Perfectionism: My Unwanted Sidekick

This is at least the fourth time I have started over on this particular blog post. I start writing something, and I think it’s about to start building momentum, but then I hate where it’s going so I delete it all and start over.


As I started on this fourth edition of blog post #6, I finally said to myself, “Screw it. I’m going to write whatever is on my mind and in my heart right now, without judging it or deciding I need to start over because I have something that wants to be said so I’m going to let my spirit just say it!”


I’ve been a perfectionist since I was born. When I was three years old, my pre-school teacher had to have a meeting with my parents. Apparently, whenever I painted on the easel, I would rip off the paper if I messed up even one part of my creation and start over. At the age of three, I was already showing perfectionist tendencies.


It showed up in my high self-standards for my grades in school. It showed up in the number of painstaking hours I invested in projects – both school and personal. It showed up in every application I submit for every job, volunteer opportunity, or organization for which I applied (apparently I tend to go above and beyond the amount of writing and detail necessary in answering application questions). It showed up in the construction paper hair I just helped my cousin make for her homework assignment.


And it shows up in my blog posts.


Which is actually super annoying when I get right down to it. I started this blog to be fun, but when I spend an entire afternoon writing one single post that ultimately takes 4-6 minutes to read, I think I’m going a bit overboard.


I stop and wonder sometimes where my perfectionism came from. Is it feeding a deep-rooted insecurity about wanting to be liked? Is it a belief that I can make up for the pain of not having friends by succeeding in my every endeavor (something that was more true in my pre-teen and teenage years)? Is it an attempt to exert control in an uncontrollable world?


Not that it matters what the reason is. As a byproduct of the therapeutic work I’ve done over the past few years, my perfectionism has also noticeably decreased. My confidence has increased, my courage has grown, and my concern regarding what other people think of me has diminished. But the perfectionism still shows up, just in more subtle ways than it used to.


My perfectionism has had its benefits – namely, it has helped me produce my highest-quality work. It led me to invest considerable time in crafting my greatest academic (and creative) paper to date (one of the crowning achievements of my graduate school experience – it combined SNL’s Stefon character and the Three Approaches to Psychotherapy films), and it supported me in writing my self-rev capstone. It even helped me start this blog. It helps me feel proud of the work I offer because I know how much time I have invested in these endeavors.


But at what point is it too much?


I love my blog, and I admittedly want to see it grow in readership and subscribers, but I also don’t want to spend an entire day working on a single post! When I cross the line and the perfectionism has gone too far, I feel frustrated, stuck, and sometimes even hopeless, tempted to give up altogether and just say "Screw it, this is useless," instead of loving my work for what it is and saying, “This is good enough, and I’m proud of it nonetheless.”


I find myself wanting the ability to easily discern what is a ‘draft’ or ‘brainstorming’ of a post, and what material is worthy of actually sharing as a ‘final product’ – but you know what? Sometimes the raw, unedited, brain-dump of a post can be enough. Is it ‘final-product-worthy’? Well, I wouldn’t say it’s unworthy, but I certainly wouldn’t label it a ‘final product’.


But there’s value in all sorts of writing! Whether is a polished article or script, or a free-writing, stream-of-thought, journal-type blog post, there is value. Maybe some people won’t like that this post is an unedited, loosely written blog. Maybe some people will love it. But I’m writing this for me, and I hope that there might be some people who read this and find resonance with it.


I don’t need to be ‘on’ all the time to be successful – and if I’m spending so much of my time feeling afraid of sharing my work because it might not be ‘done’ yet, then I’ll be trying to finish my writing for the rest of my life and will never share anything with anyone! Nothing is ever perfect.


Not to mention, I didn’t become a writer and an artist so I could be perfect. If I really wanted to embrace my perfectionism to help me in a career, I would have chosen a very different path. But I’m here – I’m a writer. I’m an artist. I’m a storyteller. Perfectionism doesn’t serve that; it’s not necessary.


My mission when I started this blog was to tell the truth of who I am and what my experience is; perfectionism started to pull my vision away from that original intention. Today, this is my truth. This is an offering of my honest experience right now.


It’s messy.


It’s raw.


It’s unedited.


It’s crude.


It’s life.


I will have writing in the future that I will spend more time on, but this post is not that. And you know what? I feel so liberated having given myself permission to just be a writer! A perfectly imperfect writer who prefers to spend more time participating in life, rather than obsessing on how my work could be better.


I wrote this post in an hour. And I’m happier with it than some of my other posts – ones that I’ve spent days writing. Ones where I’ve fixated on my language, wondering if my use of certain words are going to offend people. Ones that I’ve focused on trying to figure out what will make them the most readable.


But then I remember that this isn’t about writing for other people: this is about writing for me. This is my experience today – it’s rough around the edges, but it’s true. So I choose to use this as a lesson for myself: live my life, and then fuck it – just write.


Why? Because that’s what makes me happiest.


I hope you can do what makes you happiest – and don't worry if it's vulnerable, raw, or rough around the edges. I won't judge. :)


With love and gratitude,


Kate




(Cover image photo credit: Ricardo Viana from Unsplash)

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