Written by Karen Baltimore
September 20, 2019

The wound is the place where the Light enters you.”

―Rumi

To say I was a perfectionist most of my life is an understatement—my OCD was legendary. Born a people-pleaser, I learned early on to keep everything in its place, inside and out. My earliest memory of creating art was met with, “You’ve made such a mess!” My inner artist went underground and stayed in hiding until age 24 when I dared to buy my first sketchbook.

When I entered college 12 years later, all I knew about art was self-taught and carefully hidden from the view of others. I created art here and there between laundry, carpool, and nap time. It was years before I shared my art with anyone. I rejected any compliment, believing I was undeserving.

Creating was hard. Little did I realize, I made it hard because I constantly worried about making a mess.

In judging myself, I was repeating past punishments given at the hand of others and continuing the cycle. 

Limiting Beliefs

Fear was constant in my college years. I wanted so much to do everything “right.” Accountability kept me moving forward as I was afraid of disappointing my professors, more so than failing.

I wanted to take an illustration course, but the opportunity didn’t appear until my last semester. I gained approval for an independent study, paid the tuition, and prepared to begin. Less than three weeks later, I received an email from the department head with a job request for someone interested in illustration. Ask and you shall receive . . .

I wanted my work to serve a purpose, instead of becoming another portfolio piece, so I dropped the study. I met my new client and—having no prior experience illustrating—agreed to create a children’s book for free. I was on the hook to produce 30+ illustrations and create a cohesive storyline. (No pressure.)

I soon discovered a troubling pattern in my work. I became fully absorbed in the flow of creation and, upon finishing an illustration, would clear my space, usually stopping for the day. My art supplies and drawing board were left in perfect order—no mess here.

Upon each return, I struggled to begin as I faced the blank page, no matter how often I went through the process. One day, the lightbulb went off and I thought, “leave something unfinished to return to.” In my focus on the perfection of a clean space, I eliminated the possibility of growth from the mess. From that point on, I left something in progress, learning to live with my mess. 

This can also be found in people.

Have you ever met someone who, on the surface, has a perfect life—a pristine house straight out of Better Homes & Gardens with kids who are flawless angels? On the outside, everything appears wonderful, but up close, something feels off. Almost as if everything is too perfect . . .

I lived that way for years—my pain carefully hidden behind various masks. On the outside, I looked great, but on the inside, I was a mess. Illness garnered my attention and my body let me know it refused to let me hide any longer. I soon discovered that to live with authenticity, I had to be vulnerable. I had to embrace my mess. All of it. 

Personal Growth

On a personal growth journey, the mess I’m referring to comes up again and again. It may show up as self-sabotage, old patterns of reacting or thinking, or suppressing your truth. Old thoughts creep in and, before we know it, we’re down a rabbit hole, covered in dirt and grime we fought so long to clean up. 

This journey of self-love isn’t a straight line. I find myself circling back on old issues time and again, thinking they’re resolved, when suddenly—are you kidding me?!

As I began this journey, judgment was my response. I’ve learned this is scar tissue—healing has to come in layers. Consider a burn victim: doctors graft skin in portions, but must allow the body to heal and generate new, healthy tissue between treatments. Inner healing’s much the same. Wounds sustained in our hearts run deep. Healing must come in stages, allowing space for growth in between.

But wounded doesn’t mean broken.

Every teapot I own has a crack of some kind. Early on, I responded with judgment, angry at myself for damaging it. Over time, I began to see these cracks as reminders of myself. I have cracks and wounds, but I’m stronger because of them. Each crack taught me compassion and empathy for myself and others.

The Japanese art of Kintsugi teaches a similar lesson. Rather than discarding broken pottery, it is mended with gold, silver, or platinum. The art emphasizes cracks instead of hiding them, making the piece more beautiful and creating precious scars. 

If you struggle to hold some ideal of perfect—stop. Release the judgment and be kind to yourself. Find a trusted friend or counselor and open up. Share your pain. Sharing often eases the burden enough, enabling us to find peace and strength to carry on.

As you open up, you allow light in. We walk this life together. Though our paths differ, each of us faces struggle and pain along the way. 

Create space for yourself to recharge and reconnect with your truth. Otherwise, your well becomes dry. Anything created from this space lacks authenticity. Even if you only have 15 minutes, do something for you. Begin a journal entry, start a sketch, spend time in your garden. Be okay with leaving it unfinished and easier to return to. Learn to live with the mess. 

I once read the Latin root of perfect means “complete.” It doesn’t mean “without flaw.” Wherever you are on your path, you’re already perfect and I encourage you to embrace all of you, including your mess. It’s part of what makes you beautiful. Own that part of your story. Be fully you. You’re the only one who can.

Photo Credit: Raychan, Unsplash.com