Pen and Moon

musings, life lessons & poetry from Theresa Jarosz Alberti

Perfectionism Kicks My A** (again)

My new plan has been to blog 3 times a week. It’s a challenging idea (ack! what the heck will I write about?) that would move me in a direction I want to go with my writing. But last week, Dear Reader, I did not.

I had planned to. It was my intention to. Then I got anxious as the days of the week went by. I couldn’t settle on anything to write. A poem? An observation? Something funny? I dunno. I found myself repeatedly running away from the blank page and screen. Some might call it writer’s block, but truthfully, I knew what it really was:  perfectionism kicking my a** (again).

All my life, I’ve been fed promises of perfection — and I completely bought into them (though now, in my better moments, I realize they are lies). I believed there was this Nirvana where I would arrive if I just tried hard enough, pushed my Self, my body, my home, my family, my career, more. All the while, voices in my head screamed that I was fu*king up, that I’d better watch out because everyone would see and judge and sneer at me, see the truth about me, how lazy, bad, ugly, and a failure I really was. After falling down into that dark well, there was only one thing to do: pull myself up and just try harder.

Funny, that never really worked.

In some ways, it’s rather ironic… I don’t look like a perfectionist by any of society’s standards. My body doesn’t conform to beauty ideals. My house is cluttery and behind on much needed improvements. We have lots of hand-me-down furniture. I’m far from where I’d like to be career-wise. Etc. Regardless, I learned my perfectionistic ideals growing up in a chaotic situation. My kid-mind reasoned that being perfect would make me feel safe. I was a tortured A student, always anxious that I would get Ds or Fs. I’ve always tried to do what everyone else expected me to do, and was my own worst critic when I failed to be perfect.

I love the imperfection of art.

None of this is a fun way to live, or even realistic. Or productive in the long run. Trying to “be perfect” ends up in a crash of some kind, sooner or later. It was my way of life for a long time, until the costs of living this way started adding up. My attempts at perfection led to pain, a lack of connection with others, an impoverished and degraded relationship with myself, an eating disorder, lots of anxiety and stress, numbing out behaviors, depression, and a poor example for my kids.

To change this, I’ve had to work on perfectionism… imperfectly. It is a big paradigm shift, and the road is a bumpy one, with lots of therapy, self-examination and books like the one I mention at the end of this post. This blog ends up giving me many chances to practice. Like last April when I did my Poetry Challenge. My pledge was to write a new poem every day that month and just post it, yikes!  

It felt like I was walking naked down the street, my stomach flip-flopping since I never knew what I was going to write about or what the poem would be like. There was no time to polish or procrastinate. I had to give up the idea of writing a “perfect poem.” I had to trust that an idea would pop into my head and then write a poem about it. I had to embrace the possibility that it might be crap, and I would post it anyway. It felt raw and real, self-allowing and self-forgiving. And if it was crap and the whole world (or a few readers) saw it, I probably wouldn’t die. (Maybe just a little inside.) But then I just moved on to the next day. I grew a  lot from that experience, had a lot of great connections with readers, and wrote some poems I ended up loving. 

I’m finally learning that Life is imperfect.  It’s not my job or my destiny to get my sh*t together and present a New and Improved Theresa to the world.  This involves accepting my body, questioning myself when I want to overdo or appear perfect to others. It involves learning and practicing good self talk,  reminding myself of my values, and that my goal is to be okay with not being perfet.

This is an inside job. As Bob always says, we usually only see other people’s Front Stage, not their Back Stage. No matter how it looks, there are shadows and cracks and boxes of issues and old garbage piled in a corner somewhere. I’m trying to relax into imperfection. There’s nothing to forgive myself for. This is real. Just breathe it in

How about you, Dear Reader? Do you identify as a perfectionist, or not? Do you consciously work against it in some way? Any tips for those of us who do get caught in this web?

Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection has been so helpful to me in exploring how to move away from Perfectionism in my life. Click the cover for more info. 

[Photos courtesy of Joshua Coleman, Steve Johnson and Ricardo Gomez Angel of Unsplash.com]

2 Comments

  1. You are so brave to write this and share it with the world! I am in awe and full of respect. Perfectionism is something I also struggle with, much to my surprise. I had to have it pointed out to me because I thought if there ever was an imperfect person, it was I. I thought a perfectionist *achieved* perfection. Was someone who tried to be perfect, and became perfect through hard work and determination. So not true!

    You may not know it, but your blog is doing a world of good for those of us who share so many of your feelings and thought we were alone. You really are my hero!

    • Thanks so much, SH… funnily enough, I was feeling crappy about what I’d written when I posted it last night! I’m so very glad that it has helped you. I’ve certainly found that the perfectionist voice and drive in my head end up paralyzing me so that I often can’t “do it perfectly” like I think I have to. It really is a damaging cycle. With awareness and then working hard to change those thoughts, we can start to change these patterns and feel better, and then move forward imperfectly.

      And, aw shucks, your kind words about me and my blog. Hugs to you, my friend!

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