Whatever ideas the media may try to sell us with seemingly perfect families and bodies among other things, there is no such thing as perfection.
We give ourselves such a hard time trying to be ‘perfect’ that we forget that being imperfect is who we are as people.
If we constantly beat ourselves up for not doing a work project perfectly, not having perfectly-behaved children or not having the perfect physique, we’re spending all our time criticising ourselves, when surely there are enough other people in the world to do that for us.
We need to be on our own side.
Our friends and family are. Usually. They can see the good in us. As well as the bad. And it’s that wonderful combination that makes us all human, isn’t it?
But how can perfectionism affect us?
There is a fascinating article in Medical News Today, in which Professor Paul Hewitt, professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia, Canada and expert in the study of perfectionism talks about one of his therapy clients:
“At the time, he was a university student who was living with depression and putting himself under the pressure of getting an A+ in a course. After working really hard, the student achieved his goal and got the highest grade. He then proceeded to tell me that the A+ was just a demonstration of how much of a failure he had been. If he’d been perfect, the student reasoned, he wouldn’t have had to work so hard to achieve it.”
I’m not cynical. In fact, I’ve often been called too idealistic, however although perfection may not exist, that needn’t stop us doing what we want to do to achieve the lives we want to live.
I often hear people call themselves perfectionists as if it’s a good thing, but aren’t they just hiding their perfectly natural flaws behind a facade of so-called perfection? Striving for perfection strikes me as something good and healthy to aim for.
However I’ve realised that many perfectionists don’t actually know that they will never get to where they want to be because they are so caught up in their perfectionist world that they can’t see the reality. Nothing will ever be enough because nothing is perfect.
Perfection is a myth and the enemy of productivity.
Procrastination is the default for many perfectionists because they’re waiting for that right moment when everything is in place and so, they rarely finish things because they just can’t.
How can they if it isn’t the best that it can be? And I totally understand that.
But how will you know when you’re ready?
I often hear people saying that they’re waiting for the right moment to do the things that they have always wanted to do. This could be travelling the world, publishing their book or even talking to that person in the office they quite like, but the reality is that in most cases that seemingly perfect moment will never come to pass.
For example, how will you know?:
- when your novel is ready?
- when it’s the perfect time to chat somebody up?
- when you’re ready to leave your job and start your own business?
And I get it. I totally get being a perfectionist because I used to be one.
“I’m a recovering perfectionist. For me, it’s one day at a time”— Brene Brown
Among other things, I’m a songwriter and musician, and one of the most challenging things I have to face in that role is knowing when a song is finished or when the album into which you’ve invested so much, time, money and emotion is ready to go out into the world. How many hours do you need to listen to a drum sound before it’s ‘perfect’?
Like all perfectionists, I was focusing on the wrong thing because I was anxious, insecure and ultimately, afraid.
I was afraid of saying ‘This is who I am and if you don’t like my work, then you don’t like me’ and I couldn’t cope with that.
It’s a dilemma that people in general and perhaps creatives especially have to deal with on a regular basis. And it can be really challenging living with that fear.
“Imperfect progress today or perfect progress tomorrow?”
Although I still battle with it from time, I’m now much more comfortable putting my work (and myself) out there. In hindsight, it was a combination of getting older, becoming more self-confident and not being able to answer the question ‘How will you know your work is ready?” There was also this quote which had quite a profound impact on me.
“There’s no need to be perfect to inspire others. Let people get inspired by how you deal with your imperfections.” ― Ziad K. Abdelnour, Economic Warfare: Secrets of Wealth Creation in the Age of Welfare Politics
So, what’s more important?
Waiting for the right moment when everything is perfectly in place to do something, that never happening and as a result you never get to do the thing that you want to do?
Taking that first step today in the knowledge that although it may (and will probably) not be perfect, you will at least be on your way to getting to where you want to be? And who knows, things might even get better over time while we’re aiming for ‘perfection’ and doing the thing that we want to do on the way?
I think reflection and contemplation can be powerful things, but sometimes you just have to get on with things and do something today or nothing will happen tomorrow.
“If I waited for perfection, I’d never write a word” — Margaret Atwood
So, what are you going to do today? Or even right now?