I admit I have a problem—I am a perfectionist. Yes, I have a common Type-A disorder called perfectionism that I have been trying to fix for years. Maybe fix isn’t the right word—it’s more like I have playing with letting go of my perfectionist ways by loosing the reins, relaxing more and going with the natural flow of life, which isn’t always smooth sailing. Therefore, I am a recovering perfectionist.
In truth, for years I thought that perfectionism was required to be successful. I was proud of my perfectionist tendencies. I took the stance that as a perfectionist, I was attending to details and catching errors and making the world a better place. What’s so bad about that, you might ask? Well, certainly there is a lot to be said for making deadlines and doing great work. However—and this is a big however—there is a big difference between perfectionism and healthy achieving, as Brené Brown describes in her book The Gifts Of Imperfection – Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are (I highly recommend all her books.) Dr. Brown says that perfectionism is not the same as striving to be your best. It is instead a mistaken belief that if we act and behave perfectly we will gain approval and acceptance and we will avoid the emotional pain of judgment, blame and shame. The reality is that when we perfectionists constantly strive to do what we think we are “supposed to do”, instead of feeling better we are actually setting ourselves up to feel “less than”. Because no matter how hard we try, we will never measure up.
Perfectionism therefore goes hand in hand with stress and anxiety and negative self-judgment. Stress and anxiety arises because of the constant concern that something you have done is not quite good enough, or you are always on edge trying to be perfect which is impossible. Then when you aren’t perfect, you think less of yourself and assume others think less of you too. Of course this is really quite damaging and unhealthy to yourself and your relationships. Humans make mistakes. Humans are imperfect beings. We hopefully learn from our mistakes. And in many cases, mistakes really aren’t all that important. Who cares if the paint line isn’t perfectly straight? Who cares if there is a typo here and there? And even if the mistake is a big one, you are still a loveable person with natural talents who is only human.
Instead of striving for perfection, how about striving for good enough? But what constitutes good enough? How far on the scale between perfect and shoddy does good enough sit? My husband is a wonderful engineer and more recently a wonderful vegetable gardener. His gardening blog Garden Engineer is subtitled, a structural engineer’s experiment in gardening and exploration of “good enough”. As he works his garden, he reflects on the process and plays with the concept of what makes something good enough. And I can tell you that the vegetables we grow are yummy and perfect to eat, even if everything we do in the garden isn’t perfect. Good enough = imperfect = divine in my book.
Life and everything in it goes in ebbs and flows, sometimes positive, sometimes negative but it does progress and change regardless of how much you try to control it. One key to enjoying life more is to flow with however life progresses even when it isn’t perfect. That means not just accepting that things aren’t perfect, it means embracing our imperfections—embracing our “human-mess”. So if, like me, you are a recovering perfectionist, considering cultivating the courage to be imperfect, be compassionate to yourself and others when things don’t go as you hoped, and be grateful for all of your human gifts, including imperfection. Embrace yourself just the way you are—perfectly human and beautiful in your imperfection.