Perfectionism is not a quest for the best. It is a pursuit of the worst in ourselves, the part that tells us that nothing we do will ever be good enough – that we should try again ~ Julia Cameron
I haven’t written in awhile. I’ve wanted to. I’ve thought about it. There have been so many experiences, situations, adventures and daily struggles that I would love to try to make sense of with words. I’ve even tried. But every time I sat down to write, I was flooded with emotions, heavily lined with anxiety and fear.
The inner dialogue started. “You haven’t written anything in so long. Your blog page is sitting there collecting dust. People are no longer waiting for you to write. No one is visiting your site anymore. The people who are going to read your next post are expecting something profound. The next thing you post better be perfect.” The dialogue was loud. It was persistent. I couldn’t write. I didn’t know how anymore. So I would get up and walk away. “I’ll write tomorrow, I’ll have more to say by then.”
The more time that went by, the more pressure I felt to be perfect; to craft the perfect essay, to blend together all the right words that would paint a profound and brilliant picture of my recent experiences. The longer I went without writing, the harder it was to write. Today marks the 21st day of telling myself “I will do it tomorrow”. Tomorrow came a day early.
The desire, the need to be perfect was overwhelming, and made worse by an extended absence. I needed the perfect topic, the perfect message and the perfect canvass of words to go along with all that other perfection, before I could write. My go-to when grappling with a concept is my trusty Google Search. In this case, Google revealed to me that perfectionism is closely tied to the need for control, especially the need to control our external spheres, which we actually have no control over, such as the desire to control others’ perceptions and acceptance of us.
According to an article in Psychology Today: The Pitfalls of Perfectionism, psychologists now know that a perfectionist is “made not born, commonly at an early age.” The desire to be perfect, on the face of it, sounds like a positive way to be your best, to strive for greatness and success, but it actually accomplishes the opposite. As stated in the Psychology Today article referenced above:
It is a steady source of negative emotions; rather than reaching toward something positive, those in its grip are focused on the very thing they most want to avoid—negative evaluation.
When I think back to my school years, I was the quintessential perfectionist. A straight “A” student all throughout school, an “academic” who studied relentlessly, writing and rewriting notes and highlighting almost every word on the page. I remember coming home with exam after exam, all with an “A” grade. I also remember feeling like it was never quite enough. There was always someone with a better grade, with more knowledge, so I aimed for better along with it. If I came home with 90%, this was met with a “great job! What happened to the other 10%?” My thoughts exactly.
I was the girl who didn’t try anything new unless I knew that I could do it and do it well. I was the girl who rewrote my English 12 Provincial Exam because I wanted at least 90%, the 88% I achieved 88% originally didn’t cut it.
I was also an epic procrastinator. I would alphabetize my CDs, organize my hockey cards or fold my underwear just to avoid projects. According to the Huffington Post, procrastination is also a sign of perfectionism:
The great irony of perfectionism is that while it’s characterized by an intense drive to succeed, it can be the very thing that prevents success. Perfectionism is highly correlated with fear of failure (which is generally not the best motivator) and self-defeating behavior, such as excessive procrastination.
Being perfect meant being accepted, it meant gaining approval and feeling validated. But it is also a great weight to bear. It prevents exploration and experimentation and stifles creativity, it creates an unhappiness because the goal is unattainable. The desire, the need, to do more, to be more and with perfection, destroys the simple desire to try and leaves misery and fear in its wake. It is born from a need to control the uncontrollable. It is an unattainable goal.
So I write, no longer procrastinating, attempting to embrace my imperfection, overcome my fears and understand that I am a work in progress, that I can’t control others’ reactions, perceptions or thoughts, I can only be me. Unapologetically me. Perfectly imperfect and that is, in itself, perfect.
Many people think of perfectionism as striving to be your best, but it is not about self-improvement; it’s about earning approval and acceptance ~ Brene Brown