On Conquering Perfectionism

“You know, it’s never going to be perfect” my roommate said as she hovered over my shoulder as I wrote this very essay. She’s seen me belabor over words like this before, swapping out one adjective for another, shortening sentences here and there until the wee hours of the night when my eyes sting and my computer screen looks like one of those nonsensical word clouds.

“Meaning!” “Perfection!” “Self-acceptance!” “Realistic expectations!”

These are the concepts I want to explore in this essay, but I can’t seem to decide on my overall angle. My approach could be one of a punchy motivational columnist. I could address the reader (you) as if I’ve been asked a question (I haven’t) on how to combat one’s one fear of failure and thus perfectionist tendencies. (But isn’t that why we have Oprah?)

Or I could take an anecdotal form. One where I discuss a life altering event I experienced that made me realize how my perfectionism led me to standing in my own way. (Doesn’t it always?)

Finally, I suppose, I could simply regurgitate some research I found online. Like I could locate a study from a university or think tank that conveniently supports my theory about how perfectionism is the enemy of the good. (There are many.) Because we all already know that perfectionism is a creative person’s kryptonite. Finding research that supports this is like looking for evidence of the sun in El Azizia in July.

So I’m going to go a different route. I’m going to discuss what it feels like live with perfectionism in the here and now. Which is to say, for me, it’s like having concepts and ideas and narratives and projects swirling in my head, just waiting to get out, but I have a really stringent, unrealistic reverse bouncer who keeps them locked inside, closed off from the rest of the world. And so, my concepts and ideas and narratives and projects stir and fight and get impatient with one another. They argue over who should get out first and they’re all testy after being without fresh air for so long. And as soon as one gets one foot out the door, another pushes it’s way ahead and then they both get stuck in the exit, unable to budge.

Brené Brown would say my perfectionist tendencies mean I have a fear of vulnerability and that my bouncer might just be my shame. She’s probably not wrong. But I don’t need convincing that perfectionism leads to self-destruction. I just need help getting that bouncer to go off duty, at least for a smoke break.

So that’s where I am. I’d love to hear where you are, too. How have you dealt with your own battles with perfectionism? Did you have an ah-ha moment that changed your outlook? Is there a mantra to which I should subscribe? A podcast to download? A magic pill? Wouldn’t that just be perfect?