When I was in grade school, it was before computers were widely available and we still wrote our essays by hand. They weren’t usually very long, but sometimes could be several pages of handwriting.
Memories fade quite a bit as we get older, but one thing I do remember is struggling whenever I made a mistake in my writing. Sometimes it would be a spelling error, or a punctuation error, or I would phrase something incorrectly. The kind of mistake that would require me to cross it out and correct.
And I would tear up the entire page, and start again.
To be clear, there was no penalization for crossing out mistakes. My teachers were supportive and understanding people. The point was to practice our skills.
And yet, I had this inner voice that insisted on perfection. And if it wasn’t perfect, I couldn’t hand it in.
At some point, I had a realization about what I was doing. I’m not sure what inspired this flash of awareness. It’s possible I heard my parents discussing some our family members with perfectionist tendencies, and the problems that could come with it.
But I had a moment where I realized what I was doing was hurting me. It was causing more stress, taking me a significant amount of time, and in the end, was entirely pointless.
So I stopped.
It wasn’t easy to stop. It bothered the heck out of me. And even to this day, I still judge myself whenever I make what I feel is a stupid mistake. I still have the initial gut reaction of unworthiness. That if it’s not perfect, it’s not good enough.
There is a common narrative in media and marketing that feeds into this kind of harmful mindset. Don’t you want to be the perfect spouse, parent, employee, friend, person? It’s the kind of narrative that completely ignores that perfection is an impossibility.
Not to mention, it’s a narrative that is so much harder on people who belong to oppressed communities. Because your perfection has to be so much better than everyone else’s.
In my ongoing battle to embrace failure, I like to think of perfection as a flaw. If you’re perfect, you have nowhere to go. Nothing to learn. No growth is possible. If you’re perfect, you’re stagnant. And how utterly boring would that be?
It’s my own narrative, that I’m still working to believe. But I like it a lot better.
So for today’s reflection – has there ever been a time where you’ve realized that you were caught up in aiming for perfection? If so, how did you work through it? Or did you? What do you say to yourself?