I Am Enough.

Via on Aug 12, 2011

Breaking free from perfectionism.

Perfectionism is an ambiguous term in our day and time, shifting colors like a chameleon, mutating from a small thought into an entire paradigm that separates us from the present moment.

As a many-headed monster, it not only promotes a false, utopian self, but it seems to care for you with such patience and consistency that it could easily be mistaken for a friend. Well, It is not your friend, but your foe. And It is not building you a dream life-house, but digging you an early grave.

At a job interview, when they ask you about your biggest strength, it sounds good to say: ‘I’m a perfectionist,’ yet you should remember to add: But when needed, I can be very flexible.

A flexible perfectionist… Really?

In a world where humans and nature are slowly being eliminated to make more space for objects, perfectionism could be a virtue. Getting the job done perfectly. Never being satisfied until every little detail is in its right place. As if you knew all the right places.

Photo: Bruce Derrien

Some symptoms of perfectionism:

- Postponing projects because you don’t have all the right tools to complete them.

- Replaying past conversations and actions in your head to the point of exhaustion, thinking of what you could have said or done better.

- Being uncomfortable in your skin. This can go from constantly checking yourself out in the mirror, trying to catch a better angle of your face or body, to suffering from an eating disorder and all the in-betweens.

- Spending precious hours of your life on details of little importance, just because they add to the idea of a perfect project, only to realize that when all is said and done, no one really cares about the dot on your ‘i’; that half your time and effort would have gotten the job done and even spared you some room for enjoyment.

- Pushing away your loved ones, because they aren’t the way they ‘should’ be.

- Feeling like a mouse on a spinning wheel, chasing after your dreams desires as if they were someone else’s shadow – except that the closer you get to them, the further away they move from you.

I am a recovering perfectionist. And I would like to stop kicking my own ass. Because, among other reasons, it hurts.

Now, I’m not saying that a pilot shouldn’t worry about all the flight details, or that a mechanical engineer should overlook any part of the production process, or that a surgeon should operate intuitively.

Getting your answers right on a test is not Perfectionism.

Neither am I suggesting that difficulties cannot be overcome or that a small amount of water, with diligence and persistence, cannot shape an entire canyon.

On the contrary, being human means being in constant change, and this change involves faith in what you can’t yet see or touch. It also implies that you have the ability and power to create an alternative reality, more suitable to the real You.

But there’s a fine line between fighting for your ideals, for your life, and feeding on the contradictory images that you have built as an alias for yourself.

Figuring out how to jump over a wall is problem-solving and adapting. Perfectionism would be the delusion that if you just stare at the wall long enough or wait for the stars to align, your body will somehow turn into water and you might as well pass through.

Perfectionism has nothing to do with getting it right. It has nothing to do with fixing things. It has nothing to do with standards. Perfectionism is a refusal to let yourself move ahead. It is a loop—an obsessive, debilitating closed system that causes you to get stuck in the details of what you are writing or painting or making and to lose sight of the whole. […]

To the perfectionist, there is always room for improvement. The perfectionist calls this humility. In reality, it is egotism. It is pride that makes us want to write a perfect script, paint a perfect painting, perform a perfect audition monologue. Perfectionism is not a quest for the best. It is a pursuit of the worst in ourselves, the part that tells us that nothing we do will ever be good enough – that we should try again.

No. We should not.

~ Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way

Perfectionism makes more sense when applied to machines or procedures. Even then, computers get old and there’s always an updated, faster, better version of everything.

But when entering the human sphere, the deadly P extends beyond just a simple figure of speech, turning into a virus that infects our perception of ourselves and as a result, the entire way we operate.

In the little things, it may seem like an asset, but when it comes to self-love and acceptance, there’s no such thing as ‘little.’

At the bottom of everything we do, there is a shared modus operandi, the same life script that serves as a foundation to all our thoughts and actions, no matter how small or big the task in our hands. And soon, our most ‘perfect’ asset becomes our liability.

We turn into machines. Except that we are Not machines.

As it is the case with any virus, the early signs of perfectionism are barely noticeable: a little cough of procrastination here and there, a small fever of disappointment with oneself and others, a bit of sore throat and runny nose, mainly out of frustration because of all the clogged channels of your creativity.

