“Perfectionism is not a quest for the best. It is a pursuit of the worst in ourselves, the part that tells us that nothing we do will ever be good enough – that we should try again” – Julia Cameron
The mark of a writer is inveterate procrastination. Here I am, my countenance frozen in a frown, as I suffer from creative constipation. What manic epiphany brought me here; to entertain once more my pipe dream of being a perfect writer?
The blank page before me is my tormentor and I prolong its torture by circling its vacuity and aimlessly digging for inspiration. I search for that original spark, to ignite the explosion of eloquence that would be my deliverance of written perfection.
But I am at a greater loss for words.
Nothing I sputter on the page can size up to the elegance of my aspirations, so I obliterate the nascent sentences before they could flower into something beautiful.
I would rather destroy everything before it becomes anything less than immaculate.
This is the perfectionist’s anthem and I do not march to its beat alone.
“Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be our best. Perfectionism is not about healthy achievement and growth; it’s a shield.” -Brene Brown
The agony of the blank page, the unmarked sketchbook, the discarded boxing gloves, the trashed pastries still warm from the oven – we strive voraciously for unprecedented victory in our respective pursuits but are incapacitated by our expectations: elusive, towering, and ominous.
Perfectionists are self-effacing egotists proudly demanding nothing less than supreme excellence, while fearing uncertainty and doling self-punishment at the smallest deviance from perfection. In other words, we are our worst critics and we hold ourselves back. According to psychologist Thomas S. Greenspon:
Perfectionistic people typically believe that they can never be good enough, that mistakes are signs of personal flaws, and that the only route to acceptability as a person is to be perfect.
Does being a perfectionist make us better people? No, we are worse for it.
Perfectionism is a self-fulfilling prophecy of perpetual incompetence and worthlessness by measuring our value against unforgiving and rising standards.
What we cherish as an admirable trait is actually a barrier to growth and self-acceptance. We set impossible goals, not out of self-belief, but due to its lack thereof.
Perfectionism is a self-fulfilling prophecy of perpetual incompetence and worthlessness by measuring our value against unforgiving and rising standards. It nips creativity at the roots, stunts our growth, and clips our wings.
It draws our attention from the beauty of the journey and fixates on its distance and impossibility instead.
In all my endeavors – writing, martial arts, and even career growth – I focus on the insufferable passage of time in my journey, which seems to stretch into endless monotony from here to the end.
I want to be excellent. I want to be admired. I want to be the super amazing and talented individual celebrated for my unsurpassed genius.
But that dream seems more remote than ever.
My writing is never good enough. My martial arts training is not progressing fast enough.
I am not good enough.
This is the perfectionist’s mantra and we are unforgiving, uncompassionate, and unkind to ourselves. We need to change that. If we don’t give ourselves a chance, who will?
We can break through the paralysis of our perfectionistic thinking by challenging the root of our fears:
“What if this blog post is wordy and inane?”
“What if they think my art is stupid?”
“What if I give my all and it’s not THE best?”
We can test our fears by committing to our pursuits even when we’re uncertain of the results and feedback.
So fill the blank page, even when the words don’t sound right. Commit to your dance practice and your martial arts training, even when you’re not the best in class. Start that blog you’ve been meaning to start. Push down on the charcoal hovering anxiously over the canvas and commit to the vision you wanted to bring to life.
The fear of uncertainty is holding us back; the quandary of whether or not the results will meet our impossible expectations. But we can overcome that fear; we can build tolerance to our discomfort in the ambiguity of our success.
We can own the uncertainty by breaking down insurmountable expectations into small actionable goals. Instead of facing a long, uncertain, and impossible journey, we can set goal points along the way – where we can pause and relish in the important progresses we’ve made.
The journey to our destinations is long and perhaps infinite, because perfection is the ultimate paragon that cannot be further improved and will forever stand against scrutiny and time. This is our goal and our anthem, the beat to which we march onward.
So we march on, in our uncertain pursuit of the ever-elusive – walking, running, crawling, and leaping. We may never reach the destination, but as we march, we grow more than we can imagine.