A perfectly imperfect idea from a (non)perfectionist
I know a lot of people who call themselves perfectionists.
You might be raising your hand right now, thinking, “Yep! I’m one too!”
I’m not a perfectionist by nature, but I still struggle with perfectionism. (So, maybe I’m a perfectionist by nurture?)
By nature, I’m a big picture person – the details often escape me. (Not a classic perfectionist trait.)
And yet, the pressure around me pushes me toward perfection.
In my late 20s I heard a friend say, “If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing poorly.”
I love to watch the reaction of people when I quote my friend: “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing poorly.”
The perfectionists around me start twitching, squirming, frowning. They tilt their heads to the side as if they are stretching a neck muscle, a quizzical look forming on their face. The discomfort (and disbelief) is palpable.
I recently began thinking about perfectionism again. What exactly is it? What is ‘perfect’? Is there such a thing?
If I get something ‘perfect,’ will you realize it’s perfect, too? Or will you point out a flaw because your perspective of perfect is different?
With no further ado, here’s my current conclusion: perfection is a myth.
And yet we imagine perfection. We invent ‘perfect’ in our minds.
And it’s a big deal. It causes depression. It causes anxiety.
When I think about something I did (or didn’t do) in the past and I’m not happy with my performance… I feel depressed. I’m depressed because… I didn’t get it perfect!
When I think about what I have to do next week, I’m anxious because I want to get it perfect. My past experiences reveal that perfection isn’t my norm, so I’m anxious because… I want to get it perfect but I know I won’t.
And through all this I end up ‘beating myself up’ internally – Why didn’t I say that? Why did I say that? Why can’t I get it right? Why am I always messing up?
I’m reading a book called Self-Compassion right now. The author discusses her research on the power of being kind to ourselves.
It’s made me think about how I sometimes talk to myself. I can talk to myself in a more negative and critical way than I would ever talk to anyone else.
I’ve also realized I live with the ‘story’ of “I’m not good enough.”
This theme (“I’m not good enough!”) runs through my head and heart. I recognize it as a key source of discouragement and depression and anxiety.
So, I’m starting to push back. Not good enough for what? Or who?
Recognizing perfection is a myth, is helping me write a new story: I’m enough.
It’s not about “good enough.” Just “enough.”
I’m human. You’re human. He’s human. She’s human.
Recognizing this common humanity is key to having compassion for myself and others.
If you happen to be familiar with the thing we call perfectionism, I invite you to consider self-compassion. Consider recognizing yourself as human. Consider recognizing perfection as a myth.
You’ve probably heard the quote: “It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.”
When we take the emphasis off perfection (destination), we open our eyes to a bigger, more beautiful view of the world, of ourselves, and our lives and work (the journey).
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. What’s your experience with perfectionism? What’re your thoughts on self-compassion? How do you stay focused on the journey rather than the destination?