• jennifer raper

Little Miss Perfect is a Troublemaker (The Broken Promises of Perfection)

I have not written a blog in a few months now. It would be easy to blame that on being busy which is not a lie, but the real truth is that I have been scared. I had a really great response to my first few posts and got a lot of subscribers quickly. While that was exciting, it also made me feel this heavy burden that if I didn’t write something perfect enough, I might disappoint those readers or not give them the help they were desiring. I felt paralyzed with fear and ended up doing nothing. Oddly enough, that’s one of the biggest pitfalls of perfectionism:

You actually end up achieving less because your fear of failure causes you to procrastinate.

Every time I sat down to write, I felt that pressure. I tensed up, dread poured over me, my chest felt tight. What had once been a fun activity had become a time I loathed, and that weight of perfection blocked me from being candid, the reason I started this blog in the first place.

Perfectionism has this nice little ring to it as though it’s a striving for excellence or superior quality, but it’s simply fear wearing a disguise. High achievers enjoy goals and the process of reaching them. They can be satisfied with their best effort and relish the fruits of their labor. Perfectionists, on the other hand, have such high and often unattainable standards that they cannot have fun on the journey as the end goal of absolute perfection is the singular focus.

I was wondering what the root of this behavior might be and thought back to my first memory of the need to be perfect.

When I was in the kindergarten, I was chosen as the reader for our end-of-year program. With all the parents watching, I would be called to the front of the stage and handed a book I had never before seen and asked to read it into the microphone on the spot. I loved reading, and when I learned I had this coveted spot I couldn't hide my excitement as I walked around with a snaggle-toothed grin. During the rehearsal the day before the program, I overheard one of the teachers mention that a boy in my class who had just returned from being out sick did not have a role and suggested he be put in my slot since I was also part of another group performing later in the program. The other teacher whispered “She’s a fast reader, and he’s not nearly as bright. That could be a disaster and embarrass us all.” I wasn’t completely sure what “not as bright” meant, but I knew I liked being chosen and didn’t want to be the one to embarrass all the teachers. It’s interesting how my little brain processed that exchange, and rather than feeling confident because I was labeled the “good reader,” I walked away with fear of being in the other student’s shoes and vowed I could never let that happen. I stayed on my best behavior until the program to ensure my spot and the butterflies of excitement turned into a gnawing in the pit of my stomach as I experienced the anxiety and pressure to not fail for the first time.

And thus...Little Miss Perfect was born.

Perfection feels safe because it makes a lot of promises.

It assures us that as long as we make no errors, perform at our peak potential and get everything right we will be free from any negative consequences, including worst of all negative feelings about ourselves. If I always put my keys in the front pocket of my purse, I will never be late to an appointment because I ran around the house lifting up cushions and flinging open drawers in a desperate attempt to locate them. If I am impeccable at my job, I will never have client complaints or problems. If I stay attractive, keep the romance alive and fulfill every need of my partner he will never fall out of love with me. And of course, the absence of these problems means I will live happily ever after.

Not true. It’s just an illusion.

We cannot guarantee outcomes, we cannot control other people’s behavior, we cannot make our lives problem or pain-free, and most importantly we cannot be perfect all the time. We can, however, choose to enjoy the process, find joy in a job well done, learn from our mistakes and not take ourselves so seriously.

The sad irony of perfectionism is that in our endeavor for a flawless life, we fill our days with anxiety and miss out on opportunities and experiences that could enrich them.

Furthermore, the failure over which we fret is never as catastrophic as we imagine.

Voltaire famously said “Perfect is the enemy of good.” I don’t want a life of avoidance, resistance and fear. I want to savor as many moments as possible. So I choose good. I choose imperfection, and I choose to take action in the face of fear.

Finally...Little Miss Perfect has been retired, and Little Miss Good Enough is learning the ropes.

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