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“Le mieux est l’ennemi du bien. (The perfect is the enemy of the good.)” ~ Voltaire
Almost 40 minutes had passed, and I was still staring at a blank screen. And six months have sped by since I set an intention to write a book and still not a single page has come out. I’ve been trying to write my first book for a while now and every time I sit down to start, I get overwhelmed and think I’m not good enough.
I start comparing myself with all the other writers out there. It seems the day I decided to take up writing seriously, many people have done likewise and brought out their first books. The line that I’ve been selling myself is that if I’m to write a book, it needs to be perfect. It has to be the exact reflection of all the dreams I’ve had when I envisioned myself as a writer.
Do I think I’m Hemingway’s prodigal son or Steinbeck’s long lost disciple? No, the reality is that I’m using perfectionism as a way to hide behind my fears and insecurities. Since I was 13, I’ve had to fend for myself and put up shields to protect myself from failing. To fail was not only a sin but very often it lead to me feeling ashamed.
I saw vulnerability as weakness and perfection as strength, so I narrowed my scope and tried to be perfect in certain things while shutting many other doors to my growth and wholeness. I used perfectionism to avoid criticism, rejection and failure, and it served me well at that time.
It helped me survive a new, different environment that was imposed on me when I left the warm comforts of the country I grew up in at an early age. However, I learnt only to float in my new surroundings and never allowed myself to soar. I became the ultimate big fish in the little pond.
“Vulnerability is the core, the heart, the centre, of meaningful human experiences.” ~ Brene Brown
After Studying Brene Brown’s ground-breaking work on vulnerability, I came to understand many myths about perfectionism:
Perfectionism is not self-improvement, but it rather stifles the greatness within you.
Vulnerability and not imperfection is the opposite of perfectionism.
Perfectionism is trying to earn approval and acceptance, whereas vulnerability is putting yourself out there.
Perfectionism is self-destructive as there is no such thing as perfect. Perfection is an unattainable goal.
Perfectionism is addictive, as when we invariably do experience shame, judgment, and blame, we often believe it’s because we weren’t perfect enough.
Over the years I’ve changed a lot, dared greatly and have become more vulnerable, connecting with many people and not afraid to put myself out there.
However, perfectionism (or procrastination) remains a weakness, and when I’m taking on something big, I return to my 13-year-old thinking.
I’ve found three ways to overcome it:
1. Taking Action
“Action is the Language of God.” ~ Unknown
Procrastination and overthinking very often gets us stuck, and we end up going in circles. Planning is good, but it won’t get you anywhere unless you take that first step. Action can kill perfectionism immediately as you can turn a bad draft into a good one, but you can’t turn no draft into a good one.
It’s important to make your first steps small so that you can get wins under your belt which will then propel you to complete the goal you want to achieve.
For example, I will set myself up for action by establishing a small goal, to write one hundred words on a topic that’s currently interesting me. Before I know it, I’m in action and hundred words turn into a thousand plus.
“A moment of self-compassion can change your entire day. A string of such moments can change the course of your life.” ~ Christopher K. Germer
Rather than ignoring our pain or criticizing ourselves, we need to be understanding with ourselves when we fail, suffer or feel unworthy. We must remind ourselves that this suffering is something that happens to everyone and not just “me” alone.
Most successful people feel inadequate when they fail and yet they see it for what it is, a passing phase and an opportunity to correct their mistakes. They very often cut themselves some slack rather than criticize themselves.
3. Surrender and let go of the fruits of our actions.
Letting go is often easier said done, but when we truly start practicing this principle, we find ourselves enjoying the ride and not just the destination. We often allow numbers, results and opinions of others to dictate the goals we set and how we are going to achieve them.
I fell into this trap when training for a marathon and would wear a watch that measured my pace, speed and distance. I looked at the watch every few minutes while running and then analyzed the results when I was finished. I completely forgot why I started running—the feeling of freedom and connection to the outdoors.
Needless to say, all the planning and my attachment to results invited more stress and tension and soon afterward, I got injured and had to stop my training. Contrast this with when I took up running and ran a half marathon without any planning. I was just simply running and enjoying it, and only set a general intention of running four times a week.
Perfection is something we must avoid if we are to live an engaging life. It paralyzes us, and we find ourselves afraid to make any move. We get comfortable with our surroundings and use the excuse of “when it’s perfect I’ll put out my work” to suppress the greatness that we can offer the world.
This idea of perfection is a myth, and the simple truth is that we are meant to be whole and not perfect. This includes both the joy of successes and the pain of failures. And the only way we learn and grow is through both differing experiences.
All great people have one thing in common: they are consistent in their actions producing work after work. They produce their work despite the same insecurities that we have. They know that out of many attempts, one will turn out to be great.
They have tossed this idea of perfectionism into the garbage, where it rightly belongs.
Author: Mo Issa
Editor: Catherine Monkman