The difference between ‘right’ & ‘perfect’

by Kristin on January 18, 2012

in Culture, ideas & paradigms

Photo by DeusXFlorida

Suddenly, just a few days ago, it hit me: January is half over, and I feel fine!

For more than a decade, January has traditionally been my darkest month. I wrote about it here, last year, in a post that included this:

I think of January 30 as my winter solstice—the darkest day of the year, the deepest depth, the turning point from which I can begin to look up and emerge into the light…

This year, the fact that I’m feeling fine surprised me just as much as my winter depression has every other year. Also, I am no closer to guessing what has caught and shielded me from my annual plummet than I have been from pinpointing what has triggered the descent in the past. It just is what it is, and I’m grateful for it.

That’s not to say life is perfect, though. Work and other responsibilities have me feeling overwhelmed; I have a cold; the house needs cleaning and sorting and fixing in more ways than I care to count. But without depression clouding my perspective, a life that isn’t perfect can still feel right.

‘Perfect’ has a way of deceiving us

I started thinking about the important difference between perfect and right yesterday, as I was responding to comments on my post “Why I believe there is a ‘right person.’” “I certainly don’t want to encourage people to have unrealistic expectations and think they’re going to find someone ‘perfect,’” I wrote in response to Alise, “but I really want them to believe they can find someone who is ‘right.’”

It struck me as a pretty good way to think about a lot of things: a day, a job, a blog post, a friendship, a church. They may not be perfect, but sometimes perfect turns out to be like one of those highly waxed, Red Delicious apples that have no flavor or crunch. They’re only good for a fruit bowl display or still life prop. The idea of “perfect” has a lot to do with how our expectations line up with reality.

“Right” is something altogether different. It isn’t a fixed destination or an epitome, it’s a place within a process—a place where you feel good about who you are and where you are; a place where hope and acceptance meet, apart from dismay and frustration. Being able to see what is “right” involves admitting that we’re not always so great at predicting what’s best for us—that we can’t know how the situations we try so hard to orchestrate will turn out (let alone what effect they will have on us).

‘Good enough’ is not a good enough alternative to perfect

But this movement away from perfect isn’t just about reality checks. There’s something important here even for those of us who have had our fair shares of reality checks in our lives. Sure, it’s great that we no longer expect perfect, and we’re more open to discovering the good in whatever life sends our way. But often we fall instead into the trap of “good enough,” and I don’t think that’s the best alternative to “perfect.” Accepting “good enough” often means selling ourselves short; seeing what we have as “good enough” can hold us back, pacified in a dull, day-to-day stupor.

Of course, we can’t always make things feel or be right. We just have to be ready to recognize what’s right when it’s there in our lives, and be grateful for it. That’s how I feel right now—in my head and heart, and about my life. I am not in a perfect place, but I am in the right place, and I feel thankful.

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  • Addie Zierman

    I’ve been feeling exactly the same way. My SAD has usually kicked in full-force by now, and I’m enjoying such a surprising and wonderful reprieve. Wondering if it has to do with the unseasonably warm weather or something else entirely.

    Happy to have found you and looking forward to reading some of your older posts!

  • HopefulLeigh

    “I am not in a perfect place, but I am in the right place, and I feel thankful.”

    Yes, yes, YES! I love the idea of being in a place where hope and acceptance meet. That is what I’m striving toward this year, at times clumsily. But then again, perfection is not my goal. Good, good stuff, my friend.

  • Robin

    I feel right about our family move to TN. While I’m missing my friends, my church and my awesome job, I prayed daily for things like a
    Job where my husband can inspire and teach others, where we all could find a niche that fulfills us, space to create, a HS where my daughter can fit in and shine ( and she is!) these prayers were all said/pleaded/begged hour after hour of swimming laps in a quiet pool, and all on the context of “I know you know what is right for us Lord…please help me to know what is right for us.” while most everything I prayed for has happened, there are still a few prayers amongst the grateful praises. “Please help me find the right job helping people in need.” I know it will happen and when it does, it’ll be: not perfect but just right.

  • Kristin T.

    Addie, I was wondering about the mild winter, too. I always think of myself as someone who likes snow, but maybe it does make me feel more “closed in” than I realize. Whatever, though, right? I’ll take it! (I’m glad to have “met” you, too!)

    HopefulLeigh, I think it’s bound to be a bit clumsy whenever hope and acceptance meet. :) So glad we can encourage one another along the way!

    Robin, it’s a pretty amazing thing to realize, isn’t it? That a life or situation can feel so right in the midst of its many imperfections. I love how you have framed your prayer—I’m thinking it should become my mantra! “I know you know what is right for us Lord…please help me to know what is right for us.”

  • The Modern Gal

    It’s kind of a play in semantics and expectations. My definition of perfect has changed over time. In the past, perfect meant nothing was every wrong/everything was happy/life was abundant. Now I’ve come to look at perfect as a state of being able to handle the ups and downs in life — enjoy the blessings I have and make the best of the rest. I think the most important distinction is that before I saw perfect as a fixed point rather than a sort of state of mind or ongoing process.

  • Dorie

    So glad January finds you feeling OK.

    I was just telling little E the other day about how perfect must not be that fun, because you’re missing potential, and new ideas based on improvement.

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