I’m starting to feel like someone is spying on me, noticing how hard I can be on myself for falling short in one area or another because targeted messages on the dangers of perfectionism seem to be coming at me from every angle.
It’s like when I send emails, search a particular topic on the internet or buy something online, and then suddenly I get Google and Facebook ads related to those exact topics. I hate being watched and monitored so closely.
In Church, we talked about perfection and how expecting to become perfect “at once” leads to disappointment. “Be better today than you were yesterday, and be better tomorrow than you are today,” we were taught.
Then I got an email from a writer’s group with the headline, “You Have to Be Okay With Less Than Perfect.”
It included this poem:
“Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in”
–from Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem”
Then, another email arrived from Oprah about Brene Brown’s “Four Totally Surprising Lessons We All Need to Learn.” http://www.oprah.com/spirit/Life-Lessons-We-All-Need-to-Learn-Brene-Brown.
It quoted the same poem about perfection I’d read in the writing group email.
Brown’s lesson number three was “Perfectionism Is Not About Striving for Excellence.”
She said, “For some of us (including me), what I’m about to say is horrifying: Perfectionism is not about achievement and growth. Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfectly, look perfectly and act perfectly, we can avoid the pain of blame, judgment and shame.”
She said, “Somewhere along the way, we adopted this dangerous and debilitating belief system: I am what I accomplish and how well I accomplish it. A ticker tape began to stream through our heads: Please. Perform. Perfect.”
According to Brown, research shows that perfectionism hampers success and often leads to depression, anxiety, addiction and missed opportunities, due to fears of putting anything out in the world that could be imperfect or disappoint others.
“It’s a 20-ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from taking flight,” she said.
So I’ve wondered, “what 20-ton shield am I lugging around that I think is protecting me?”
I don’t believe I’m a perfectionist. I’ve never cared about being perfect. I’m fine with my cracks.
Or so I thought.
But, then I thought more about those three words: please, perform, perfect.
I realized that while I don’t expect to be perfect, I do expect to improve and get better.
I’m learning there’s a fine line between obsessing over being perfect and feeling driven to be better.
If we’re not careful, they end up being the same thing and putting us into the same destructive cycles that create feelings of never being good enough.
Because of my health history, it is vital for me to diligently take care of myself.
So, I do my best to move more and eat less. I expect to see results from those efforts. Yet, week after week, the scale doesn’t budge and my clothes fit the same as the week and months before. Then I wonder, “What is wrong with me? Why can’t I do this? Other people succeed at this. Why can’t I?”
Those questions never lead me to a happy place. They only lead to frustration, disappointment, and insecurity.
So, I try to concentrate on improving my behaviors. I tell myself to forget about being perfect in this area because it’s impossible. I want to be happy doing what is best for my health even if nothing changes.
This is not easy.
It requires me accepting that I am a cracked pot — you know, the flawed pot that couldn’t hold any water and the water leaked out through the cracks while being carried by its owner from the creek?
The poor little pot hated its cracks and wanted to be perfect like the other pots around it…until it notices the flowers that sprung up on its path. Everywhere the pot was carried there was a trail of beautiful flowers.
This has to be one of life’s toughest lessons because it means we can’t stop trying to improve even though we don’t see progress being made.
A little self acceptance may sooth my feelings about all my cracks.
I’m hoping that if I give myself some slack, I’ll notice the flowers I’m watering along my path without even realizing it.
It’s worth a try.