And once you’re pale enough, Lady Perfectionism herself welcomes you through the gates of hell:

C’mon Loser, try a little harder. You’ll be fine, once [this or that] happens, once you throw up or starve yourself enough, once you get it all together and back under control, get those abs tight, move out of your parents’ basement, lose that extra weight, meet The One (or one of many), have that child before you’re 40, publish that book, make that money, get your face in magazines, only then… only then. Just sacrifice your presence for the greater good. No one is watching you right now, anyway. Not until you…

Photo: Marija

Life is a process in which we’re constantly moving, going two steps forward and one step back.

But regardless of what or where you’ll be in a month, a year or twenty years from now, you can’t be someone or something other than what you are at this exact moment, which by the way, is the only amount of time we can handle.

Perfectionism is everything except the now. It is a parasite, it feeds on presence.

It is not only an enemy of art, but also of community and of the entire concept on which the whole of nature and life is based: synergy.

Where do you end and where does otherness begin? Whatever your answer to this question, are you sure?

So recently, in my late twenties, I finally stopped pretending, although—and here comes the deadly P, once again—I’m still not perfect at being imperfect. I realized I was sick but I couldn’t remember when I’d become infected. Maybe in my childhood, when my immune system was still not entirely developed and some imperfect son of a bitch looked at me disapprovingly.

Our biggest fears and deepest wounds are created in that tender period, when we can’t yet distinguish between truth and lies, when everything is a fairy tale and we’re all princesses and cowboys.

Ever since then I’ve carried the lie, the scarlet letter of perfectionism that has often kept me from being in the right place at the right time.

I’ve boycotted all my relationships, until my latest failure which somehow succeeded in opening my eyes. Almost every day, I used to make up stories that would substitute reality – think creative running on psycho.

If, say we were at a dirty-looking supermarket in some South American town that’s not even on the map, I’d say:

Hey, you know what? We’re not here right now. We’re in Venice. We’re about to have dinner at our own Palazzo, and you’re not wearing that ugly T-shirt or I, this old sweater… we’re actually dressing up for dinner and the guests are waiting. So let me fix your bow tie.

It may sound romantic, except that all I can remember now from my last relationship are things that never happened. I missed out on so many rainy, muddy days, filled with romance, smelly dogs, cockroaches in my apartment, naked joy for life, ugly hotel rooms, the neighbors yelling, the neighbors frying things, because well, we were at the fucking Palazzo, having high-class dinner with our imaginary guests before we left on our fucking gondola.

I tried to make him perfect and not being able to do anything else, he returned me the favor. It hurt. So this is it, you mean to say? I’m not the one you’re looking for? Yes, this is it. Face it. Eat it. You’re not the one. You’re not it. Read it again: You, the know-it-all, pretty bitch, are not enough!

But… what do you mean?

I mean that you’re so busy scripting out your life that you forget to live it. Who’s going to act in that movie of yours? When is it going to be played? Who’s going to want to see it?

And then you end up sore from so much writing, and swollen because the script is still inside of you, undigested – because let’s be honest, who could eat that? Please, don’t let it be your children. Don’t force them into being the actors for your life’s premiere. I am that hurt child and I hope to never be that hurting mother.

The worst kind of disease is the one you don’t know you have. Because it paralyzes you just enough so you can’t fall down on your knees and weep. You’re still that shit, not knowing that it smells.

You can say or hide all you want, but you can’t deny all the facts in your life — facts that end up following the invisible map at the very core of your being. Until that map is drawn with your own hands, you’re still sick, no matter where you are or who you’re with.

Oh and did I mention it is also terminal? All right, we’re all terminal to different degrees. You and I will disappear, soon enough. But this is murder I’m talking about.

I don’t want to be murdered, I’d like to die on my own terms, thank you! I don’t want to skip through this life, in the pursuit of a more suitable existence, that’s always playing hard to get.

So, realizing the evil that had been done to me, I did what any reasonable, imperfect, fucked-up human being would do. I said: Enough!

After all that has been taken away from us at different moments in history and in our own lives—wisdom, freedom, comfort, you name it—this is one power that still remains untouched. The power to say: fuck off! The power to decide what will and what won’t stay.

Even if I don’t really know where I begin or where I end, or how or when or who I happen to be, I know how to say: Stop!

My goodbye letter to Perfectionism went something like this:

Dear Fucking Monster,

You’ve ruined my life, my art and my relationships. I haven’t finished one single project because of you and those I have finished, I never wanted to display because what if they were not good enough?

