musings, life lessons & poetry from Theresa Jarosz Alberti

Giving Up Perfection

This weekend I was driving down the river road and saw a young artist with his easel set up on the bike path.  He was standing in front of his canvas, painting the beautiful Fall colors.  I turned and craned my neck to see how he was doing as I drove by.  There were colors and lines on the canvas, a half-finished work of art.  “That’s brave,” I thought, standing there in public where anyone could watch his process, see the humble beginnings, judge what might not look like much in the middle.

I remembered watching Bob Ross on public television when I was a kid.  My dad liked to watch him teach the audience how to paint landscapes, and Mr. Ross did have a mesmerizing quality about his voice (painting all his “happy little trees.”)  I was fascinated by his process—he’d start painting the scene and it would look like a mess.  It looked like a mess until he was more than half-way through–  every time I watched, I was sure he had totally botched his painting this time.  Wouldn’t you know, he always managed to turn his mess into a miracle, and end the show with a lovely nature scene.

All this has got me thinking about Perfectionism lately.  I’ve probably been a Perfectionist since I went to school at age 5.  I’ll spare you the psychoanalysis of my history, oldest child, blah blah blah.  Let’s just say that even though I’m nowhere close to Perfect, I’m driven by a self-critical, super-sensitive, judgmental, hand-wringing inner Perfectionist.  My family will tell you I can throw a wicked good party or event, but nobody (including me) has much fun getting there.  (Note:  I’m really working on this, and have reduced my frantic drill sergeant-ness a lot.)

I’ve been coming to realize lately how much this Perfectionism stops me.  I get so anxious and worried that I won’t be able to do something Perfectly, so I’ll cut myself off before I even get started.  While I’ve hosted the parties and holidays I felt like I had to do, I haven’t hosted a dinner party in years (my house is too messy… I don’t know what to cook).  A lot of my writing has stalled, and several half-written novels languish in my files (what if it’s not good enough?)  I have an interest in making art, and have purchased a lot of fun art supplies that I haven’t used (I’m not really good, I can’t draw, it’ll look like crap).  And then there’s this blog.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Yes, Perfectionism strikes again.  I’ve had this blog here at Pen and Moon for about 18 months now.  I’ve blogged 22 times, which amounts to about once every 3 ½ weeks.  Now that’s not bad in itself, it’s just a lot less than what I envisioned when I set it up.  I’d like to blog at least once or twice a week—but I’ve been freezing up and dawdling, wanting to come up with (dare I say) the Perfect topic, written Perfectly, and I must find the Perfect photos to accompany it.  Every idea I came up with was put through this old familiar filter:  What would people think?  How would readers judge me?  My stomach would clench thinking about this.  Most ideas—perfectly fine ideas—did not make the cut, because my Perfectionist wouldn’t allow.

Yes, there have been times in my life that cruel judgments have hurt me, filled me with shame.  I know the Perfectionist wants to protect me so that I never have to feel that again.  But it’s also stopping me—from bravely standing out in public willing to paint the beauty I see.  From making messes with my art that might flop but also could soar brilliantly.  From taking the risk to explore my thoughts and experiences, and having juicy word adventures in this blog. From writing what I want to write from my own heart in my own voice, and letting those words weave their way into books and stories and articles.  From allowing myself to be out there in the world as the real me—Imperfect, messy, silly and wonderful me.

It feels vulnerable, this idea of giving up Perfection.  It may have felt safer for me at times, but I can also see the harm it has done.  The idea of Perfectionism keeps me living in illusion, and keeps me living in fear because it never allows me to just be Good Enough.  But I’m going to try.  For now, I’m giving myself the gentle push to blog more—Imperfectly, but more.  (Yikes.)  Stay tuned!

*Photos thanks to Bob Alberti


  1. Lin Alberti

    Ah, Theresa. One former Perfectionist to one who’s working on it. We learn somewhere along the way that it only matters to the perfectionist who is working so hard not to fail that it almost makes them unbearable. I learned from observing my most social friends that if they can’t cook or don’t want to they know where to buy great food for guests. And the people who come to dinner are thrilled to have been treated so well. The less concern you have for the food prep the more time you get to spend with people. As for writing. My sister Billie would love to find the perfect topic or do perfect writing and I keep telling her just write! Meanwhile her hubby who never fancied himself a writer has finished a whole book which is now being edited but he never worried about it being perfect. He just knew he wanted to write! I also find that people like me better as a not- perfect person because they don’t have to try and impress me, not that I ever did that. My criticism is only for myself. So give yourself a chance to “goof off”, order some catered sushi and write a comic piece about perfectionists….someone wrote a whole tv character named Monk based on that. And give yourself lotsa gold stars for being married to my cousin. Thanks for sharing.

    • Theresa Alberti

      Very good examples and advice, Lin! I will do my best to quit trying to live up to such high standards. And I’ll have to check out episodes of Monk… I’ve had it recommended to me a few times! Thanks much. 🙂

  2. Mary Lou

    Beautifully written — even in its simplicity! I have been plagued by Perfectionism all my life as well. This inspired me. Please write more.

    • Theresa Alberti

      Thank you, Mary Lou. I’m so glad this inspired you. I’ll do my best to keep the writing coming!

  3. Ann Agrimson

    Once again, your blog makes me smile. It’s a gift that you give us, your authentic self. If you were perfect, your writing wouldn’t be half as interesting. Hurray for you to step out away from perfection!

    • Theresa Alberti

      It’s great to know you’re reading and smiling, Ann! And the idea that my true imperfect self is what people really want to get to know is just about the opposite of what I grew up believing. It’s a very freeing new thought!

  4. Glenda

    Fantastic. I never thought of myself as a perfectionist, but I’m discovering there are many different manifestations of perfectionism all boiling down to fear in some way. So well done for this courageous post – very inspiring.

    • Theresa Alberti

      Thanks, Glenda–perfectionism can be very subtle. I think it’s a thread running through today’s culture; it’s often applauded and seen as a goal. And yet it often gets in the way of our real goals.

  5. Rachelle

    I totally get this and good on you for being so self aware to have realised what’s causing it! I know I use perfectionism as a procrastination tool. Over time ‘Start before youre ready’ and ‘be brave’ have become my mantras! xxx

    • Theresa Alberti

      I like those mantras, Rachelle! True words of wisdom!

  6. Kelly McKenzie

    Welcome back! Good for you to step out and expose the vulnerability. I really enjoyed this piece and got a smile when you wrote about your pre dinner prep. That is me all over – however for me, it’s not from being a perfectionist. It comes from being lazy I think. I put off the cleaning and then am forced to clean in a frantic blur the day of the party. I suspect my children are less fond of me on these days …

    • Theresa Alberti

      Thanks, Kelly. Yeah, I’m the odd combination of perfectionist AND lazy, sigh! Or, maybe just-perfectionistic-to-beat-myself-up about it. But, trying to be aware and change. 🙂

  7. sdn

    Hi, T — I didn’t even know you had a blog. Well, now I do, and it’s in my feed. Can’t wait to see what you write next, and IT DOES NOT HAVE TO BE PERFECT. It can also be short! Just keep doing it.

    • Theresa Alberti

      Welcome! It’s good to see you here, S, and thanks for the kind words. I’m working on the “short” part. I tend to be wordy (she said to the editor), and I think it’s good to have some variety in blog entries– topics, types and lengths. Will keep on!

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