Once upon a time, about nine months ago, I wore my perfectionism like a badge of honour.
Perfectionism, I believed, kept my standards high, made my work faultless, made me faultless.
Look, let’s just say I was a snob about the whole thing.
And then one day, a friend of mine mentioned to me that perhaps, just perhaps, being a perfectionist wasn’t a good thing. That perhaps, just perhaps, my drive to find perfection was what was holding me back.
As the days flew past, her words weighed on me. They sat on my shoulders, prodding at my consciousness and slowly, the threads of her gentle advice curled around my memories, connected the dots of all the times my perfectionism held me back, worked me into anxiety, kept me small. And then one day, while I was blindly staring into the inky blackness out the window of my tube, it hit me.
My perfectionism, wasn’t really perfectionism. Really, the idea I so lovingly clung to was actually fear.
Fear of failure.
Fear of humiliation.
Fear of actually being something amazing
(which I grant you, seems completely bizarre, but the mind and the ego are complex and twisty things).
All wrapped up in a pretty perfect bow.
You know, just to make the whole thing palatable when it came to making excuses.
Worse perhaps then all of this dark and twisty fear I had of ‘becoming’, was this shaming internal monologue I had grown so comfortable with. So comfortable that it was ingrained with each rise and fall of my breath and each beat of my heart; burrowed so deep it was an almost imperceptible part of me.
‘You will never make it,’ it whispers, ‘you will never be great’.
And I guess the problem with this is – without previously having the understanding that this is all just a load of bollocks – my past failures have only just solidified the belief. They have validated every screw up and every failure until, quite subconsciously, I had become locked, completely frozen in the deepest, most comfortable, yet completely suffocating rut of my life.
When I sit and look back now, I realise all that work I tried so hard to make faultless, I either never actually started because I was too scared to fail, or I threw away – essays, stories, blog posts; all completely magnificent and all completely wasted in my drive to be better. Those high standards I prided myself in just ensured I was never able to reach them; spending countless hours pushing, pushing, pushing myself to maintain a modicum of pristine. Worse still, my wholehearted need to be perfect just encouraged others to shove me atop a pedestal so lofty it made me hands sweat from the weight of responsibility and complete and utter impossibility of it all. Which, if we’re being honest, I can only blame myself for – I taught other people how to treat me.
If this was an isolated incident, this would be quite sad.
But the reality is, everyone is trapped in their own version of perfectionism. Things that drag on them, that wear them down, that perpetuate limiting belief after limiting belief. Fears about having it all. Fears about being skinny enough. Fears about feeling a fraud. Fear that is so comfy and warm and horrible that you don’t even realise you’re wearing it.
Which you know, is really, bloody terrible.
We’re all carrying these unattainable expectations of ourselves, shamed into silence because we’re not as perfect as we think we should be.
Here’s the thing though:
Shame breeds in silence.
Our inability to tell other people that we are paralysed with perfection, even those that we love and who love us back, just serves to encourage our isolation.
We think it’s just us,
that we are the only ones.
But let me tell you this…
The forever amazing Brené Brown says that those two words – me too – and subsequently all the empathy and understanding that are tied up into that one little sentence, is the simplest way to cut through the shame of our imperfection. To know that someone else has been through and understands and loves us just as much as before…well it validates who we are, our human experience. It breaks apart the vicious, perpetual shame cycle.
It makes us realise that we are never alone.
Perfectly imperfect as we are.