Thanks to you, I’ve never been at home anywhere, with anyone. You’ve sucked all the marrow from my bones, and used it to paint an impossible picture of me, somewhere, in a parallel universe; an untouchable image of what I and the world around me might have been, if this or that, or this, or that, eternally.

I’ve unconsciously let you use me to create an illusion of life, an ephemeral balloon that pops every time I touch it.

So I’m now letting you go. Yes… you heard me. You’re fired! You’ve been a bad employee. Hell, I didn’t even know you were working here. From this day on, I say I am enough.

PS. And no, you can’t have any of my dreams as a severance package.

 

I couldn’t think of a more fitting, parting song than this Radiohead classic:

YouTube Preview Image

 

As for the recovery process, meditation helps, because when meditating, I am sufficient. It’s the one time in my day when I don’t need or want anything.

Friends help, because they can be your honest and imperfect mirror.

Work helps, because when fully and genuinely dedicated to an activity that makes you happy, you don’t have much time left to pursue imaginary perfection.

Exercise and diet help boost the physical side of the deal which cannot be separated from the whole, as long as you don’t turn them into yet more shortcuts to perfecting yourself.

If you think you might be infected by this virus and would like some support, let’s start a Perfectionists Anonymous group, in which we can begin by telling each other with sad eyes and a snorting laugh how badly we’ve screwed up today or for the past 20 years and forgive ourselves for not being all that amazing shit we’re supposed to.

Because we may not be the ones we imagined, but we are, after all, the ones we’ve secretly been waiting for.

 

About Andrea Balt

Co-Founder / Editor in Chief of Rebelle Society, Wellness Alchemist at Rebelle Wellness & Creativity Curator at Creative Rehab. Unfinished book with a love for greens, bikes and poetry; raised by wolves & adopted by people; not trying to make art but to Be Art. Holds a BA in Journalism & Mass Communication, an MFA in Creative Writing & a Holistic Health Coach degree from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition®. In her work she tries to reflect the wholeness of the human experience by combining Art & Health + Brains & Beauty + Darkness & Brilliance into a more alive, unabridged and unlimited edition of ourselves. She is also on a quest to reinstate Creativity as one of our essential Human Rights to (hopefully and soon) be included in the UN Declaration. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter & Instagram and sign up for her Monthly Stroke of Renaissance.

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45 Responses to “I Am Enough.”

  1. Cyndi says:

    I'm commenting from my phone and apologize for the typos. Not a perfect comment but you get my drift, right?! ;)

  2. Ben Ralston Ben_Ralston says:

    Andrea, this is fucking perfect.

  3. livingfrombalance says:

    I never realized I was a perfectionist. I was always thought they were control freaks and did everything perfect! I make so many mistakes how could I be one? Then my boyfriend told me A. My anxiety and worry was a form of control and
    B. Because I am so friggin hard on myself and never think I am good enough that is the definition of perfectionism!! WOW

    • Andrea Balt Andréa Balt says:

      Yes. Perfectionism is tricky because it has nothing to do with being perfect. What is being perfect anyway? Does any human know? Being a perfectionist is subconsciously believing that you could become so (if…) and sacrificing your current self (the only thing you've got) for the "greater" self.

      Thank you for pointing out control issues. I believe that being a control freak is synonymous with being a perfectionist, two sides of the same coin, both due to this illness in perception. Nothing feels right unless it adjusts to that impossible mental picture out of which we seem to be deficient. The truth is that we are, indeed, deficient, we all know we're lacking. The lie is that if or once we get "there" we will be fixed, we’ll be enough.

      That's where I say: Hell no!

  4. Kayla says:

    I needed this badly today. Thank you.

  5. Mir says:

    THANK YOU Andrea. This came just in the right time. I'm *so* in for the PA group! -thanks for the hints too, but I'd love to have more of those. I made a couple of those mistakes myself… and it would be really important not to repeat them in the future! Again, very sharp. Hugs*

    • Andrea Balt Andréa Balt says:

      Hey Mir, there are so many hints one can give and sometimes the best one is surviving the mistake itself. I have yet to meet another human who can learn without mistakes. Books are fine but so is life. For instance, I know that I will not be going to Venice with my next boyfriend. :)

      Hugs back

  6. Andrea Balt Andréa Balt says:

    Good idea Donna. Nightly PA check in. "Father bless me for I have been so miserably great." Now someone please write about the whys. After reading all the replies and private messages I can't help but try to dig deeper into the why. Who put this on our shoulders, as it seems to be almost pandemic? Where did we get the idea of "perfect"? I suggested childhood and I still think it is a fresh ground for planting seeds. But in order to grow a seed must be watered, get its sunshine… reinforcement, repetition, redundancy.

