I have a confession to make:
I am a recovering perfectionist.
I expect myself to perform perfectly. Flawlessly. Without fail. Every day. Always amazing. Never… well… not.
It’s sort of a shortcoming, you might say.
As a perfectionist, I often set goals and expectations for myself that are in fact, unattainable. And yet, I somehow manage to convince myself that if I was perfect, I would attain my impossible goals.
(And then, naturally when I don’t… I punish myself for… not being perfect… yeah, I know… I’m a lot of fun at parties…)
I grew up thinking that was just the way I was; that nothing could really be done about it; and, anyway – I was perfect… so why would I ever want to change?
Fortunately, this past year has repeatedly thrown all this in my face, until finally I could no longer hide from the fact that, actually, I’m not perfect. (I really thought I was – or, at least, that I could be, if I just kept trying…)
Admitting that I’m not perfect (and that it’s perfectly okay to be that way!)… takes some getting used to. It’s not the kind of thing you can just change in one instant, or with one split-second decision. It requires repeated effort… and multiple failed attempts… and to the perfectionist, failure is not something you purposely go looking for.
But failurez happen to all of us. (Don’t believe me? I just “failed” to spell failures correctly… lols…)
To a perfectionist, failure = death. (After all, if you’re perfect, that kind of implies that you don’t fail, so if you ever do… oh buddy, watch out! It ain’t pretty…)
Okay maybe not death, per se… but it is something that a perfectionist learns to avoid at all costs! Even if, no especially if, it means not doing something new or uncomfortable or out of the ordinary, all on the chance that you most likely definitely will fail in your first several attempts.
Never mind that if you keep at it, you’ll ultimately succeed; perfectionists are not that far-sighted. They see only the potential for short-term failure; never the possibility for long-term success, and growth, and actual happiness in this new and potentially frightening endeavor.
Which is why, in my new perfect reality, I am a perfectly imperfect recovering perfectionist, who is no longer concerned with appearing to be perfect both in my failures and my victories… but instead is willing to experience what it’s like to make mistakes… to admit my failures… to accept my shortcomings… and to allow that all I can really do is the best I can actually do… and my best never will be perfect but it generally will be good enough to get the job done… and in the end that’s all I really need.
And the surest way to get from where I was, to where I am now, is to intentionally practice imperfection… until you get to the point where you’re so good at it that you’re maybe just maybe finally willing to really start letting go of perfection once and for all.
Here’s a perfect example of how to practice imperfection:
When I started blogging, I made a commitment to myself that I would post three times a week: every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.
In pursuit of that one goal, I have published 33 blog posts in eleven and a half weeks. Some of those posts, in my opinion, have been really good. And some of them have been… less good.
(On multiple occasions I sat down at my computer on the day of, and just typed until I was done typing, and then hit “publish.” My three followers may or may not be able to identify all the posts that were written on the spur of the moment… but some of them, I’m sure, stick out like sore thumbs… and just as an observation, your thumbs really do get sore when you spend too much time typing blog posts… just in case you were wondering.)
Anyway… my goal in the beginning was never to publish quality blog posts three days a week. My goal was simply to publish “anything” – as long as I was publishing three days a week. So, for eleven weeks I maintained a perfect record of publishing every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.
And it started to become a real matter of pride:
“Look at me! I set a difficult goal for myself, and not only am I achieving it, I’m actually getting to be quite perfect!”
Yeah, you read that right. The recovering perfectionist, who is working on intentionally recognizing, and allowing, (and ultimately, enjoying) his imperfection… was becoming proud of how perfectly he was honoring his commitment… which no matter who you are, no one can ever really do perfectly (but I think we’ve already been over that…)
Well, this week, in order to further disabuse myself of my perfectionist inclination… I skipped posting on Tuesday. (On purpose, no less…)
I had an idea for what I wanted to write about, and it was a good idea! It wasn’t the perfect idea but still it was pretty good… and all day long I thought about writing it… but every time I told myself to wait. To intentionally “miss” one day. To permanently destroy my “perfect record,” and allow myself to live with the consequences of not meeting my goal.
I thought the world would end on Tuesday at midnight (PST, naturally). I thought that I would lose my momentum. That I would consider it a monumental failure of such epic proportion that there would be no way I could ever recover, and that I would naturally have no alternative but to abandon my blog, chalk it up to bad luck, and move along in pursuit of the next shiny object.
Okay I had those thoughts in my head, but I didn’t actually believe any of those things would happen. It was just my fear of failure, warning me of the dangers involved in “not doing something perfectly.”
But you know what? I’m glad I did it that way.
By intentionally going against my fears, and my nature as a perfectionist, I got to experience “failure” in a safe, controlled environment. I got to feel the fear, and the worry, and the anxiety as the midnight hour approached, and I didn’t have a blog post published. (I didn’t have anything ready to go… I was so bad lol…)
And I got to wake up on Wednesday, and tell myself, “Hey you know what? That really wasn’t that bad at all. In fact, there’s a good chance that nobody but me even knows that I just failed… and even if they did, it’s really and truly not the end of the world. Heck, it’s not even the end of my blog. Here I am now, making up for it… totally imperfectly… and yet, feeling on top of the world…”
And, allowing myself to be imperfect, and to live with all the feelings that came up as a result… Well, just doing it once hasn’t completely altered the course of my future. But it feels nice to put even the smallest bit of space between me and my need for perfection… to just come up for air, and look around and even for one brief moment, be able to tell myself that chasing perfection is chasing frustration… and that “good enough” really is good enough.
(For sure, it does still feel a little awkward. And I’m still a little reluctant to be intentionally imperfect again. But, I think overall, it’s a feeling I could definitely get used to.)
What would you be willing to do, imperfectly, (a couple of times if necessary), in order to disabuse yourself of your own perfectionist perspective?