Shortly after my fiftieth birthday, I finally sat down to finish reading a book I’d started a few weeks before. The book? Brené Brown’s Imperfect. In the aftermath of my trip to the ER two weeks ago, Brown’s book hit a nerve. Actually, it dug out the demons and gremlins I’ve been battling most of my adult life: self-doubt, perfectionism, and worthlessness. And just to twist the knife a little deeper, it had me thinking about—obsessively, and not in a good way—if I, and by extension my life, mattered.
The Hazards of Perfectionism
During the four and a half hours I spent moving between testing and waiting rooms at Toronto Western Hospital, inevitably I panicked. Because I was, admittedly, worried about arriving at the end of my terrestrial sojourn. And as my frenemies self-doubt, perfectionism, and worthlessness swarmed, there was a brief moment when I wasn’t sure I mattered, or that I was worthy. It didn’t matter what I had accomplished over the last fifty years, the obstacles I’d overcome, or the pain I had survived. I was nothing, or so I thought.
Towards the end of her book, Brown writes: “However afraid we are of change, the question that we must ultimately answers is this: What’s the greater risk? Letting go of what people think or letting go of how I feel, what I believe, and who I am?”1
Here’s the thing: even after fifty years, I still get hooked by what other people think (even though I shouldn’t), and I still chase perfectionism when it doesn’t necessarily serve me.
Letting Go of Perfectionism
I’ve been beating myself up lately because I’ve had to put a pause on running, and consequently my marathon training, because of a possible stress fracture in my right foot. Not running is the smart move, but in my mind I hear words like ‘lazy’ and ‘cop out’ and ‘faker.’ Or the times when I promise myself I’m going to reduce my sugar intake, then make oatmeal-raisin cookies and taste test six before I put them in the freezer. My inner critic kicks into high gear, and I ruminate (brood) on all the reasons why I’ll never succeed.
The important thing in life is to focus on doing what we love and what we feel called to do. I’m learning to focus less on what I’ve left undone and more on what I did do, and realize that that is enough. Some days will flow better than others, and maybe perfection lies in being okay with that. And maybe, just maybe, perfectionism won’t rule the day…or me.
- Brown, B. (2010, 2020). Imperfect: The Gifts of Imperfection, Hazelden Publishing.