How Imperfection Will Set You Free

Photography: Katherine Heise

By Melissa Camara Wilkins

You know what’s great about being a toddler?

Aside from the obvious, I mean. (Someone else prepares all your food, you never have to fold laundry, you get a regular bath time.) Other than that.

It’s this.

Everyone knows you’re a work in progress.

It’s universally recognized: you’re still growing. No one expects you to be complete yet, when you are a toddler person. I know this because I live with one.

Wear a penguin suit and fairy wings to the grocery store? Sure. Spend an entire morning making train noises? All right. Rub hummus into your eyebrows? Why not.

Those things don’t reflect on who she is, they reflect where she is right now. She’s free to explore without judgment. We try to guide her in the right direction, but we understand. This is where she is in her journey. This is where she’s supposed to be.

She’s learning. She’s growing. It’s fine. She’s a work in progress.

I am also a work in progress.

You are a work in progress too, though probably with less misplaced hummus. You know how I know? Because we’re human, and we’re alive. If you’re still breathing, you’re still growing and changing. You’re in progress.

The things you do – and any mistakes you make – do not reflect on who you are. They might reflect where you are, but you aren’t going to stay there, because you’re a work in progress.

Once we get to be a certain height, we start to forget.

We think we’re supposed to be all good, all the time.

We think we’re supposed to have arrived. We forget we’re still on a journey.

We start asking, Am I doing this right? Is everyone judging me? Am I good enough? Am I enough?

What I’d mostly like to be is, oh, I don’t know, maybe … perfect?

“Perfect” sounds very tidy and way less embarrassing than my actual day-to-day life, the life where I make mistakes and messes and fall flat with alarming regularity. And yet: work in progress.

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