Tuesday, March 04, 2008


There is a woman in my ward who speaks fluent French. This makes sense, seeing as she’s from France and everything. However, she also speaks fluent German, which makes her a delightful Germanic conversation partner for my husband. (This makes sense, seeing as he served his mission in Germany and everything.) I enjoy listening to their foreign exchanges, and Steve enjoys the opportunity to practice a language he loves. And then she turns to me with a smile, and begins speaking French. And I feel a sense of panic. I smile and nod, understanding everything she says (well, almost everything), but I am hesitant to speak more than a few words. What will she think of my grammar? Which past tense should I use? How can I tell her that her skirt is cute if I can’t even remember the word for “skirt?”

And so I chicken out. I exchange only a few French sentences with her before reverting to my native tongue. She is very sweet about it; insisting my accent is “très bon” and attempting several times to encourage me to return to speaking Français. But I am too worried about sounding foolish; too worried about making a mistake. Eventually she gives up, and smiles a little reproachfully at me as she bids me adieu.

I think my perfectionism has served me well in many ways throughout my life. I’ve had many amazing experiences that most likely wouldn’t have occurred if I hadn’t held myself to a high standard; if I hadn’t demanded the very best of myself. But in situations such as speaking French with a native Francophone in a church foyer, my perfectionism is nothing but a hindrance. It keeps me from learning. It keeps me from progressing. And in that foyer, it kept me from interacting with someone in a meaningful way.

Over the past few years, it’s become apparent to me that my perfectionistic tendencies can be as much of a weakness as they are a strength. And wouldn’t you know it, situations have arisen that have forced me to directly confront the negative aspects of that personality trait. Some of these situations I’ve touched on in blogs past (my knee surgery, theatre auditions), and some are a little too personal (and lengthy) to discuss at present. But one that springs immediately to mind is my calling as substitute ward organist. I was given this calling a few months ago, despite the fact that I had never actually played the organ. Suffice it to say, I have made a lot of very loud mistakes, and once played a chord progression that was rather reminiscent of the opening strains of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” And so I sit at the organ, my face turning red, but when I turn to the congregation I find that the ward members are smiling up at me with only encouragement in their faces. I am learning, I am progressing. And, wouldn’t you know it, something I’m not very good at is turning out to be very good for me.

I don't think I'll ever be able to completely rid myself of perfectionism, and I don't think I should, necessarily. But I'm slowly learning to redefine my expectations, to be kinder to myself, and to stop letting it get in the way of my progression and growth. In the New Testament, we are commanded by Christ to be perfect. However, the Greek translation of that “perfect” is “complete, finished, fully developed.” I love that translation. It’s inspiring to me, and it brings me peace. Because, when it really comes down to it, I don’t even know how to begin to be perfect. And what is “perfect” anyway? (It's exhausting even to think about it.) But I think I can find great joy in striving to be “complete.”


Dianna G. said...

What a lovely post, Emmie! I'm always touched when you share such sensitive, spiritual thoughts.

So, even if you are a little afraid of practicing your French with a native, you are willing to be a back-up the organist?! I know people who could've majored in piano who will not approach our ward organ. You are wonderful!!! And I too have compassion for the perfectionism thing (and the language thing - Pinoys like to tell you when you speak their language imperfectly - it seems to give them pleasure). I also have deep gratitude for the Greek translation. I'm pretty sure that's exactly how He wants us to see Perfection. And, as long as we are doing our honest best, the atonement makes us complete enough for now. Thanks for the reminder, Em!

Annette Lyon said...

What a beautiful sentiment--something I should incorporate into my own life.

And you know, I bet your French accent IS tres bon--you always were good at accents back in high scool when we made you order for us at Training Table using one. My favorite was Russian. :D

Azúcar said...

I very much identify, Emmie. I feel the same way about my current job.

The overachiever in me wants me to parlay, politic, exert influence, and generally control the situation to advance (yes, really.) I see missed opportunities everywhere. However, I'm not in a place right now where ambition is being served. I have to remind myself what my goals are, remembering to do the minimum instead of the maximum.

I'm learning to accept a different kind of perfection and completion.

Noelle said...

Just yesterday a coworker asked me to speak some French. I decisively said NO! No consideration to attempt even a sentence. I know my grammar and accent aren't up to par, so I don't even attempt it. Sad when you consider that they would have no idea if I messed it up! So thank you, I needed this gentle reminder to live life fully in all it's imperfection.

Jannah said...

You are my example in many ways my dear, and I applaud both your perfection and imperfection, and without your example I should have been too afraid to attempt too many things. - like blogging.

TmeggenT said...

Well said, Em! I completely concur! I too love the Greek translation of "perfection" and find that it seems more attainable and realistic for me in this life. Isn't it interesting, though, that it is some of our imperfections that make us the most endearing to one another? How wonderful that we get to take "joy in the journey" together because of our imperfections and shortcomings. So Em, thanks for sharing all of yourself with the rest of us! I love you, woman!

c jane said...

I believe the word you are looking for is "jupe."

If it's your perfectionism that makes you the brilliant actor you are today then we are all the better for it.

Thayerclan said...

When we were in guatemala all my spanish speaking siblings were trying to speak spanish to as many people as they could, and when we'd run into a french tourist (and surprisingly there were a lot) I would quickly turn and walk the other way...

Emmie said...

Dianna - You know what's even scarier than me learning to play the organ? The fact that I'm one of the best pianists in my ward. Yikes.

Azucar - "I see missed opportunities everywhere." That so sums it up.

Noelle - Maybe we could speak French to each other to get our courage up?

Jannah - I am so happy that you have joined the Blogosphere.

Meggen - I was just thinking of the song "Joy in the Journey", and that made me think of you.

Annette - I'd forgotten about ordering with the Russian accent! Such fun memories.

C Jane - Jupe! For crying out loud, how could I forget the name of something I wore almost every Montreal day? (Evidently, far too easily . . .) Thank you for your very kind words.

Jilly - Even though you didn't speak to the French tourist, you just ran a half marathon, so I think you are covered as far as accomplishments go.