched our beloved Astros play baseball, my husband stomped his feet and cursed. I laughed.

“It’s lots more fun to watch a sloppy game,” I said. “Mistakes make things more interesting. Perfection is boring.” 

Did I just say that? 

Because it couldn’t be farther from my truth.

The Quest for Perfection

As exhausting as it is, I like to get everything right – the first time.

How I envy my more relaxed friends – the ones who don’t mind making mistakes. Those who appreciate the reminder call from the dentist or the hair salon or the doctor.

The women I know who check their luggage, never considering it may not arrive at its final destination. The friends who don’t replay conversations in their head, analyzing how they could have said it better – or nicer.

I’ve tried a lot of things once, some twice: needlepoint, hand lettering, windsurfing, fancy pie crust, watercolors, Zumba, pottery. And then I stop.

If my results aren’t good enough, I don’t give myself the chance to improve.

But then a global pandemic came along.

As much fun as it was to curl up on the couch and scroll baking sites, mesmerized by icing flowing out of a plastic bag onto a teacup-shaped sugar cookie, I needed to actually do something with my homebound hours. 

“Have fun, and don’t be hard on yourself. These won’t be perfect,” chirped the online cookie decorating instructor. 

“But they will be delicious. Remember, I’ve done this for years, and it takes practice. You’ll improve each time you do it,” she continued with lots of enthusiasm.

The Fear of Not Doing an Activity Well

I watched her cookie decorating tutorial, rewinding at several points, and scribbled careful notes. My tendency – with any new endeavor – is to over-prepare and over-research before I tiptoe into the actual act itself. The fear of not doing the activity well often keeps me from doing it at all. 

But this undertaking would produce an edible outcome, so I jumped in – with my customary caution, of course.

Amidst my flour-splattered kitchen, I managed to get the batter mixed, dough rolled out, and cookies baked. Some were misshapen or broken – definitely not perfect – but they still tasted great.

I smiled at my sugary trees and ornaments and stars, all lined up on a tray to cool. Yep, holiday cookies in March! They were the only cookie cutters I owned.

When the time came to prepare the frosting and decorate the cookies, I gave myself a pep talk. Relax, have fun, let go. And then I proceeded to make all the mistakes the instructor had warned me about. 

My frosting was too thin, then too stiff, before I learned to adjust with water or sugar. The Santa hats were more coral than holiday red.

And, yes, I put too much icing in some pastry bags and snipped oversized decorating holes in others. Both errors resulting in a gooey, oozing mess on my hands and treats. 

Can Mistakes Be Fun?

But can stumbling and experimenting and improving throughout an activity be a large part of the fun?

In his book, Atomic Habits, James Clear writes that visualizing a perfect needlepoint or sewing or cookie decorating project may “create an either-or conflict: either you achieve your goal and are successful or you fail and you are a disappointment.” In other words, perfection or not.

However, he continues, “When you fall in love with the process” of baking, knitting, golfing “rather than the product, you don’t have to wait to give yourself permission to be happy. You can be satisfied anytime your system is running.” You won’t need for the result to be perfect.

Give Yourself the Chance to Improve

Shall I re-examine some of those other projects I tackled once, but never again? Perhaps face masks or bibs are easier and more fun to sew than the golf skirt I knew I’d never wear because it wasn’t good enough.

What about the hand lettering? Maybe it can be relaxing to twirl orange-colored markers on a page and not worry about the end result. Does Zumba deserve another try?

With lots of time on my hands these past several weeks, baking and decorating cookies has become a favorite pastime. And I bet I will continue after safer-at-home orders are lifted. My mistakes, along with my skills and cookie cutter collection, have grown.

My cookies with cracks and runny gobs of frosting make the perfect ones – or at least the ones I think are just right – all the more special.

Just like great plays at a baseball game, my perfect cookies don’t happen all that often. Most times, they are flawed. Like a day at the ballpark, I enjoy the process – sloppiness, mistakes, and all. 

And, as I do with a home run, I cheer for that perfect cookie.

Do you have a hobby where you make lots of mistakes? Do you find it enjoyable to muddle your way through an activity? Have you discovered a new pastime during your stay-at-home period? Please share what you’ve learned about your perfection habits!