- Posted by Alaia Williams
- On November 19, 2010
- creativity, growth, perfection
I think, because of my profession, that if I say that I’m a perfectionist, most people wouldn’t be surprised. But I’m not really a perfectionist in the way they are most likely picturing me in their heads (everything alphabetized, color coded, indexed and cross referenced). The thing is, I never thought of myself as a perfectionist. Far from it. But one day, during my senior year of college, I was sitting in Chapel (a thrice weekly requirement) and the speaker was talking about different manifestations of perfectionism. It was definitely one of the more meaningful chapels for me. One of the few I remember from that long, tortured 4-year period of my life (I’m sure bits of the story will come out in this blog over time).
I thought perfectionists were the people who fussed over every last detail. Ironed out every wrinkle. Spent an hour on makeup. Proofread their papers a dozen times. And yes, they are. But that definitely wasn’t me – I don’t wear makeup, and I haven’t ironed anything so far in 2010 (score!). I was big on proofreading – but still, I didn’t really fit that mold of perfectionist that’s so often presented. I was (and am) a different breed.
I’m the avoidant perfectionist (that’s what I call it anyway). This isn’t a good thing. You see, a “typical” perfectionist might take up something and work at it for hours, weeks, months until they get it perfect before they share it with the world. Maybe it’s a recipe, or playing a song on the piano, or designing something. As an avoidant perfectionist, I just won’t do it. This wasn’t always the case.
As I wrote in my last post, when I was younger, I always seemed to be doing something. I wrote, I beaded, I painted, I planted. Now is a different story. You couldn’t pay me to pick up a paintbrush. Why not? Because I feel like I’d create nothing but a hot mess if I did. I refuse to take a yoga because I’m not flexible yet. “I have to work up to it,” I tell myself. No one has ever heard me sing. Why not? Because I think I sound pretty terrible. Gift buying fills me with anxiety. Why? Because what if you don’t like what I got you? If I can’t get it right, I can’t be bothered. This is the mentality that developed somehow, once I left the nest and went to college. Don’t ask me where it came from, I don’t know.
So you see, how could I be a perfectionist if I never worked on perfecting (whatever “it” was)? So I never thought that was me – until that day in Chapel when the mirror was held up to my face. I realized then that I was terrified of falling flat on my face – and that’s something I’ve been dealing with ever since. The funny thing is, my fear of failure and fear of trying has caused some missed opportunities and sad damage that probably wouldn’t be an issue if I had just done whatever “it” was in the first place.
This doesn’t mean I don’t like to try new things – I do. As long as it’s quite clear that I’m inexperienced, that it’s an experiment, there’s a learning curve, and we’ll just have to see how it goes! But if it’s something to be done/created/developed for judgment or evaluation -mmmm, can I do something else please?
I think this weird perfectionist thing has been part of my inspiration problem. I don’t want to spend my time writing something if it isn’t going to be hysterical or life changing or incredibly educational. I don’t want to paint if it’s going to look like a cat threw up on a canvas. My collages always looked terribly weird so even though I’ve always been fond of cutting and gluing, I avoid collage like it’s the plague. I still fantasize about decoupage. Does anyone even DO that anymore??
Terrible. Really, truly, terrible. And I am soooo over it.
But like any habit, it takes time to break it, retrain yourself, and go down a new path. I’ve tried to course correct many times over the past few years, but it never really stuck. The issue of perfectionism has come front and center lately due to some interesting changes in my life. Fortunately, some of the changes are quite positive. And it’s all making me realize I need to just get over it. Now.
So the other day, I ordered this book – The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brene Brown. I don’t know – it sounded interesting and it wasn’t pricey, so I took a chance and bought it. What’s funny and what I didn’t expect is that the book (which I am still reading), talks a lot about shame, fear, the three C’s (Courage, Compassion, Connection) and embracing your story. I especially wasn’t expecting that last part. Embracing my story? Do I have to? Ugh. That is going to take some work! But I can clearly see how important that is to letting go and being more open – and obviously being happier (and maybe more creative if I’m lucky?).
Not even two days later, I was reading the Success for Solopreneurs newsletter and what was the feature article about? Letting go of your inner perfectionista! What?!? Another one of those moments where the universe sends you the “Sorry, you can’t avoid this anymore!” message. Message received.
I’m doing a funny dance these days. I’m opening my eyes to the things around me that inspire and motivate me. I’m also working on embracing my imperfections and my story (!!) – which will ultimately (hopefully) allow me to bring out my creativity in ways I haven’t been able to in years because I’ll be more comfortable, less uptight, more open, and basking in all my imperfect glory.