Little Lil: A Story About Trying to Be Perfect

Once upon a time there was a wonderful little girl, sensitive, intelligent, gifted. She was so sensitive that it was easy for her to see words that weren’t spoken. Words that other people did not speak swirled through the air but ended up inside of her.

When she was not very old, and couldn’t even describe it with words, she noticed that there was a shadow on her father.

When she grew old enough to express the feelings (though only in her own quiet little mind), these were her words: “I am not sure that my father loves me. Sometimes he seems to love me. But I’m not sure that he REALLY loves me. He is so far away. His eyes are heavy and sometimes when he looks at me it’s as if he doesn’t even see me, or he sees me from a long distance. I think his smile looks so watered down because it has to travel so far to come from him to me.”

The shadow hovered around her father and around the little girl, like a drooping cold ghost. The shadow frightened her. She was only a little child, even though she was very bright and had many gifts. She needed her father to love her and take care of her. She was, after all, still a little girl.

But she loved her father with all her ardent heart.

She decided that the shadow must be her own fault. She thought that maybe she was not good enough. She thought that she could fix the shadow by being good enough—by being perfect.

Inside her ardent little heart, she decided, “I’m going to be good enough. I must be perfect, so my Daddy will really love me.”

She was a determined little creature. And she began to try, very hard, to be perfect. Now she started to collect the shadow moments, little pieces of her Daddy’s sadness that she picked up neatly and slipped into a bag that she carried on her back. Her bag got heavier and heavier, but she never noticed. She was too busy on her second project—turning her imperfections into rocks.

She tried very hard. And she was a very good little girl. But she was never perfect. She did not know that it is impossible for people to be perfect. She thought that if she tried hard enough, she could be perfect. And then her Daddy would love her. And then the shadow would go away, and the sun would always shine.

Every time the little girl made a mistake, it made her very sad. “You are not good enough! You have failed, you bad little girl!” she told herself. Every time she failed she would feel sad, and frustrated, and angry. And every time she made a mistake, the memory of how she had not been perfect would become a little rock. She put these rocks into her apron pocket, which soon became full. Then she started piling the rocks up around her.

The little girl grew up into a gifted and sensitive but sometimes sad and quiet little woman. And then one day Lil woke up and realized that her life was full of rocks, piles and piles of them, heaped all around her; and some of these rocks had been there for years. The rocks had grown into a big pile that shut out the sun. Lil didn’t like the rocks, but she kept on making them. She kept on trying to be perfect.

One day Lil discovered a Light coming through a crack in one of the piles of rocks. She was curious, and so she pulled at the rocks and opened the crack wider.

Out stepped a Guide. A Shining Being, who became her best friend. The Shining One loved her so much that when the He was around, the shadow lost its power and became only a silly little ghost.

One day her Friend, the Shining Being, said to her that it was time to put down the rocks.

“I’d like to but I don’t know how,” Lil said.

By now she had more than rocks—she had rules. She had rules for how to live every aspect of her life. She even had rules for the right way to make new rules! The one thing she didn’t have was the ability to handle change well. It is difficult to handle change when you are spending your life keeping all your piles of rocks from tipping over!

So Lil kept on making new rocks, day in and day out. That was all Lil knew how to do.

Then one night, under the stars, her Shining Being took her to a hilltop overlooking a village. They looked into a wonderful valley below. The valley, Lil knew, was her life. She saw for the first time how beautiful the valley was. But everywhere she looked, the valley was cluttered up with piles of old, dusty rocks.

“You will never be perfect!” her Shining Being said. “Let go of this perfectionism. There is no point in making all of these rocks!”

Lil listened . . . and cried . . . And listened some more.

“I don’t know how to stop,” Lil said. “I don’t even know why I do this—I just do it.”

“You and I are going on a journey,” the Shining Being said. “We are going into your past. There is something there for you to learn.”

So the Shining Being took Big Lil to a Wise Woman.

