Overcoming Perfectionism

Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net
Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

 Perfectionism is self-abuse of the highest order. – Anne Wilson Schaef

Childhood–

Since I was a child, I have always tried very hard to make everything just right and just so, and when these attempts at perfection did not live up to my inflated expectations I gave up.

Teenage years–

When I was a teenager, I aimed for perfection, failed to reach it, gave up…dropped the ball…said, “It was a dumb (fill-in-the-blank) anyway.”

Today–

Still trying to make everything just so…still not reaching expectations…giving up?  (Sadly, giving up more often than not.)

As a teacher, I often told my students to “embrace the stick people.”  You see often in class we made pictorial graphs to add to an idea, and like me many of my students were not artistically gifted.  I didn’t care about the pictures they drew.  I just wanted students to show their thoughts however messy or unattractive it may have been–stick people would do the job of depicting whatever needed depicted.  I never just “do the job.” I only do the job if it can be veiled underneath the cloak of perfection, and so I often I let the “job” fall to the wayside because I simply feel I can’t try.

Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net
Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

Perfection has debilitated me–weakened my potential for growth–made me appear to be thoughtless and a flake to others (and myself).  It has harnessed me and imprisoned me as it tightened its grip on my mind and even body.  Ironically as a young 20-something years ago, I touted perfectionism as my strongest attribute in job interviews–sadly, how wrong I was and have been, but this past week when I didn’t have much for media noise (just a radio and a bad television signal) a message kept coming through in books, a shoddy television set, an ancient radio, and especially in my humbled heart. It went something like this…

“You don’t have to be perfect–but you have to try–even when it doesn’t come out the way you planned.”

{But I’m scared.}

“That’s okay.”

{But I might fail.}

“That’s okay. In failure you learn and grow.”

{But I’m not good enough if I’m not perfect.}

“That’s a lie.”

{What if I waste my life in failing so often?}

…And then on my old dusty radio the DJ quoted, “Anything worth doing is worth failing at.”

{Point taken.}

For me perfectionism has risen to become an all-encompassing excuse for not trying, for stepping down, for giving up anytime it gets hard, for not really living.  For me perfectionism is about fear.  Perhaps, I could be describes as a“maladaptive perfectionist” (encompassing an unhealthy form of perfectionism) or a “atychiphobic” (someone who is afraid of failure).  However, I don’t know that I need to spend time doing biofeedback and other psychological work to get to the core.  I think I need to find my “grit.”

In her Ted Talks Angela Lee Duckworth defines grit, “Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life-like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

This is something I never discovered as a child or young adult–something I rarely have experienced as an adult in sprints but never in marathon form.  I have done only those things that came easy–things I could be successful in–things I could be perfect in.  How tragic all this time wasted trying to be too perfect.

But I am learning that perfection isn’t what matters. In fact, it’s the very thing that can destroy you if you let it. – Emily Giffin

Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net
Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

So if you see me and I’m down on my bum, dusty, ragged, and spent–don’t help me up.  I’m down there building grit, embracing my stick people–I might fail, but that’s okay.  My life will surely be more passionately lived because of it.

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4 thoughts on “Overcoming Perfectionism

  1. You make some points here that I take to heart.

    I’m on a road myself, purposefully, to do things NOT to perfection these days. So I do them and so I can develop grit to persevere at some things that my Chronic Fatigue Syndrome otherwise makes impossible.

    I thank you for this clear post!

  2. It sounds like you are very aware, and that is key! Learning to let go of those expectations and accepting oneself takes time. 🙂 Thanks for sharing. Lovely blog.

  3. Did I write this? 😉 we’re in the same boat. Perfectionism is exhausting. I’ve finally reached a breaking point and can’t do it anymore, which is a good thing.

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