Perfect vs. Enough

I don’t like to learn new things. I like to be already good at things. I’d rather leave the page blank than write the wrong thing.

Unfortunately, moving to a new, not majority-English speaking country, kind of requires me to figure out the language. A little less unfortunately, being engaged has meant that I need to communicate new things, and in new ways.

I knew I’d need to enrol in classes to bring my German up to the standard universities require, so I started doing daily practice. Nothing very intense, just through Duolingo and Lingvist, but I learned to enjoy the feeling of my brain stretching. I changed the story I was telling myself from “success means not failing at stuff” to “success means getting consecutive days of practice ticked off”.

That really helped, but when it came time to enrol, I was still intimidated by the placement tests. I took two online, the first of which didn’t give me access to my results, but claimed I was at the third level. The second online test I took showed me how many I got wrong, and I went and had a cry to my fiancé (who reminded me that it’s okay to not already be perfect), and felt like I’d done very poorly, but ultimately also came back with the same recommendation. Because of that, when I went to do a placement test for the local in-person class, I was feeling much more sure of myself, and was calm while I finished as much as I could of the test.

It was more difficult, fill-in-the-gaps style, with a strong focus on grammar, rather than the multiple choice types I’d completed online. They also wanted a paragraph or so introducing myself and why I’m studying German.

When I brought the test back to the receptionist, he asked if I could finish any of the early questions I’d skipped, and said they couldn’t put me past the first module unless I answered all of those. It was very confronting, to be told that the daily practice didn’t really count for much, because it didn’t cover what they test for.

In the end, I found peace about their judgement (partly because the consultant complimented my vocabulary, and explained that their classes are very grammar focussed and build on each other – it makes sense for me to begin at the beginning of something I hadn’t studied with purpose), but it showed me that I still have pretty far before I’ve truly let go of my perfectionism. How funny that it’s something I want to be good at without really learning and failing at first.

It also showed me compassion for people at church, who don’t want to come unstuck by questioning their assumptions about what makes someone a Good Person. If we can be Good by not smoking or drinking, by always covering our garments (and not even being frumpy!), by never being alone with someone of the opposite sex, by paying an honest tithe — if we can tick all the boxes, we can be sure of ourselves, that we’re Good enough to be accepted into heaven.

I totally get it. I have such a long way to go to let go of my perfectionism. But I’m a happier person when I allow myself to fail, and I’m a better disciple of Christ when I turn to Him from a place of humility and openness. I’m going to be wrong so often, but that’s okay. Being a Good Person isn’t what gives me value. The worth of my soul is already great in the sight of the Lord. However much I fail, however often I lose sight of God or myself, however deeply I try to avoid the pain that comes from loving others. I am loved, and Jesus is with me. I am already, and always, enough. And, as my fiancé reminds me pretty often: it’s all gonna be okay.

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3 Responses

  1. Em says:

    I’d be really interested in some sort of global survey for what boxes you have to tick to be good, versus which ones you can safely skip, to see whether there is an LDS consensus on this. I’m thinking in particular of family history — going to the temple regularly = Good person box checked. But how many people actually think they need to spend time on family history, or bring their own names? Sure, I think we can all pay lip service to how important it is and ideally that would be what happens, but I think very few people feel intensely guilty or judged for failure in this regard, the way we might for, say, smoking. We mostly give ourselves a free pass. So is it just a herd mentality? No active Mormons I know smoke therefore a good Mormon doesn’t smoke, but basically every active Mormon I know shirks family history therefore its unnecessary to be “good” despite a bajillion lessons and talks about it? I guess it just makes me think of your different programs — one started from vocabulary, one from grammar. You might be “perfect” at one but if you got plopped in a group that valued the other you’d suddenly feel like a failure.

  2. Jason K. says:

    Thanks, Olea. As I get older, I’m more persuaded by the idea that works follow grace: i.e., once we accept that God’s faithfulness exceeds our faithfulness to God, it gets easier to do the right thing a little more often and with a little less anxiety.

  3. Patricia I Johnson says:

    Sympathizing with your German struggles. I am trying to learn French via Duolingo and weekly classes. Lots of vocabulary, but way too many grammar mistakes. And listening to French movies, I am still very lost. I envy you your time in Germany. I am sure it will go well! Mormon perfection? Well, I try to give myself credit for my strengths and not beat myself up too much for my weaknesses.

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