I chose the theme "Perfectly Imperfect" for the women's 12 step retreat I've been asked to lead in the Outer Banks this April. Of course as soon as the title came out of my mouth I began to think long and hard about how to make it better. Finally I realized I was stuck in a crazy, ironic loop of perfectionism. Perfectly Imperfect it is!
I've only realized the extent of my perfectionism in the last couple of years. And the idea didn't come from me, but was pointed out by others others. "Well, because you're a perfectionist...." they said. My book would never be good enough and I knew I was the scourge of the earth for hitting a parked car in the grocery store parking lot. But I thought you had to be perfect to be a perfectionist. Or at least close. And nothing in my life looked perfect to me. The kitchen sink in my backyard (also, a few mattresses). My finances, hair, body and family all have minds of their own. At various points in my life I have had affairs with alcohol, drugs, sex, money and food. Many aspects of my life, house, purse, relationships, notebooks and creative process are very, very messy.
But, I've come to believe perfectionism isn't so much what you DO about the mess, it's more how you FEEL about it. And I've used all of the things in my life that didn't appear perfect as weapons to bludgeon myself with. Square footage (or lack thereof) of clear surface space in the house. My pant size. The pace of my career. The character defects that have set up not only camps but fortresses. The fact that after all these years in recovery I'm still not finished recovering. The list goes on.
For me perfectionism has also been one big, fat lie about the future. Everything will be perfect when......fill in the blank. When I graduate from college...get a place of my own...find the right man... get that man to marry me...buy a house... have a baby... de-frizz my hair...lose 10-100 pounds...finish the book, etc. Perfectionism is a finish line somewhere out there with another finish line always beyond it. Maybe I'll finally achieve perfection in the ultimate finish line, death.
Until then, I've decided I'd better not only get comfortable with, but learn to celebrate messy. Combating perfectionism begins with admitting that I have it and sometimes I still don't want to because that's so, well, imperfect. But recognizing it can be the magical key that changes it. This isn't the worst situation/outfit/hair-day/blogpost/idea in the world, it is.....perfectionism. What a relief! Being gentle and kind with myself diffuses perfectionism. as does writing down how I feel or telling a friend who can help me laugh at or accept myself. Listening to other people talk and write about their imperfect selves and lives helps too. I may have to keep practicing these tactics for a while or a lifetime. I may never get it all just right. But that's OK. Nobody's perfect.