Maybe you're just coming off the high of "winning" NaNo and realize your first draft is, alas, full of flaws.
Maybe you've drawn up a holiday gift-buying list and realize there's no way you can afford all these wonderful gifts you think you must buy for precious family and friends.
Maybe you have to sing in front of a roomful of people with a pretty serious head cold (that would be me. LOL.)
You're forced to face the fact that you aren't perfect. And if you never bought into the perfection myth, that's no big deal. But if you have, moments like these mean extreme anxiety.
What do I mean by "the perfection myth"? It's an inner script that says:
As long as I do everything just right, I will be safe.
You'll note a few key concepts here. It's very self-focused; it's what I do. It's absolute; I must to everything just right. It's nebulous; "just right" is never defined. It's tied to survival; my very safety depends on it, and the alternative is unthinkably awful.
Last week I heard author Anne Lamott speak (part of a book tour for her latest release, Help, Thanks, Wow), and perfectionism was one of the topics she tackled with wit, honesty and grace. This kind of striving for perfection, especially as I've defined it above, has less to do with being our best selves and more with fear. This kind of perfectionism comes out of the crucible of unpredictable, chaotic environments. Striving to do right is a means of achieving control.
But the fact is, perfectionism promises freedom from fear while creating more anxiety. Because the truth of all of us is that we're broken people. We've been harmed by others and we have weaknesses ourselves. The myth of perfectionism says I'm not safe if I'm not doing everything "just right," therefore, I must cover over all my inadequacies to stay safe.
That, friends, is living a lie. Lamott connected the dots of this to conclude that perfectionism is "the voice of the oppressor," is demonic. By that she means anything that encourages vices--like dishonesty and pride in this case--intends our ultimate ruin and is aligned with all evil.
The divine voice tells us, "You are broken, but you are mine. I love you and will hold and heal you."
Learning to find safety in acceptance by a higher power ("as I understand him," Lamott added, quoting from the Alcoholics Anonymous 12-step program) involves letting a mess happen and seeing how little it actually effects the people around you. They don't care as much as you think.
The other big antidote to perfectionism is laughter. Lamott called it "carbonated holiness." Laughter looks at weakness and is not undone by it. Rather, it is thankful for the honesty. Joys in it, in fact.
We stumble, and laugh and know we are frail. We are not the be-all and end-all of the universe. With that attitude, we can love well and create with the kind of honest freedom that brings more light into the world.
Trying to be perfect is a most dangerous game. So laugh when you fall. Your freedom depends on it.
Do you struggle with perfectionism? Do Lamott's observations speak to you?
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