I am a perfectionist.
This is a difficult identity for me to acknowledge.
I have prided myself on being spontaneous, flexible, easygoing, just messy enough to call it natural, and reckless enough to call it fun.
When I found myself only two years into my new profession of being a mental health therapist completely exhausted, unmotivated, and uninspired, I panicked. I applied for another job I thought I easily had, but got rejected. I panicked again and cried.
Shortly after, when a relationship that I was so sure was “going to be it” ended, I cried and attempted to reconcile that I might not be meant for a relationship. I didn’t understand this new pattern. For the first time, I felt like an ultimate failure.
I had of course experienced rejection before, I had creative endeavors flop, and I have had more than a couple relationships that didn’t end happily ever after. However, this time was different. I didn’t have any energy left to rationalize my experience, and no fairy godmother to bail me out and tell me I’m amazing.
After many therapy sessions, solo travelling, and reconnecting with myself through movement and dance, I discovered that the real pain was realizing how hard I had been working for so long to avoid failing. And not just failing, but failing to be the best.
My musings led me to the belief that perfectionism stems from the desire to overshadow our perceived inadequacies, relying on denial, superiority complexes, and oppressive behavior toward others and ourselves to imitate feelings of self-confidence, esteem, and even wholeness.
Perfectionism has successfully damaged several of my relationships, if not completely ruining them, and it interrupted my ability to trust my own instincts. Perfectionism creates competition for me against those I care for, admire, and respect, and it sets unmeetable standards and expectations for those I attempt to trust intimately.
This causes me endless dissatisfaction in others. My perfectionism pushes me to cross my own boundaries, overextending myself to superhero-like behavior that leaves me exhausted, confused, obligated, but oh so validated by “doing what others can’t.”
Perfectionism, this innate desire to avoid failure accompanied with an unrealistic sense of achievement, causes us to be focused on the outward response, rather than the internal guidance. This means we are not exercising the communication between body, mind, and spirit, and therefore are not integrating all the aspects of our being.
We function differently when we feel like we are on the outside looking in. We make choices that are not right for us because we are ignoring the totality of our needs and desires. We enter relationships that are damaging and abusive. We abuse and damage others unknowingly, because we are unaware of the capacity of our impact on others.
We try too hard and end up with wrong reward. Instead of feeling satisfaction for what we have accomplished, we see what wasn’t enough, believing we are not enough, and we push harder. We try too hard, without space, flexibility, or breath.
Perfectionism holds us back, it holds me back.
I procrastinate to avoid the fear of failing. I waited until the last minute to write for two of the most important projects of my academic career. It was a terrible experience, both times, and I didn’t do my best work. I now know that I did this to give myself the excuse to avoid feeling the failure.
A great mentor once told me, “Don’t let the fear of doing the work keep you from doing the work.” I have mulled over that quote for the last eight years, maybe finally understanding that it means we need to stop self-editing instantaneously and relentlessly.
Whatever your work is, you must do it, and it is good enough. Perfect or not, it belongs to you. Own it.