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The Pursuit of Imperfection (and What Saying “I’m a Perfectionist!” Really Says About You)

Mind + Body, Stress

I don’t know about you, but I have not been at my best lately. I’ve missed deadlines. Let things fall by the wayside. Made questionable decisions. Just, generally, off my game.

At first, I felt uncomfortable about this. Then, I realized it all brings me back to one of my favorite, although sometimes forgotten, mantras:

“I am an imperfect person.”

Mmmm. The relief of resting in divine imperfection.

It’s true: imperfection can be a source of divinity, of otherworldliness and messy, beautiful bliss. Imperfect timing, circumstances, experiences and efforts all assist in the makings of our crazy, wonderful lives. That’s just how it works.

But I didn’t always think this way. As a child, I strove for 100%, for 100% of the time.

I wore my Type A badge with bright, beaming pride. An “A-” on a test was likely to generate a teary waterfall. Anything less than “the absolute best” just was. not. an. option. If there was a line to draw, I drew it straightest. If the teacher had a task to do, I got the job. Reliable, dependable, efficient, effective, in control, on the ball, put together, uber-professional-even-at-the-tender-age-of-7.

I told everyone I was a “perfectionist.”

Do you know what I’m talking about? Were you right there with me, all of those years ago, marching in a straight, pre-planned path? This kind of behavior is encouraged by others, after all. Praised. Admired. Rewarded. For me, it went on well into my collegiate years.

Eventually, I couldn’t keep up the perfectionist pace.

It started with my failure to place in the top 10% of my class at my top 10 law school. It might not seem like much to most people. But, I’d spent my whole life defining myself by academic achievement.

And when you realize that who you thought you were isn’t who you are, it can crush you.

Even if you’ve been an academic underachiever, that sneaky pursuit of perfection can rear its head in crafty ways. The athlete who’s game falls apart with a missed goal or injury. The artist who goes crazy when creations aren’t genius. The employee who regularly sacrifices health to work harder.

But here’s the good news: your self-care practice is the antidote to that drastically draining perfectionism.

Taking care of yourself…

* encourages acceptance of our humanness.
* directs attention inward, softening your competitive drive with others and yourself.
* focuses on the present moment, as it is, as you are.

Of course, it’s possible to be a self-care practice perfectionist. But resist. Give yourself room to try doing new things, to try doing nothing, to flounder, fall and, yes, fail.

And if you find yourself defending your impossible standards, remember that when you say “I’m a perfectionist,” you’re really just saying “If I’m not perfect, I’m not good enough.”

Ouch.

Do your best, then rest.

Have faith. If you screw something up, you can figure it out.

Remember the wise saying: “great is the enemy of the good.” Go for the good, knowing that it’s enough… and that it might just be the best thing overall.

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