Here’s one of my big truths: I am a recovering perfectionist. If you know me in real life, you’re probably wondering how that’s possible. I am in no way perfect, and neither is my life. In fact, there isn’t anything I do perfectly–not motherhood, not communicating, not even laundry (hello clothes that are perpetually wrinkled).
But it’s the ideal of perfection that has tripped me up in life so often. If I’m going to do something, I want to do it well…exceedingly well. And if I can’t do it perfectly, well, I’d rather not do it at all.
It makes no sense, right?
Trying and failing is better than not trying at all, but my brain refused to entertain that logic. Instead, it pummeled me with thoughts and visions of what would happen if I did a terrible or even okay job. People may discredit me. They may laugh at my attempts or call me foolish or unexperienced. It was the fear of those potential outcomes that kept me from doing anything at all.
Instead of doing the thing, I became obsessed with learning about the thing. A great example of this is my dream of writing novels. Instead of diving in and actually writing, I decided to learn everything there was to ever know about writing fiction. I have dozens of books about the writing process, how to plot, how to elicit emotions, pantsing versus plotting, character arcs, and so much more. Intellectually, I could’ve probably taught a writing class on how to do it. The problem? I’d yet to actually do any writing.
I was terrified that it wasn’t going to turn out the way I wanted. It’d most likely be full of plot holes and the characters wouldn’t make sense. Or it’d be an epic failure of a story altogether. And I knew that every writer wrote draft after draft of stories before they came together to be published. But I wanted to be an exception. I wanted my writing to be perfect…so I didn’t write at all. It was agonizing but effective. I wasn’t not being perfect, and therefore, I felt safe from the criticism of myself and others.
But I was living a life of nonaction. And if there’s anything worse than not being perfect, it’s that feeling of life passing you by while you watch.
There’s a quote by Anne Lamott where I swear she was speaking directly to me:
“Oh my God, what if you wake up some day, and you’re 65, or 75, and you never got your memoir or novel written, or you didn’t go swimming in those warm pools and oceans all those years because your thighs were jiggly and you had a nice big comfortable tummy; or you were just so strung out on perfectionism and people-pleasing that you forgot to have a big juicy creative life, of imagination and radical silliness and staring off into space like when you were a kid? It’s going to break your heart. Don’t let this happen.”Anne Lamott
She’s right. She’s oh so right. I didn’t want my life to end up like this. I never want my children to look at my life and pity me for never going after my dreams or doing what I really want to do in life.
So I adopted a new mantra, and I decided to take a leap. A major leap.
And when I finally started doing the things, I found that I enjoyed the process even more than the product. I found that people weren’t laughing at me but were instead cheering me on or telling me what an inspiration I was. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t perfect because I finally understood that no one is, and no one expects me to be either.
All that pressure I felt… it coming from me, and, more specifically, it was my ego trying to keep me in my comfort zone. Because the fear of the unknown is so much greater than we realize. And if I suddenly started taking chances and expressing myself more fully, my ego had no idea where that could land us, but it was pretty sure it wouldn’t be good.
The solution that worked for me was to thank my fear and my ego for trying to keep me safe, and then doing the thing anyway. I don’t want to live in my comfort zone. I want to shake up the world and make messes and create shifts and help women and inspire people. I want to live out loud, and that is solidly not conducive to being a perfectionist.
Here’s hoping that you can push aside your own need to be right or perfect or to live up to the expectations of others. Live for YOU. One day, one step at a time.