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Good-bye Perfectionism

In some of the non-exclusive book blogs that I read, there have been a number of posts about the new book release of The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown.  The subtitle for this book reads:  Let go of who you think you are supposed to be, and embrace who you are.  These are powerful words – easy to say incredibly difficult to live out when you are, indeed, a perfectionist.

On the author’s blog last week she declared a “Perfect Protest” and asked all interested perfectionists to post  a picture of their defiance of perfectionism and how they thought they would be rewarded in the end.  It has been amazing for me to read all the posts of those who are chronic perfectionists like myself – and their resolve to give up this debilitating disease.
I have lived my entire life by the motto, “If you are going to do something, then do it right.”  I strive for perfection in absolutely everything I endeavor:  my marriage – motherhood – being a teacher – a photographer – a scrapbooker – a book reviewer – a blogger….well, you get the picture.  It is absolutely exhausting AND totally unrealistic.  No one on this earth is perfect – and if that is my measurement for success, well, it is no wonder that I always feel as though I have failed.  I rarely give thought to what I “want” to do; I always live life for others.  At the age of 50, I think I have hit a brick wall.
I have not yet written a sign for the “perfect protest” – probably because I am certain the print will not be “good enough” (perfectionism) and I am not sure what size or color to use —- but if I were to make a sign I think it might say something like:  Good-bye Perfect – Hello Joy.
I wonder how many wonderfully fun moments I have missed out in life because I was afraid that I could not do it perfectly the first time.  I loathe the word “adventure” — why?  Because an adventure means that I am setting out to do something that I have never done before and that means that there is a very good chance that I will make a mistake – I will not do it perfectly – and I will let myself and others down in the end.  It is best, I have rationalized over the years, to just stay within the four walls of my comfort zone. 
I realized just how ridiculous this thought process has been when this past June I was forced to take a detour to arrive at my final destination:  the berry patch.  For most people a detour is a minor hindrance – a small distraction that just adds a bit of extra time to the day.  For me, however, the detour was an adventure – the opportunity to travel to an unknown area without a map or mental image of where I was going.  My palms immediately began to sweat.  I noticed that I clutched the steering wheel with all my might and my muscles began to tense. Every ten seconds I looked at the clock – thinking that I had been driving for at least several minutes.  I constantly questioned myself whether I should turn the car around and head home, or continue to the land of the unknown.  Within ten minutes time we were unloading the car and heading toward the patch.  It was truly no big deal, and I was rewarded with a bumper crop of berries that made nearly nine pints of jam, but the agony that I put myself through in that ten minute journey was ridiculous.

Photo from Silke’s blog post

This caused me to wonder – What other rewards have I missed because I have made too much of a deal about the journey?  What pleasure have I by-passed because I don’t know how to do it perfectly — or — I don’t want to get messy (see  Silke’s post here — what she calls happy hands I have tried to avoid my entire life — WHY?)

I think I am tired of living the life of perfection.  I am tired of trying to be the perfect someone while losing sight of me.  I am ready to let go.  I am ready to move on.  I am ready to embrace the future with wild abandonment (ok – maybe I am not willing to go that far yet) and do what makes me happy.  In following those desires of my heart perhaps I will find the purpose of my life lurking in a forgotten corner somewhere.  It is definitely worth a try — what have I got to lose?

17 Comments

  • bermudaonion

    My son is somewhat of a perfectionist, so I know how difficult it is to break free of that role. Through the years, I've had to encourage him to put himself out there and try something different and allow himself to fail. Good luck to you in your endeavor.

  • Brenna

    This sounds like a very powerful book. I think there is a lot to be said about embracing the person you are rather than the person you think you should be. Go for it đŸ™‚

  • ds

    Good for you, Molly! It is difficult to break old patterns of behavior, especially perfectionism. I'm still working on it, although I find that blogging, funnily, is loosening that up…

  • Sandy Nawrot

    This is really a big deal and a huge accomplishment Molly. This stuff is in our blood when we are born! I am the same way, but I've found as I get older that some of the best times are when I just disregard my hangups and go for it. Starting a blog was one of those times. It couldn't be further from my comfort zone. I'm proud of you!

  • Vivienne

    What an uplifting post. Good for you Molly. I hope you find the release you are looking for to allow you to stop being a perfectionist and jump in the deep end with both feet!

  • Cathy Bueti

    Molly thanks for being so honest and sharing with us! I can so relate to this post! I have always been a perfectionist and am finding that I am even more so now that I have begun this creative journey I am on. I read Silke's post that day and I wish I could let myself get that messy when I paint!

    I want to be messy and know that it is ok. In my art I want to just let go and see what happens rather than trying to control it all every step of the way so it will be perfect.

    Good for you Molly! You inspire me! đŸ™‚

  • Joan

    Wisdom is bought at a desolate market where nobody goes to buy..that came to mind reading your words Molly..not sure why. In failure is wisdom. When I succeed the praise is nice..but when I fail..I learn and grow. I heard our wonderful kiwi fashion designer/business leader, Ann Stretton say this yesterday. Don't beat yourself up for being a perfectionist Molly..you will have done such wonderful things..but 50 is a great age to let loose and live. Wow! Dance Molly!!!

  • Kathleen

    I can totally relate to this post and came to the same conclusion a few years ago. I still have plenty of moments when I am plagued with my perfectionistic tendencies but they are getting fewer and fewer. I look forward to hearing all of the future adventures you go on!

  • Catherine Ensley

    As long as you are attached to your personal standards of perfection, you will never be happy–because you will never, ever reach them. You say that anything worth doing is worth doing right. Whatever makes you think you alone know the "right" way of doing something? If you could let go of the imagery of perfection that is in your head, you would also experience far less emotional and kinesthetic paralysis. (I.e. depression.) Perfectionism is a mental construct. Tell the little nitwit (your superego)that is sitting on your shoulder to shut up. It thinks it's protecting you but in reality, it's not doing you any good at all.

  • Jenners

    This book sounds like it found you at a perfect time. And I do think it is crushing burden to put on yourself to be perfect all the time. Good luck in letting go of that burden!

  • Lisa

    I cannot tell you how many things I have not finished–because I couldn't figure out how to do them perfectly. I love the idea of this book–and I hope it helps you to let go a little bit.

  • Literary Feline

    My husband has taught me to not be so perfect, but completely shedding perfection is next to impossible I've come to believe. LOL

    My husband and I were talking recently about parenting styles. He worries he'll be too lax. I can see that as he's a very laid back person. I asked him what kind of parent he thought I'd be and he told me I'd be one of those "by the book" parents. Of course, there's no book for parenting. But I know what he meant. It's the kind of boss I am at work. I like rules and plans and organization. I do have a silly and impulsive side though–I just need to remember to let that out more often.

  • Cheri

    I can SO relate to this post! I joined the Perfect Protest too, and I'm wondering (like you) why it takes some of us so long to figure out that perfection simply isn't worth the agony! (I'm 49). Anyway, thanks for joining and for the raw honesty. I have read Brene's book (on my second read through now) and LOVE it!

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