I have always refrained from calling myself a perfectionist because I believe such labels are self-fulfilling prophesies. I prefer to think of myself as a flawed human being with perfectionist tendencies. Tendencies that, as long as I am aware of them, can be kept at bay. When I came across this article this week, though, it brought my fears of being a perfectionist to the surface again and gave me some food for thought.
The article starts with this: “If you’ve ever cried about getting a B+ or ending up in second place, there’s a good chance you’re a perfectionist.” I will confess that my high school years were not devoid of tears over imperfect grades. Other tendencies of perfectionists: sometimes opening up in relationships can be difficult, you suffer from unnecessary or unfounded guilt (raising my hand), you procrastinate out of fear of imperfection.
I think the problems with perfectionism are pretty obvious, but some of the problems are so subtle, they often go undetected. The thing about perfectionism is that it starts with a lie. And upon that foundation is laid unrealistic expectations and hollow perceptions that any amount of real trouble or pain will reveal as the facade that it is. We all know perfection is impossible, and holding yourself to that expectation is just setting yourself up for seeming failure. But it is not failure. It is not failure to be less than perfect–it is human. So then the life of a perfectionist carries with it the threat of living out little lies. The lie that you are too busy to try, when the truth is you are afraid of falling below the standard you have set for yourself. The lie that you can forgive others for their imperfections, but yours are unpardonable. The lie that when you do succeed by your own standards, there is no other standard by which you should be judged.
I think that one of the biggest lessons I have been learning in my twenties, is the importance of being brave enough to fail. Because the fact is, I have failed. But perfectionism is a delusion that sometimes makes you think you haven’t failed, when you have. Perfectionism hides things. It’s a lesson I have learned over and over: to give myself time and not try to figure out everything at once, and realize that I don’t have all the answers and that is way more than okay.
After I came across the above article, I came across this quote, and breathed a sigh of relief. John Green is a writer, and this quote of his is now my motto in my own writing. I have so many drafts of stories just waiting to be finished, but they await my liberal, forgiving fingers to type away with no fear.
It is so liberating to shake off the burden of perfectionism and live life more authentically instead. And since that is better than being a perfectionist, I am choosing not to be one.
Do you struggle with perfectionism? Or is this all foreign to you? If you do struggle, how do you fight it? If you don’t struggle with this, can you articulate your secret?