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The end of the year is upon us and 2022 is on the horizon.
It’s generally the time when many of us take stock of the last 12 months, reflecting on all that has happened and setting intentions for the year ahead.
How many of us will be hindered in pursuing our goals, dreams, intentions, and resolutions due to fear of failure?
How many of us will wait until we can do it “right” before ever making a move?
I have been caught in the trap of perfectionism, and even as a therapist, I am certainly not alone.
I started this year on the heels of a number of failures and losses—a business divorce, a breakup, a custody battle. Despite my best intentions and efforts, it seemed like every major choice to set up my adult life had gone awry. Yet, once I processed the grief, I began to see the gifts.
I learned that there is no such thing as “doing it wrong.” There is only “doing it” and “not doing it.” I spent so many years stuck in “not doing it” mode simply because I thought “doing it” required my mastery and perfection.
I demanded to know the lesson before stepping foot in school. I wanted to taste the honey before the bees ever met the flowers. It seemed reasonable to me that I would wait to try until I could ensure my own success, but the truthful result of that mentality was immobilization.
It was watching on the sidelines as others did what I wished and dreamed that I could do. It was jealousy, envy, sadness, anxiety, frustration, self-criticism, and disappointment. The reality was that my desire to do things well was robbing me of the very experience that I needed to be successful.
Perfectionism is a prison. It is a fear of the process of living—but lady life is messy, wild, and free.
The process of living can’t be tamed or kept. She will not play by others’ rules or conform to expectations. She isn’t going to make herself small to soothe people’s egos. When she invites us to dance, be ready to move and be willing to let her take the lead sometimes. They say it takes two to tango, and that much is true, so partner with her. It is okay to fumble until we’ve learned how to groove.
Failure liberated me from the prison of perfectionism. I would have sacrificed myself in pursuit of not screwing it up or getting messy. I was a martyr for doing it right, but life had other plans, thankfully.
In my mess, I was empowered to get creative. In my mistakes, I was gifted with wisdom and confidence. In my failure, I confronted my fears and stopped allowing them to control me. In embracing my chaos, I became whole.
I came to know the paradox of being human: we are flawless in our flaws.
The only true failure is believing we need to be different from who and what we are to be good enough for our dreams.
Here are the three things I would share with anyone working to overcome perfectionism:
1. We don’t need to worry about figuring out everything that needs to happen to achieve our goals. We need to focus on identifying the first step and going from there. Getting started is often the most challenging part of working toward something new. Taking the first step gets the ball rolling, moves us out of inertia, and creates space for the process to unfold.
2. Accept failure as an essential part of the process. Avoiding failure equates to preventing learning. Every experience we have along our journey provides valuable experience and knowledge for what is to come. Most of us learn more from failure than we ever do from success. Normalizing failure will neutralize a negative charge.
3. Embrace our humanness by letting ourselves be messy and flawed with the understanding that these are all parts of what makes us human and that our shared humanity is what connects us all. We need to give ourselves grace when we make mistakes, are wrong, or fall short of our expectations.
My resolution for this new year does not involve achieving anything. Instead, I resolve to allow myself to enjoy the dance, to embrace the process of whatever I’m working on so fully that it doesn’t matter what the outcome is. I resolve to allow myself to play, explore, create, learn, and grow without the coercive constraints of perfection.
If the definition of perfection is a state free from flaws and defects, then the key is not to fix our faults and imperfections; the key is to realize that we have none.