09/11/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

If Your Life Is Perfect, Don't Read This: You Have Enough Joy Anyway

I confess -- I'm an out-of-control perfectionist. I insist on "a place for everything and everything in its place." Dirty dishes in the dishwasher, dirty clothes in the clothes hamper, and I will so notice if anything on my coffee table gets moved even an inch! Co-workers comment that my desk is so neat that it looks like I'm not working. And I'm never late -- for anything. These may sound like relatively harmless obsessions or even admirable qualities, but underneath that perfectly perfect exterior lurks a fearful taskmaster that can, if left unchecked, rob my life of joy.

Are you a perfectionist, too? Do you stick so closely to your Blackberry schedule that you have no room for a spontaneous drink with a friend? Are you so concerned about presenting the perfect home that you avoid having parties until everything is arranged like a page out of Martha Stewart Living? If so, you're putting joy on hold. Maybe it's more serious. Are you putting off opening your own business until the kids are out of college, and the cars and credit cards are paid in full? Ask yourself: What if you never get there? Are you waiting to travel until retirement? Consider you may not be able to afford to retire as your parents did. Or maybe you're waiting to end an unhealthy relationship because money is tight, the kids are still in school or, simply put, because perfectionists don't ever give up -- ever!

The problem with perfection is that it's an illusion. We strive and strive, but it's always one step ahead of us. Meanwhile, we're missing out on a lifetime of joys, whether it's a night out with friends, a dream vacation or a brand new start in life.

Even as a kid, I was a perfectionist. I remember once when my older sister took me roller-skating. I didn't know how to skate, and I was terrified of falling on my ass and embarrassing myself. So there I stood outside the rink, skates on and watching everyone else zoom past, while my sister grew increasingly annoyed at her attempts to get me on the rink. My hang-up? I was paralyzed with fear -- the fear of not being perfect.

You could analyze the reasons why, but that's not my point. I allowed the fear of failure, of looking foolish, of not being in control, to rob me of the joy of learning how to roller skate. That's a small example, but this same tendency has carried over into my adult life. Thankfully, I've mellowed some (and I turned out to be better at ice skating), but every now and then, the taskmaster of perfection takes over and I'm once again paralyzed with fear. It may be a decision about a career change or merely dancing at a wedding with strangers.

My solution -- and one that might help you -- is to make an ongoing resolution to simply take risks, big and small. I repeatedly ask myself this question, and so should you: Is your dream more important than your fear of failure? I'm sure you've heard it before, but life truly is messy--and we need to get comfy with those messes. I may fall on my ass now and then, but I'd rather do that than be that kid standing outside the rink watching everyone else.

Joy is not given to any of us. It is something we must create every day, and that frequently takes guts. Who knew? And yes, fear sometimes wins out. In other words, I'm not perfect. But I do know that trying and taking risks despite my fear has led to many joys along the way. It works, and I'm sticking with it. What about you?