As I was leaving the coffee shop today, two Black women with pamphlets in their hands stopped me to ask a question. Not wanting to be rude, I took my headphones off of one ear to listen to what they had to ask.
“Hi, we’re just having a conversation with people and wanted to ask you: what do you think the key to a happy family life is?”
Without even thinking about how the comment would be received, I responded “I really wouldn’t know, I don’t have a happy family”.
I can be that way sometimes, unabashedly honest and oblivious to how the things I say can be shocking or off-putting to others. It’s something I’ve struggled to accept in myself that is a product of having my voice silenced and not having the foundation of a happy or perfect family. It is also one of biggest components of my personality that keeps me from being perfect.
It was always clear that perfection would be foreign to me. An unstable home life created in me a rebellious demeanor. I’ve always been one to go against convention, I never did well with authority, I figured out so much on my own that my mind somehow developed into a vessel of abstract ideas and philosophies that often made me misunderstood by others. Crazy, angry, rude those were adjectives used to describe me not the favorable ones that are associated with perfect people if they ever existed.
From a young age, I’ve always felt a strong sense of being different than others but not in the cool, elusive, unique way. Throughout my life conversations with peers from the playground to the lunch room to the break room always shed light on how who I was and my place in the world was beneath the standard that has been set forth in our culture. In kindergarten, it was the time I had a court ordered nanny while my mom was “in the hospital”. In middle school, it was the time I lied to my friend who asked where my father was. I told her he was dead because that was less painful than having to tell someone he actually lived less than 30 minutes away but only came around when he felt like it. In my adult life, it was conversations with my colleagues who would ask each other which colleges everyone graduated from and not wanting to chime in because I was ashamed that not only could I not afford college or get the loans necessary to finish college but that simply graduating high school was a huge feat for people in my family – my mother was a teen mom who got her GED after she had my sister and my father stopped going to school somewhere around 8th grade.
I think about these experiences and how they’ve shaped me. A relentless and unnerving feeling of inferiority always stayed with me. “You’re not perfect and you will never be perfect” were words in the back of my mind that always haunted me. It shaped me into a rebellious spirit and it permeated through my actions. I heard those words when I secretly battled depression for the first time in high school and cut myself. I heard those words when I gave so much of myself to men who didn’t really care much for me. I heard those words whenever I was criticized for being overly opinionated, too outspoken, too much and yet still not enough. There was no need to compensate for my imperfection because I knew it was something I never could be and for awhile, I wore my imperfection as a cloak, giving off an abrasive, “I don’t give a fuck” vibe that often left a bad taste in people’s mouths.
As I’ve matured and taken more time to work through my pain, my trauma and issues with self-esteem and confidence, I’ve been able to make sense of my experiences. It is easy to look back on the bad things in our lives and reflect on what was lacking but I have learned that the idea of lacking and personal voids are largely a myth. We are all born complete and purposefully made even if there are circumstances along the way that make us question this. What I felt was missing in my upbringing left open a huge space for self-discovery and exploration that eventually built in me something that is worth more than perfection: character.
Living with pain and feeling unloved a large portion of my life, has allowed me to better relate to the pain of others and has influenced personal values within me that were not taught but learned through my experiences. Compassion, empathy, consideration, support, being intentional, these are things I strive to incorporate in my daily life and personal relationships. I’m constantly checking myself to see if I am treating the people in my life the way all humans deserve to be treated and not because doing so makes me perfect but because this is what we’re all here for. I’m not sure I would be in the space I am in today (stronger, healthier, wiser, accomplished yet still evolving) if I did not have those early experiences that forced me to find something more important than unattainable perfection: peace and love within myself.
My life is still not perfect. I struggle but I always triumph. I fall down, I get back up. There are days where I look in the mirror and I can’t find the strength to smile but my spirit still has the strength to tell me it’s okay if I can’t smile today, I am doing the best I can and I will make it. Allowing myself to be a human being, honoring my experiences as valid and not something to be ashamed of is far more spiritually rewarding than being perfect. I have survived, I have evolved, I have learned to love myself and I did all of that with my beautiful imperfections in tow.
– LaChelle Chrysanne. Singer. Songwriter. Perfection.