To hell with perfectionism

Do you ever give yourself a hard time for not being perfect? Would you describe yourself as a perfectionist? Is it possible to stop being a perfectionist?

I’m a bit of a perfectionist… I should say ‘was’ a bit of a perfectionist because I’m sick of perfectionism. It’s rubbish.

Now let’s define the difference between perfectionism and having standards… It is okay to have standards, especially morals and good principles.

Perfectionism is different. Perfectionism is always striving for the best, to be the best, even when there is no reason for it. It is a compulsion. Now don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with self improvement or having a goal. But where do your standards stop being enjoyable and loving and start operating from a place of fear?

I feel like I have been programmed to be perfect from a young age. I always believed I should get straight A’s, and conversations about school with my dad usually went like this:

“Still top of the class, Lynd?”
“Yes, Dad.”
“That’s my girl!”

So it’s easy to see how this habit was formed from wanting approval. Of course i forgive my dad; he grew up in a generation where an education really meant an escape from poverty or hard manual labour. Not necessarily the job market today, with so many unemployed graduates.

Here are the rubbish things perfectionism has made me do:
• not send a text ’til all the grammar and punctuation was correct
• worry about whether I’m dressed ‘cool’ enough
• only use certain pens in certain notebooks

I have now dropped these habits. Thank God.

I took up improvisation four years ago to have a bit of fun and be a bit more spontaneous. I love it and I find it useful for getting into a state of not being self-conscious.

Andy Fitzgibbon, a wonderful role model for awareness, recently advised me that I could afford to do 65% less, and still do an okay job. I found his comments interesting and scary.

So I decided to look at this habit a little more closely.

My perfectionism seems to stem from fear. From fear of not being right, from fearing failure, from being scared that my truth might not be good enough for someone else’s approval. From not trusting that everything will be alright, if it’s not perfect.

But look at nature. Nature isn’t perfect. A tree grows crooked; it still grows. The daisies are all different heights. They are more beautiful because of it

So I come to the conclusion that perfectionism is not natural, or trusting, or forgiving.

If I can’t forgive myself, how can I forgive others? As Pema Chodron says:

“The way that we can help is by making friends with our own feelings of hatred, bewilderment, and so forth. Then we can accept them in others.”

So true. So if I stop judging myself, I can stop judging others too. Makes sense.

That means, when an uncomfortable feeling, like desire for instance, comes, I should live with it. Let the desire be, and love it. Maybe give it a little wave.

Not jump on it, terrorise it, tell it how wrong it is and try to change it.

“Okay desire, there you are. You can stay as long as you like. I understand. I’m not gonna act on you, but I accept you.”

This conversation can only come with awareness of what you are feeling. So recognising feelings, accepting feelings but not being forced into action by feelings is key.

Another teacher put it like this:

“Within our impure mind, our pure mind is to be found.” (Dajian Huineng)

The pure mind is just a step away, in the stillness and the silence. If the ordinary mind can come to standstill, there the pure wisdom nature of our mind shines through. The pure mind is not a perfectionist, it is simple and loving and full of light. And within all of us, if we can just let go of grasping for just a few seconds.

So that’s it. Me and perfectionism – we’re over. I’m gonna care a little less, and chill a little more. So if you see me out on the street in my slob-out clothes, getting a little sloppy over my written presentation, or deliberately letting projects go a bit wrong, please know it’s natural, and in all of our best interests : )