Why do we insist on getting it right every time? Somewhere along the line, we got it in our heads that if it isn’t perfect that it sucks. We must look right; we must behave right, we must marry the right person, buy the right house, have the right circle of friends. And if we make a mistake, then we better shut up about it and not let anyone know.
It’s exhausting. Why do we do this? Do we think that we can marshal all the good things in life by behaving appropriately? In a society that says that if you believe in yourself and work hard, you can achieve anything, it’s easy to get caught up in the web of perfectionism.
But isn’t perfectionism a means of trying to control the uncontrollable? The world is random and chaotic and weird. Even if you do live by a code of morals and values you could still have your world completely torn down by sickness, disaster, or death.
Believing that our behavior can ward off the bad juju from the world is superstitious. Practicing perfectionism is a form of superstition. It’s just as silly as not opening an umbrella in the house, avoiding black cats, or knocking on wood.
I understand we want to do the right thing, to get it right, to avoid messing up our lives. Here’s the secret that perfectionism obscures: There is no one correct answer. There are plenty of right answers. You may make a mistake, and that’s ok.
Say you’re driving to Florida for vacation. You get on the highway, and you head south, you get on the turnpike, and a couple of hours later, you realize that your directions told you to get on 95 South. Big deal. You still made headway going south. You’ll be able to hop over to 95 when you see an opportunity. You can course correct. No one is going to judge you for going down the turnpike, the worst thing that will happen is that you’ve lost some time.
You may be going in a direction and realize that it’s not the way that suits you. Maybe your parents put you on a path that doesn’t feel authentic, or you bucked the system started down a trail that is beginning to get treacherous. Or maybe it’s a little of both. You can always change your mind.
A lot of us stay where we are because we’re afraid of admitting we made a mistake. Maybe we are scared that if we change something, then the change we make in of itself will be a mistake. Either way, we are in a place of self-centered fear. Fear that we will lose what we have (even if we don’t want what we have ) or fear that we will not get what we want (even if we aren’t even sure we want it).
How do we escape the paralyzation of perfectionism?
- Recognize that no one is perfect
- There was that one Guy who lived 2000 years ago. And we all know what happened to Him. People don’t like perfect people.
- Accept our humanity.
- It requires humility to accept that we are all the same. No one of us is more perfect than the other.
- When uncertain or unsure, pause. Ask for guidance. Wait for the answer.
- We don’t have to figure it out alone, and we don’t have to figure it all out right now.
When we let go of being perfect, we can become authentic. Like Pinocchio, we can go from being wooden marionettes controlled by our perfectionistic nature and into real people who are guided by our hearts and humanity.
Just for today
When I get agitated or upset, I’ll pause and ask why. I’ll try to identify the source of my frustration. Am I trying to be perfect? Am I expecting others to be perfect? If so, I’ll pause, take a breath, and ask God to redirect my thinking.
Redirect my thoughts away from self-reliance and control. Help me to relax and trust you more. Give me knowledge of how you want me to be and grant me the strength and courage to be that.