With the Wise Woman’s guidance, and the Shining Being to hold her hand, Big Lil felt brave and strong.

With the Wise Woman listening, and under the loving guidance of the Shining Being, Big Lil closed her eyes and went inside herself, inside her memories, back to when she was very small, and with her father. “There is a shadow on my father!” she told the Wise Woman, wonderingly. “It’s cold and clammy and it’s full of sadness.”

“Let’s heal it,” the Wise Woman said.

But Big Lil shook her head. “I can’t. It’s six feet high and heavy—and blank. I don’t understand it. It’s just very large, and very sad.”

“Is it possible,” the Wise Woman suggested, very gently, “that the shadow does not belong to you?”

”What do you mean?” Big Lil asked. “It’s in my memory—isn’t it mine?”

Then the Wise Woman explained that there were things called legacy burdens. Sometimes people can take on feelings or burdens that are not their own, that belong to someone else. “People can’t heal legacy burdens because they don’t own them,” she explained.

And then she asked, “This sadness. Is it yours, or does it belong to someone else?”

And instantly Big Lil knew the truth. “It belongs to my Dad,” Big Lil said with wonder. “It’s his sadness. He was so often sad. I must have taken it on when I was very little.”

“Then you must send it back to him for healing,” the Wise Woman said. “You cannot heal it because it doesn’t belong to you.”

So, very lovingly, Little Lil and her Shining Being build a rocket ship. And Little Lil emptied all the scraps of shadow out of her pockets and picked up all the pieces of shadow that were lying around her in her valley. She packed them all into a box which she then placed inside the rocket ship, along with a nice little loving note. She said goodbye to the shadow. Then with one wave of his hand her Shining Being lit the rocket and sent the rocket ship flying up into the sky and off towards heaven. For her father had died and was now safe in heaven, and would surely know, by now, how to handle the shadow.

Little Lil noticed right away, the minute the rocket ship left, how the sun shone more brightly! The sadness was gone! The shadow was no more.

But as Little Lil looked around her, she still saw heaps and heaps of old rocks.

Sitting in the Wise Woman’s office, Big Lil thought about the rocks—and she understood. “After I grew up, I realized that my father struggled all his life with anxiety,” she said. “I must have seen his anxiety, when I was very little. I thought it was my fault. I thought that if I was perfect, I could fix him, and make him love me. But now I see that it didn’t have anything to do with me at all. The shadow was his own sadness. And I took it upon myself, because I loved him. And I tried to fix it, by being perfect. But no one can be perfect. And I never needed to be perfect, in the first place. I’m fine, just the way I am! How much of my life I have wasted with this rigidity!”

Right then and there, Lil decided to stop making rocks. But she didn’t know what to do with all the rocks she already had piled around her.

So her Shining One got a bulldozer and knocked down all the rock piles, then turned the rocks into fine gravel, which Lil smoothed out with a rake. Together Lil and her Shining One turned the gravel into a Japanese garden, full of serenity and peace. At the center of the garden her Shining One put a statue of a beautiful woman. The statue is a woman dancing, spinning in a circle, arms flung wide, head back, smiling with joy.

Her Shining One said, “This statue is here as a reminder to you. Instead of making rocks, you are to DANCE. Leave the making of rocks to the earth, to volcanoes, to seismic tides. Let yourself be the dancer you truly are, the dancer who is inside you, just waiting to come out.”

And Lil threw her head back with sheer delight and laughed out loud. She jumped and kicked her heels together, three feet off the ground. She floated through the air like a feather.

Lil is still dancing—and dancing beats making rocks, any day.

