March 20, 2019
by eM Life Teacher Breon Michel
|One day you finally knew|
|what you had to do, and began,|
|though the voices around you|
|their bad advice —|
|though the whole house|
|began to tremble|
|and you felt the old tug|
|at your ankles.|
|“Mend my life!”|
|each voice cried.|
|But you didn’t stop.|
Sitting down to write an article on perfectionism, a habit that’s persistently plagued me for the better part of three decades, and also one I’ve devoted enormous energy to overcome, made me realize just how true it is that old habits die hard.
At many different turns in the writing process, I heard quips from my inner perfectionist:
“That opening needs to be more original. Don’t you know how common – and boring – it is to start with a question?”
“That sentence doesn’t flow right. Nope, not that either. Ugh, still not right.”
“When will you be done? You’re taking a long time on this paragraph.” And then a few seconds later: “You need to spend more time thinking about what you really want to say here.”
Lest you see these comments as healthy, helpful attempts to improve the quality of my work, it should be noted that nothing is ever good enough for my inner perfectionist. I could write the same sentence differently one hundred times and still not succeed in her eyes.
Years ago – and still today, if I’m not careful – I’d have blindly followed this advice, instantly ditching anything that appeared mediocre, giving her full authority over my life.
Today, I do a better job of seeing this habit for what it is, and understanding where it comes from. I know its aim isn’t to hurt or derail me as much as it is to protect me from failure or rejection. It was born out of a need for positive attention and praise as a youngster, and most of the time, the strategy paid off, yielding compliments from well-respected teachers, coaches, and family members. No big surprise, then, that I stayed on this path for many years!
Over time, however, and largely due to a dedicated mindfulness practice, I started to notice real issues with this approach to life. Namely, that it was burdensome to constantly worry about how to shape myself in order to please others. At a certain point, expending precious energy being someone I’m not became more harmful than helpful, and I began to prioritize realness and reclaim my wholeness, rather than try to hide my flaws and imperfections.
Trading Out Perfectionism for Wholeness
Parker Palmer writes, “There are no shortcuts to wholeness. The only way to become whole is to put our arms lovingly around everything we’ve shown ourselves to be: self-serving and generous, spiteful and compassionate, cowardly and courageous, treacherous and trustworthy. We must be able to say to ourselves and to the world at large, ‘I am all of the above.’”
How does this sit with you… has it been relatively easy to learn about, maybe even accept, some of your shortcomings and imperfections? Or, do you feel cut-off from these parts of yourself?
Do you find there are situations or people with whom you tend to strive for perfection in an effort to protect yourself from failure or rejection? What are the costs to this approach?
Alternatively, what happens when you’ve been able to let go of looking or behaving a certain perfect way? Is the quality of your work or relationship positively impacted or is your creative energy more fluid and far-reaching?
What would it be like to notice and include your whole self more regularly – yes, even the parts that are unbaked, messy and afraid? Is it possible that they aren’t as bad as you think, or even that, upon turning toward them, you may discover seeds for awakening your full creative and loving capacity?
For all of us who struggle with perfectionism, may we find ourselves living into the wise, hopeful words of the beloved, late poet, Mary Oliver:
|And there was a new voice|
|which you slowly|
|recognized as your own,|
|that kept you company|
|as you strode deeper and deeper|
|into the world,|
|determined to do|
|the only thing you could do —|
|determined to save|
|the only life that you could save.|
Poem excerpts extracted from Mary Oliver’s, The Journey.
For tips on overcoming perfectionism and more visit eM Life. Access on-demand content, expert instructors, and a community of support. Start learning mindfulness skills that can help you overcome perfectionism, foster wholeness, and grow from the inside out.
About the Author
Breon Michel, MAPP, is a MBSR teacher in Phoenix, AZ. Also a mother of two, her mission is to support parents who are doing the hard, uncertain work of raising children in modern times. Providing families with tools to feel more connected, balanced and peaceful while creating an environment for children to thrive, in both the short- and long-term. Breon writes about various mindful parenting topics on her blog page & on Instagram, @breon.michel.