Monday, July 14, 2014

Brown Unicorns

I have never considered myself a perfectionist. While I wasn't a "bad" girl, I was a bit sassy (ask my parents) and had a bit of a naughty streak. On occasion the fun outweighed the consequence. Throughout my school years my grades were good but I admit they might have been even better if I had put in a little extra effort or started assignments sooner. My name probably was and still is atop the list of high-ranking procrastinators.

I always thought that my procrastination came from a lack of motivation and not really caring quite enough about the outcome. But in reality, over the past few years, I've learned some things both about procrastinating and about myself. It seems that at times procrastination and perfectionism have been evil twins and teamed up on me. Perfectionism was causing my procrastination. Fear of failure or not living up to expectation has left my projects and me undone. Feeling that I am not good enough or my work is not good enough or the illusion that the end result needs to be "perfect" has resulted in many unfinished projects, paralyzed me to the point of not starting a project at all or has left me unhappy with what I do accomplish. I have and often do find myself unable to get past the "should haves" or "could haves." Perfection has been the thief of joy.

There's a particular story my family knows well.

I sat in that art room on the second story of the elementary school thirty-some years ago. The project was papier mache. As a child I HATED to touch any thing dirty or sticky, have my hands soiled, have anything on my clothes, etc. (My parents went through a lot of hand soap, laundry detergent and patience raising me.) There I was, seated at the table with my hands submerged in a slimy, sticky mixture attempting to form tattered, torn paper into something recognizable.

Fast forward a unicorn was not looking too bad. As a matter of fact, it was really starting to take shape. Maybe I could get through this assignment after all.

Then came time to paint our creations. The art teacher arranged supplies and instructed us to select our brushes and paint. My world came crashing down.

I approached the paint selection. No white paint. Everyone knows unicorns are white. (Apparently everyone except that art teacher.) Perhaps someone else had chosen it. I'd wait patiently for my turn to obtain some. I gently scanned the room. NO WHITE PAINT! Maybe the teacher had forgotten to set it out. I was now certain it was in the closet. Politely I asked. Her response, "We don't have white. How about brown? Just use brown."

My heart sank and my project was ruined. How about brown? How about brown?? A brown unicorn? This could not be happening. Unicorns are white NOT brown. But, since I wasn't completely outrageous and I tried my best to follow the rules at school, a major outburst was not the best plan. So, I plopped in my seat and began painting my unicorn - most likely mumbling and grumbling inside - BROWN.

My parents were always very supportive and loved the artwork that came home. Naturally, my mother displayed that brown unicorn on the shelf in our home for years. For all those years, I stared at that unicorn seeing nothing but the flaw and wishing it had turned out differently.

Sadly, that brown unicorn isn't the only area of my life where I have focused on the negative and missed out on opportunity to see beauty and find joy. There have been more instances than I care to recount where I have let "if only" and "not good enough" creep in and take up residence.

Just this weekend, I sat cross-legged on our living room floor as my girl gave me instruction on painting a canvas. I can't paint, I told myself, as I have many times. But I can mother.  Sometimes mothering means meeting my girl where her heart is. That evening it meant I was headed to art class with my precious daughter as the instructor. 

She's a great teacher and things were going well...until that rogue brush stroke threatened the work. If my sweet encourager had not been there, I would have set that canvas down and walked away never to touch it again. She kept me there. She offered a solution to turn the mistake into part of the piece and to embrace the beauty beyond the flaws. Most importantly...

In that moment, my wise beyond her years 13-year-old spoke the most unexpected, insightful and significant words: "Accept your brown unicorns!"