It was the end of a typical weekday at my house: a moving and shaking day at the office, home for some giggles and play with my young daughters, dinner, baths and bed. Finally, I get some time to myself -- hooray! Out of the corner of my eye, I spot a massive pile of clean laundry that has been waiting to be put away for a whole week now. Momentarily, I consider putting it away, but... nah! Instead, I decide to grab my laptop, prop my feet up and work on some writing. I giggled to myself realizing that previously in my life I would have never been able to do that. That tiny bit of clutter would have gnawed away at me, making me super-uneasy and totally unable to relax in the moment.
You see, I am a recovering perfectionist. And, boy, I had it bad! Aside from my obsession with cleanliness and everything in its place, I would usually have multiple projects going on at any given point in time, agonizing over every detail, which of course needed to be executed juuuust right. Upon completion I would say in one long breath, "Woo-hoo, that was great, finally did it, okay, what's next?" I used to pore over blog posts editing and re-edit them in the quest for perfect arrangement of the exact right words until they were finally worthy to be released (maybe). I used to work out six or seven days a week, and it would take an act of God for me to actually skip a workout!
For years, I would brush my neurosis off as "I am just built that way. It's in my DNA." And to some extent, this is true. I have a lot of passion and energy eager to pour out. But, what is different these days is my self-talk around this energy. The story I tell myself. I am enough, already. I still have high ambition and put tremendous amounts of love in what I do, but I give myself a break. I have loosened my grasp on expected outcomes and value peace and harmony waaaay more than flawlessness.
So, what was my wakeup call that helped me make the switch from high-strung to mellowed-out? These are the top 10 realizations that I made about perfectionism that helped me along in my journey to become easy like Sunday morning:
- "Perfect" is an illusion. It's striving for the impossible. Even if this high level of excellence can be met in a particular moment, don't blink, because it is a fleeting ideal. Perfection has an insatiable appetite, and the constant expectation of it sets you up for a whole lot of disappointment, stress, and unhappiness. All the while, the fun of life whizzes right by.
- Perfectionism stifles creativity and blocks the birth of fresh ideas. Sometimes we just need to throw the paint on the canvas, allow the notes to be strummed, or let the words pour out. When you mix intense worry into the equation, self-confidences erodes and the artistic flow becomes suppressed. Is everything just right? How it will be perceived by others? This type of thinking takes us out of alignment with our creative source and smothers the flames of imagination into submission.
- The ever-present quest for perfection is merely a shield from vulnerability. When we do everything perfectly, then we cannot be judged or criticized. It's an excuse not to be vulnerable, just as staying busy in the process of constantly trying to achieve the unachievable is a good way to avoid having to look at and deal with our "stuff." (And we all have "stuff.") Unfortunately, the only way to heal is to deal (as in facing things head on). The shielding of perfectionism is merely a coping mechanism, which works temporarily, but meanwhile, whatever we're suppressing only continues to gain more power over us.
- Vulnerability shielding inhibits connection. For me, I realized that if I really wanted to be a great writer, coach, mother and friend, that really connects with others than I'd have no other choice but to let down my shield and allow my authentic self to be fully exposed. This means being perfectly imperfect at times, owning it, and granting others permission to do the same.
- There is a big difference between striving for excellence and perfectionism. It's called actually enjoying what you are doing! It's okay (great, even) to have high aspirations. Shoot for the stars. Go nuts! But go easy on yourself along the way. Enjoy the journey. Don't get so tripped up in the outcome that it sucks every ounce of joy out of the process
- Perfection is to life what those plastic covers are too a really nice sofa. Sure, it keeps the dirt off, but what's the point?? The guitar whose notes are strum slightly off at times is better than the untouched guitar collecting dust on the wall. The laughed-in, played-in, loved-in house is better than the spotlessly clean one where you can eat off the kitchen floor. The published, yet slightly imperfect, blog or book that allows somebody else to have an "a-ha" moment or inspiration is way better than the "almost perfect" one that is still hiding away, never to be experienced by another soul. Don't miss the point of life in pursuit of way-too-high standards.
- Self-worth is not determined by any outward measurement. This goes for any number on a scale, how clean the house is, how many feathers are in our cap, etc. It's what's on the inside that matters most. And, it starts with loving self-talk, not the "I'm not good enough's" associated with striving for perfect.
- It's even scarier. Yes, it can be scary sharing your passion with the world (whatever the medium). But what's even scarier is not sharing your passion with the world because you felt it didn't meet your own ridiculously high standards. The reality is that nobody's opinion of your work is going to be quite as critical as your own, anyway. And, even if it is. So what? It's just somebody elses opinion. Be passionate, create, love, share -- this is living!
- Because what perfectionism really is: Throwing an amazing party and forgetting to have a good time because you are worried about some silly little details that nobody else even noticed or actually cares about! (Yes, I might have actually done this before.)
- Perfectionist parents create perfectionist kids. And I want my girls to grow up knowing unconditional self-love, acceptance of what it is, and enjoyment of life. 'Nuff said.
Perfectionism is a way of closing off and controlling things. It may look pretty on the outside but in reality it's cold, isolated and dark. It's the cracks that let the light in, anyway. So, go on and ease up a bit. Let some light in and shine on!
With Much Love,
For more by Dawn Gluskin, click here.
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