The Pursuit of Perfection

January 14, 2019

Hello, my name is Cammy and I am a recovering perfectionist. That’s a sentence I jokingly say to many if not every one of my audiences. People can relate. Women can relate. I can laugh it off, just as they do, knowing that it’s not my entire identity and that using the word “recovering” in the sentence is like throwing everyone a liferaft before getting uncomfortable with my story. There’s no chance to drown in the pain and I’m able to keep it light enough that they feel secure in their continued listening. As an audience, they’re likely stuck with me for an hour, so we might as well laugh about it together.

In reality, many of the women in that audience will feel what I’m saying deeply. We are recovering perfectionists. A struggle that is entirely mental and presents itself physically in multiple different ways. A monster that is subtle at times and all-consuming at others. It’s an experience that isn’t discussed because the secret, the imperfection, is revealed when you really talk to people about what’s going on. The nasty little voice keeps a perfectionist isolated, pained, searching for some way to fill the bottomless pit of desire that is the pursuit of perfection. There will never be enough. We will never be enough. It’s a lie that is continually reinforced with such confidence from the world, authority figures, society, and generations of women who came before us that perfectionists really have no choice but to believe it’s true. The thought that there could be any other option doesn’t even cross the mind. Deviating from the pursuit is terrifying, since control and constant movement, be it mental or physical, is the only sense of security we know. Our journey has been celebrated, even rewarded at times. Pursuing perfection comes with moments of commendation and applause, only to be followed by a debilitating question – what next? There must always be something next. If there’s nothing else to pursue, the perfectionists sense of worthiness is entirely destroyed. My value is dependent upon your validation of it. It is exhausting and life-giving. Mostly, it’s a mind filled with sadness and anxiety masked by a smile that doesn’t quit. The secret can never be revealed. If anyone knew the truth, that perfect is not what we are, our most vulnerable and weak heart would break. If people saw our humanity, what would they think? If they didn’t like us, we would be nothing. Look at us, but don’t look too close. We’re meant to be appreciated from a distance; that’s where we’ll keep you. The one thing we want to be freed from most is the one thing we do not dare tell you. We are not perfect. We may never be.

I am a recovering perfectionist, and I’m still learning what that actually means. If you’re reading bits and pieces of your own story in those words, take comfort. Not because we have a shared experience, but because we get to continue to grow.  We still have time. We still have the chance to live a life free of the devil on our shoulder. There’s still time to breathe easier, to laugh harder, to widen our comfort zone, and lean in to the wonderfully weird parts of ourselves we’ve spent so many days trying to hide. We still get to discover that our most beautiful pieces will come from the confidence we gain as we let people in. Not just part of the way, but all of the way. The friendships that will teach us what it’s like to feel completely safe with another human and the relationships that will teach us we deserve so much more than what we’ve decided to accept. There will be pain, there will be tears, there will be heartbreak, there will likely be anxiety attacks, but at the end of it all there will be you. Standing up one more time. Because, the truth is, you were never broken. You’ve always been enough. You never needed the approval of anyone else and there are only 3 people whose opinions actually matter. This journey, this growth, is not a straight line and you’ll be frustrated. A lot. If you’re like me, your own impatience will cause you most of your stress and your wandering mind will produce the majority of your anxiety.  It’s still going to be okay. You’ll fall short of perfect time and again and you’ll learn to see that as the gift. You can’t blame yourself for falling victim to the trap of perfectionism when you’ve been raised in a culture that tossed you into it before you could even crawl. The greatest gift you can give yourself, however, is the knowledge that you can climb out using the very mind and body you already have while killing the voice of perfection with the only thing louder than fear: kindness.

Start now. Make a promise to yourself that you’ll begin listening to a different voice. Perhaps it’s just a whisper right now. Breathe deep, relax, release the pressure you feel in your mind and relax the tight muscles in your body.  Just be. You’re already enough. There’s nothing you have to do, say, look like, or become to be enough. You’ve already arrived. There is no competition. There’s just you, learning to see yourself as your own creation. There’s you, freeing yourself from a life you never agreed to. There’s you, living.

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