For the Recovering Perfectionist in All of Us
Still working on this daily…
Little Miss Perfect
Hello, my name is Cheryl, and I am a perfectionist.
We need to start an intervention group for perfectionism. Maybe they exist already. [Note to self: Google this because you need help.]
I am one of those folks who let perfectionism keep me from doing a lot of things. This is especially true if it is something other people will know about or see. I have always been this way, I think, but when I was younger I had enough of a fatalistic attitude to just go with the flow and do it anyway. As I have gotten older, this attitude has been softened by fear.
For all the peer pressure to fit in that we survive (or don’t) in our school days, I think adults have it worse. I know a lot of people who are acutely aware of and worried about what other people think of them. They don’t do something for fear of being foolish. They don’t laugh loudly in public. They don’t try anything new.
I have fallen into this perfection trap myself. I have resisted signing up for a class because I would be called on to do something that I may not do well. I have stayed on the side line instead of jumping into the center of attention and doing something others may think is foolish. I have stood tongue-tied in a conversation because I didn’t value my own opinion enough to voice it.
But, really, what is the worst thing that could happen?
You sign up for a class in ballroom dancing because you want to learn to dance. You take violin lessons because you have no idea what to do with this beautiful instrument and you want to learn to play. You go to a writers’ conference because you want to learn from other writers.
No one in any of these situations will be perfect.
No one becomes a dancer without stepping on some toes and falling on their butts a few times. Dance anyway.
No one (except the rare savant) picks up an instrument and plays advanced concertos flawlessly and with great emotion the first time. Do not compare your beginning efforts to those who have recorded the classics and played Carnegie Hall.
No one writes a perfect first draft, or second draft, or published draft without help from an editor and a lot of great beta readers who pick it apart first. Do not compare your first draft to the published work of a master author. Sit your butt in the chair and write anyway.
Perfectionism is fear in disguise. It has very little to do with not making mistakes, and everything to do with how we want others to see us. It is a terrible disease. Symptoms are procrastination, failure to progress, hyper-sensitivity, nausea, heart palpitations, feeling stupid and self-flagellation. There is no known cure other than to do what you want to do and do it publicly. Put yourself out there. Own it. Make some noise. Make glorious mistakes. Wallow in them, learn from them, and move on.
In the book, No Plot, No Problem, Chris Baty, the founder of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), says we need to “embrace exuberant imperfection.” That has stuck with me since I first read it in 2007. I have that quote taped to my desk. My problem is remembering to live it.
I am getting better. I guess, I am in recovery. I finished and published my first novel. I have become a speaker. I have attempted to play new instruments. I have tried to put myself out there more and not give much thought to how others perceive me. There is a chance for us recovering perfectionists to live a normal life after all. 🙂