    So who did this to us? Religion, television, politics? (No, probably not politics…)

    • Green_Panda says:

      The perfectionist in me is annoyed by me wanting to answer with "society", as that seems to be an easy answer to all social problems. I think it's pandemic because it's a socially-based illness, primarily in the cut-throat work force. In friendship settings, a management executive would probably tell her/his perfectionist friends that they should go easy on themselves, however, at work, where the bottom-line is the issue, human "resources" must be as close to perfect as the company requires, or an individual resource could find herself/himself jobless and dealing with the stresses of unemployment, fear of hunger and/or homelessness, etc., and the social stigma associated with those circumstances. In some cases, the consequences anything less than perfect performance can lead to either catastrophic events or hurtful catastrophizing thoughts. I know I don't want to be a hungry, homeless, lonely failure.

  7. Lumbalgo says:

    Joder, la gente….

  8. Mir says:

    Parents.

  9. radha says:

    you are amazing Andrea!!!!! Thank you!!!! XX

  10. W.C. Camp says:

    Ms. Andrea: I took much from your article and appreciate your insight into this issue. Though I do not know you I
    wish you sincerely the best in dealing with this problem. It has been hard on my kid too and I can only hope she
    will eventually see the glimmer of truth someday that you have overcome. Take care. W.C.C.

    • Andrea Balt Andréa Balt says:

      Thank you! It's a difficult issue precisely because it's hard to detect and even harder to deal with, once you realize you've been hurt by it. At first it feels as if telling yourself "you're enough" is not enough. (The human paradox). But like any training of the mind, it gets better with practice. Much love to your daughter. -A.B.

  11. [...] [Previously posted at Elephant Journal] [...]

  12. [...] like to think with no thoughts that the heart is its own country, in which I am allowed without a passport, or any kind of [...]

  13. [...] you say and do the things you mean. 16. Practice humility. Eat your ego like a candy bar. You’re not perfect. Mistakes are just ways in which your life doesn’t [...]

  14. [...] You tell yourself it does not bother you—and maybe it doesn’t, at least not on the surface—but The Path of Shoulds is like death by a thousand little cuts. Somehow you have learned to repress your natural emotions. The ‘Shoulds’ lodge themselves in the energetic field of the body, in the gut, the area around the second, or sacral, chakra. [...]

  15. [...] perfectly imperfect and want to remain this way while I continue to evolve. I want to have fun. I want to be insecure. [...]

  16. [...] an artist—and, in the broader sense, a creator—-it’s hard to believe that you’re enough. In fact, as Leonardo DaVinci reminds us, “Art is never finished, only [...]

  17. midwifemusing says:

    I think you're so right…perfectionism is pandemic…and it denies us our birthright…the feeling of satisfaction: the deeply contented acceptance and joy to be living in the moment we are in, and the ability to enjoy the human form we are in. I, too, have been a lifelong sufferer of perfection, with roots in childhood, and reinforcement at every step along the way. I've been slowly waking up to the way it has wreaked havoc on my life, relationships, and my capacity for joy. I love the idea of a perfectionist support group…it is such a lonely condition. Thank you for writing this.

  18. Kristina says:

    Thank you so much for this post. I've carried perfectionist tendencies my whole life, to this day in fact. I've been bothered this past week with a feeling I've been struggling with and now see that my idea of being perfect has a lot to do with it. I'm happy you so passionately described how debilitating this can be an what a joy-stealer. The trick now is to not try to be perfect at not being perfect as you said before!

  19. mizbiz says:

    in this day and age, when everybody are expected to be overachievers in order to count as successfull (middle class) adults, no wonder perfectionism is pandemic!! i feel so old for saying this, but, back when i was a kid (i'm born in 1975), doing decently in school, playing with other kids in your neighbourhood, doing one or at the most two extracurricular activity was enough. these days, kids are expected to not just do decently well, but extraordinary well, while mastering some sport/ballet/dancing and an instrument and whatnot. the parents are supposed to be superfit, and not just normally well groomed but botox'ed, nip/tuck'ed and preferably milf'ish. we are all objects now, and always on display…..

