There’s a woman named Anne at my church.
She is the picture of authenticity. She catches us off-guard with her honest, knowing smile. She builds rapport without uttering a word.
Anne grew up dodging bullets in east Africa. She now lives in Pasadena with her two daughters and sings every now and then during our worship services. I’ve had the pleasure of singing with her, each time harmonizing to her bright Kiswahili hymns.
Anne’s soulful voice carries plaintively throughout the sanctuary. Every word comes from a deep place—penetrating our sham of devotion and religiosity. Her effortless timbre is haunting, unhindered by training, uncultivated to be proper. It just erupts, the way every great work of art does.
Anne reminds me not to be perfect, but alive.
Perfection as chains
I still wake up every morning and strive to be perfect. I chart my failures: first, opening my eyes and scrolling through Instagram instead of reading or praying. Second, losing my temper when we’re not eating breakfast as early as I had hoped. Third, hating how I look when I’m tired, my eyes droopy and my skin slightly yellow. Fourth, rehearsing the items on my to-do list for work as I drive impatiently to the office.
By the time the workday starts, I have already struck out. And thus the hours progress: a constant self-correction and self-evaluation of wins and losses. I hustle for my worth.
There’s a tension we all wrestle with between a true and important desire to do things well, and the fear of imperfection, criticism, and shame. This tension is part of our privilege. It comes from having access and so many options that we eliminate the ones that aren’t a guaranteed success. It comes from the paralysis of too much time to weigh our options, of confidence that we have tomorrow.
I’m the last person to champion a carpe diem approach to life, but there is a semblance of truth in the raw, unedited impulse. Especially when that impulse is to stand courageously, without pretense or position, declaring hope to a roomful of devastated people.
This is the difference between being perfect and being alive. Perfection impresses and intimidates. It garners praise and recognition. Aliveness inspires and galvanizes. It is radiance not seen but felt.
More than selling ourselves
Everyday at work, I ask questions that are ultimately about pleasing others. And this is the right thing when you run marketing for an organization looking to serve a particular tribe. Will these words resonate or alienate? What will they think of this campaign? Are they ready to go deeper with us?
That’s what good sales and marketing is. You provide what people need, and you tell them about it in the most thoughtful, resonant way you can. There’s nothing wrong with this work, and I actually find it to be interesting and challenging.
But it’s not the way I want to live.
To be fully alive would be a gift. It would be a gift to a world worn out by the hustle, the anxiety, the depression of never being good enough. It would not mean giving up on goals and dreams, but living into them wholeheartedly. Not scrambling, feigning authenticity, holding back tears of resistance and frustration, the soul-crushing grind we’re told is our only path to excellence.
To be alive would mean letting our own plaintive cries reverberate in the sanctuary and outside its doors, our sorrows unpolished. It would mean dusting off those enduring passions that we dismissed as impossible, pursuing them not for success but for joy.
This is the life we want, and to the extent I can fathom, the life we are created to live. It’ll take me time to get there, but I want to get there. I hope you’ll join me.