© Copyright 2007 by By Blog Author. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • admin

    October 6th, 2007 at 11:00 PM

    Hi Jane,
    It’s Noah. It’s Saturday night. We just opened the Healing Story Collection and I sat down to read Little Lil once again. I want to thank you one more time for sharing this deeply moving story. The Rocket ship you describe reminds me of the moments in my own healing when the most sensible yet unusual things would happen in the process of unburdening. It makes me want to focus inside right now and go to those meaningful places! I’m so glad Little Lil was guided by the Shining Being! Hugs to you, Noah :)

  • fran booth

    October 11th, 2007 at 10:17 AM

    Thank you!

  • Therapist Clayton

    October 17th, 2007 at 9:57 AM

    Thank you, Jane, for sharing your story. Children so often assume the responsibility for their parents’ emotions and then carry that responsibility forward in life until some kind person/guide helps them release it. I’m looking forward to reading more such stories. Namaste.

  • Kim Kino

    October 21st, 2007 at 8:51 PM

    Thank you! Your story is very creative and a beautiful way to express such a profound and courageous journey. What a great author!

  • Therapist Clinton

    October 23rd, 2007 at 12:31 AM

    This is a wonderful story, very beautifully written.

    My eyes teared up a few times while reading because I could relate to it. It really struck a spot in my heart. I really like the ending where you say ” Dancing beats making rocks, any day”. That is true.
    It also suddenly striked me that maybe I carry some of my mom’s sadness..something for me to think about.
    This is an inspiring story I’m going to take some time to absorb.

    I hope it was a great experience for you to share this…it’s very meaningful.

    Best Wishes to you.

  • Therapist Colorado Springs

    November 8th, 2007 at 8:23 AM

    hi jane, beautiful story on legacy burden. its a pleasure to read. i hope you get stronger by sharing yr stories. r u getting more comments? peace, yasmeen

  • DrJaneBolton

    December 3rd, 2007 at 10:21 AM

    I was /am so very touched reading your story. I will refer people with perfectionistic elements to read it: i think it will help them.

    Your story also seems to indicate that the creative process (in this case dancing) i.e., following one’s own joyful impulses is part of the recovery process. That’s what I’ve found too, for both my healing and clients’ healing.

  • Therapist Haslemere

    December 12th, 2007 at 8:14 AM

    I loved this story! I can completely identify with Lil. My Dad was distant, too, and still is. To this day, I am very uncomfortable around him and struggle to make eye contact. Conversations are awkward to say the least. But, as an adult, I’ve come to realize that he did the best he could with what he had to work with. I think he gave me all that he had, it just wasn’t enough for me.

  • Therapist Highton

    December 13th, 2007 at 6:30 AM

    So, do you have enough now? Or, are you still searching for something that will make you feel loved and validated? As adult, who have you surrounded yourself with?
    P.S. I love the healing stories! They are my favorite entries on this site!

  • Therapist Hinsdale

    December 13th, 2007 at 6:31 AM

    I am very fortunate and am married to a wonderful man that definitely makes me feel special and loved. We started dating in mid-high school, so he filled that void for me. I think that I am very fortunate, b/c I wasn’t very picky about who I chose to help fill the void. So, I am lucky that he turned out to be everything he is.

  • Therapist Hollywood

    December 13th, 2007 at 6:32 AM

    As long as you are working internally to see that you are whole, too, I think that’s great. But, you can’t look to external sources to make you happy. I can definitely see you’ve done some introspection by your first entry. I just hope that you will continue that work so that if you do have children, you will be able to be fully present for them.

  • alex

    August 12th, 2009 at 12:49 PM

    We all carry rocks on or backs, for some people a pebble added to the load on the shoulders can be the one which makes the load to heavy to bare.For People’s life is like a bag collecting pebbles and as life goes on a bunch of them gather together over time to become a heavier load – the damage is still the same. A lot of small problems that build up inside, are just as destructive as one big problem that kicks you when you don’t expect it.

  • Pat

    April 20th, 2015 at 6:49 PM

    This is a brilliant story and really gives insight into perfectionism and how it can affect individuals from living their true potential. Striving for perfection is fine but when it becomes the goal then it becomes anxiety as referenced in this story.

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