A Perfect Distraction: How Perfectionism Helped Me Cope

“It doesn’t have to be perfect; it just has to be interesting,” he said with little affect. I’m not really sure if his comment was born out of indifference or concern. I think it was meant as a slight insult that was also meant to be instructional. I have always been one to get stuck in the minutia and miss the big picture, forgetting the forest for the trees. For me, the details are everything.

I think that as a child, this trait helped me survive. I could control the neatness of my handwriting, the cleanliness of my play room, the amount of food I ingested. I could do this even if my mom was losing her mind or screaming at the sales clerk. If I kept my head down and focused on my own details, I was relatively safe. I grew to love the sense of control this gave me as well as the possibility of achieving excellence. Maybe I could find a perfect “method” for everything!

Perfectionism served me really well up to a point. I worked hard and excelled at school and almost everything I tried. I did as people told me to do and I put the highest standards on myself, too. I worked hard. The struggle came when working hard didn’t “work.” My body would break down and I was often faced with my own hard limits. Worse than my body breaking down was seeing others, who weren’t as rigid or hard on themselves, freely and joyfully take up space in life. I started to realize that other people had healthier ways of achieving their goals. There were other, more enjoyable, ways to succeed. There was a different way to be.

I’ve reflected throughout the years on the idea of perfection. Although I was unable to truly understand his words of wisdom at the time, I am starting to agree that it (life, love, art) really doesn’t need to be perfect. What is “perfect,” anyway? I am learning to aim for excellence and beauty while releasing the idea that any of it will every be perfect – not the feeling, the process, the result, or the aesthetic. And that’s okay. Life is still worth living and art is still worth creating. It’s all more enjoyable when the expectation of perfection is off the table.

Focusing on creating some sort of ideal life or utopia and the obsessive focus on perfectionism does not deliver. It’s also not very interesting. I know what he means now. How can one create a beautiful life while relatively paralyzed by the pursuit of perfection? What meaningful things are missed along the way?

I used to think that the idea of “learning to love what you have” or “choosing to love” or even “accepting” was another form of settling, and maybe at times it is. Alternatively, maybe it’s the way we learn how to truly love, through accepting the inevitable imperfections and embracing the interesting, imperfect reality of it all.

How do you cope with perfectionism? Send me your tips! 🙂

With love and joy,