How to Avoid the Perfectionism Trap
Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life.
Raise your hand if you’ve ever struggled with perfectionism. Though I can’t see you right now as you read this, I have a hunch most of you have your hands up, either literally or figuratively in your heart where no one else can see and wonder if there are bigger problems than perfectionism at stake. Oh, I’ve got your number, I’m a recovering perfectionist.
Perfection is so illusive, yet so tempting, especially for all you creative, high-achievers out there. It is a vain and futile attempt to attain the unattainable and virtually impossible. Perfectionism is an overt, egoic striving to fill a covert, bleeding insecurity. If we’re really honest here, perfection is scared man’s game.
I write these words with emboldened authority only because I have had a lifelong, crippling experience with perfectionism. I don’t know the magic potion I sipped on so early in life to fuel the flame, but boy was it potent. I’ve been incredibly judgy and hard on myself from day one. As a complex and sensitive kid (read: dramatic), being understood and well-received always took precedence. Acceptance, identity, and value were—and continue to be— my drug. The temptation is always: “I’m doing pretty good, but just imagine what I could achieve!” This kind of thinking has kept me double bound in the fetal position of literal and figurative dark corners in life many times. I love Anne Lamott’s quote here:
“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life.”.
Bingo. And for creatives, this phenomenon is mass genocide. I believe this is because ideas and concepts are birthed in our thinking mind, which can be an absolutely lovely place to be. We have an brilliant idea for a lyric, a new work flow, a painting, a proposal, and we run with it, executing it immediately and seamlessly, right? Bam…so easy.
Wrong. My experience as a writer and working with other creatives is this: that brilliant little idea gets locked up in the thinking mind, stewing and marinating in all kinds of saucy possibility and grandeur, so much so that it never even sees the light of day. Our minds are meant to be the sacred birthplace of ideas. Our minds were not meant to indefinitely house them, ultimately squeezing the life and breath out with toxic and quenching fumes of perfectionism. Oftentimes, we feel so worthless and defeated we either want to numb out with a drug of choice (drugs, booze, sex, shopping, busyness, work, what have you) or we abandon our creative calling all together. This is around the time therapy sounds like a promising option.
David Foster Wallace said it this way,“Perfectionism is very dangerous. Because of course if your fidelity to perfectionism is too high, you never do anything.”.
Well, I want to do great things. I want to show up in relationships and love fully. I want to write my truth, even if it doesn’t rhyme or fit or sound pretty. I want to live into all I am made to be, dreaming big and doing even bigger. I want to be perfectly imperfect; flawed yet beautifully human and uniquely me. I suspect you do as well…
In order to do this, we must let go of the death grip we have on self-doubt. You know that conundrum of shame that says you simply aren’t enough and don’t make the cut? Press the pause button for a second. What is your standard and where does it come from? Again, this insidious little gremlin sneaks in when we forget who were are. For this reason, identity and purpose MUST be deeply instilled into our beings on a cellular level. My perceived reality of me must match up to my deeply believed reality of me.
I hope you’re wondering about the How? If so, here is a first step: a personal creed. Many world religious traditions thoughtfully construct creeds over time as a firm reminder and proclamation and of their dialed in beliefs and purpose. At my church, we say the Nicene Creed each week. I never understood the beauty and power of this until grappling with my own faulty beliefs about myself that needed mending and constant reminding. We all need reminders, people. Otherwise, we fall prey to self-doubt and perfectionism.
What is your personal creed? Over the next week, I encourage you to spend some time journaling about your beliefs, perceived purpose, strengths, desires, and dreams. It doesn’t have to be long or poetic or clever. This is a powerful, life-giving assignment, and one I love helping others tweak to accurately mirror their truth. With this in mind, I’d love to hear what you come up with…
In light of all this, here’s your call to action this week. Don’t be stymied by sterile lies of perfectionism. Stay in your lane and move to the glorious beat of your own wacky drum. I’m convinced you’ll have some exhilarating stories to tell on the other side.
Love & Gratitude,