  20. Love it, Andrea. Brava. <3

  21. [...] after hearing teachers encourage me over and over again to just be where I was that day, embrace my imperfections and have compassion for myself when I slipped up, I learned to look beyond perfection to something more truthful and joyful: the imperfect [...]

  22. Valene Stroup says:

    Thanks for this post! My 12 year old son, who get’s bussed for a gifted program through our public school (so a definite smarty) has the WORST handwriting I’ve ever seen! You’ve inspired me to work with him on it, as I’ve ignored it for so long, justifying it by telling myself he’ll get over it. I’m going to check out the Handwriting without tears program for sure!

  23. [...] His intelligence and inquisitiveness serves him well at his new school. He is surrounded by other children who are bright, well spoken and enjoy learning—the very qualities Xavier had once been ostracized for. Through the challenges of our neighborhood kids, we taught him he was worth being friends with, and that who he is right now, is enough. [...]

  24. Emily Taggart says:

    Hi Ms. Andrea! I love your article. You are both a brutal and inspirational writer, and I honor and respect that. It's a heady balance. I really needed this today, and every day now that I think about it. I usually don't think of myself of a perfectionist because "I'm too much of a failure" which I now see as entirely erroneous and hilarious in it's own sad right. I am totally down for a PA. Your writing inspired me. I published an article on here (you can read it here if you would like, I would be honored: http://www.elephantjournal.com/2013/06/here-i-am-… and I agree that meditation (and yoga for me) can be incredibly healing. I think you wrote a phenomenal article, and I am thankful for your poignancy and assertive honesty. It sounds to me like the start of a self-love revolution! I totally want a t-shirt!

  25. Konshu says:

    I seem to have thought that a perfectionist was one who did everything correctly all the time. I had no idea that "perfectionism" could be what's holding me back from reaching my true potential. I wait to work on my master's thesis or paint/draw something until the "right moment", I analyze and dissect my meditation sessions (even though I've been mildly told that to do so is counterproductive), I kick the shit out of myself if I don't meet my self-imposed exercise goals, and (this is the last one) I scrutinize the hell out of myself in the mirror (which, ironically, injures my perfectionist ideal of being the perfect male who is too confident to be burdened with body dysmorphia). Perfectionism is self-policing gone awry; it's sabotaging the activities I do to enhance my holistic health. Holy shit, I had no idea. Thanks for writing this article! Now I'm going to have to stalk every single bit of your written work and read it all, without fail…

  26. Andrea Balt Andréa Balt says:

    Thank you for sharing Temple. Welcome to the club. Let's kick the monster in the face. We can switch the "if only…" with the "even if…"

    PS. Can I get the name of that therapist? :)

    Peace back to you.

  27. Andrea Balt Andréa Balt says:

    Hey Mortie, that's a good way to go about it. And if in this way you can trick yourself out of procrastination (another symptom of the P disease) before you know it, you've been an A+ all along.

  28. Andrea Balt Andréa Balt says:

    Thanks John. Actually, what I'm trying to say is that being a perfectionist is, in fact, going to war with oneself. I’m all about accepting the dark side, in fact I'm already working on article about that inner devil I worship so often. :) But what I was trying to point out in this piece is precisely the lie that you yourself mention: perfectionism not presenting itself as fucked up, when it is in fact fucking us up every day by taking us to a place that doesn't exist.

    So I don't really think we differ in opinion, but maybe in the way we present it. If perfectionism was a dark side of ourselves to be accepted, I'd be having dinner with it right now.

    But I believe it is more a misperception than a defect. It has to do with seeing rather than being. A terrible dyslexia of the mind. That's why I called it a “lie”. It is an inability to face reality precisely because it is always building an alternative world that will replace the present moment, taking us out of our own picture. And it is only by embracing the now that we will also be able to make peace with the "demons".

    What I came to realize is that I was enough right now, with all my fucked up, imperfect life. (I've cursed more in this article & comments than in the past 28 years). But Perfectionism -as a misperception- did not let me see the sometimes ugly, sometimes beautiful truth about myself; let alone embrace each moment like it is actually happening.

    How could we see what is if we're constantly seeing what is not and what could only be if this or that, or this or that… no, definitely this!

    Or that.

    I'd say, make peace with every demon, if the demon is there. Perfectionism is not really a demon but a way of escaping reality and thus our inseparable light and darkness. What is there besides light and darkness? Just thinkin' out loud. :)

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