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  • Writer's pictureKaren L Kurtz

Perfectshun

Updated: May 20



I committed an embarrassing faux pas. As meticulous as I was in going over every word of my query a dozen times, when I typed in the literary agent’s name in the online form, I misspelled it! I looked right at it and didn’t see the mistake. Then I hit send. I received a confirmation from her agency, with a copy of my letter. That was when I saw the missing e, as plain as the gap in a six-year-old’s smile.

I have spelled this agent’s name correctly in my files and notes, and I am known for being very particular about spellings, in general. It is not that I aspire to perfectionism. In fact, I’ve worked very hard to relax that part of me. One could say I’m a perfectionist in recovery. One day at a time. So should I be celebrating this blunder?

Some people would say it’s Murphy’s Law at work. No matter how hard you try to get it right, something is bound to go wrong. Freudians would call it a "slip." Jungians just go into a lengthy explanation about complexes and how the blunder is an indicator of an unconscious psychological conflict. Had I been trying too hard to please?

I’m sure there are many examples of embarrassing mistakes from my life, but the one that came to my mind as I sat staring at the misspelled name happened 21 years ago in Zürich. Back then I had taken an audacious leap into the unknown. I had left a teaching position I loved and sold my home and nearly everything I owned so that I could finance my dream of going to Zürich to study at the C.G. Jung-Institut. I also took out federal student loans which would be amortized until I turned 85. Many of my friends and family were aghast, but I knew it was something I had to do. I moved to Switzerland before I was actually accepted into the training program. My admission to the school hung on the results of six interviews with training analysts on my selection committee.

I had prepped myself for months to field all the questions I could imagine them asking. I carefully chose my attire―professional (and because I was in Europe, black)―and boarded the train to the third of six interviews. This particular member of my committee was the most formidable of the three. She was known to be brusque, demanding a high bar for candidates, and I was very nervous waiting in the anteroom by her office. I used the washroom a few minutes before the appointed time and practiced yogic breathing to calm myself.

She opened the door and directed me toward an open space with two straight chairs facing each other. Her questions were punctuated with scribbling in a notebook while I did my best to answer. She asked what my plans were going to be if I was not accepted into the training program. That was one I’d not anticipated, and my gaze dropped to my lap as I pondered the “correct” answer to give her. To my horror in that moment I discovered the fly on my sleek black dress pants was gaping wide open. There was nothing to do but apologize and zip up.

I was unnerved, but something “Jungian” did occur to me. I laughed and said I was wondering about the meaning of this awkward situation. She asked what that might be. I said her question had exposed a gap in my thinking. “I-I don’t know what I’ll do next if my application is turned down,” I said.

I was being honest. I didn’t have a contingent plan. I’d cut myself free of my previous life, and sitting there under her sober scrutiny I felt naked, clinging to my pipedream. She continued to study me, so I talked about the embarrassment of being exposed when I had hoped to make a good impression. And that perhaps there was a synchronicity in it. Perhaps the discomfort of not having things perfect is something I need to work on in my training analysis. "Maybe imperfection is what I need to embrace,” I said.

Her expression softened for the first time in the hour-long interview. She nodded and said that was a good plan.

That was the beginning of my five years of training at the institute. Examining my perfection complex in my training analysis was only the start of major renovations in my psyche. Jung said that we never really get rid of a complex, but it is possible to know that we have it. If we don’t realize that we have it, the complex will have us!

I’m getting better at recognizing when my complexes take over. But when I forget, my psyche gives me a compensatory faux pas to remind me.

~ K L Kurtz





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