“Seeking security or perfection, rejoicing in feeling confirmed and whole, self-contained and comfortable, is some kind of death. It doesn’t have any fresh air. There’s no room for something to come in and interrupt all that. We are killing the moment by controlling our experience. Doing this is setting ourselves up for failure, because sooner or later, we’re going to have an experience we can’t control…” – Pema Chodron
We’d all love to find perfection in our lives, wouldn’t we? Marry the perfect spouse and have the perfect children. We could live in the perfect house with the perfect white picket fence. We’d drive our perfect cars to our perfect jobs, and in the summer we’d take the perfect vacation at just the perfect spot on the perfect white sand beach.
It all sounds perfect, right? But think about it, wouldn’t all that perfection start to wear on us just a little bit after a while? Aren’t the little imperfections the things that make us who we are? If we were all perfect, we’d all be the same. What would be the fun in that?
Yet so many of us spend so much of our time and our energy trying to be perfect. Trying to be the perfect father, husband, son, employee and person nearly killed me. I used perfectionism as a hammer against myself year upon year until I was suicidal. It’s brutal, but it’s the truth. I set expectations so high for myself that I could never reach them. I always wanted to do more but never seemed to get anywhere.
I became a self-fulfilling prophecy. I’d beat myself up for consistently failing to reach my goals. I did this for so long that I started to believe something was wrong with me. I wore that belief like it was a coat of armour. For years, I just bounced back and forth between having an unrealistically low view of myself and having impossibly high goals for myself. I was never going to win.
I spiralled on and on like this for almost twenty years, until I wanted to kill myself. It took getting that low and that scared to make me decide it was time to change. It was time for me to kill my perfectionism. And I’m trying, but it’s so ingrained in me it’s proving hard to shake.
Let’s look at Pema Chodron’s quote again and see if there aren’t a few things we can pull from it to help bring about the death of perfectionism.
Fresh air. In nature, our bodies require fresh air to continue working properly. So why shouldn’t the same be true of our selves? Perfectionism limits the amount of room we have to breathe. It forces our attention all in one direction. To nurture ourselves, we need to allow ourselves to be creative and free. We need to be aware of other options, so we can learn and grow. We need to be aware of our selves.
Interrupt. Perfectionism is a very rigid platform to stand on. It doesn’t take into account the things in life that can’t be predicted. It doesn’t allow any wiggle room. Perfectionism is an all-or-nothing experience, and you’re either in or you’re not. Sometimes, we need to be able to go with the flow, just let go and let life take us where it may. There is joy in being spontaneous, allowing discovery and awareness to guide us. Interruptions teach us to adapt and be flexible, to be open to new possibilities.
Controlling our experience. Perfectionism wants to dictate to us how we will live and what our goals will be. It doesn’t allow for a change of mind, a change in taste or a change in expectation. It tells us we should always be happy, confident people. But being that way all the time would make us vacant and shallow. By allowing ourselves to accept not being in control at all times, we develop a deeper understanding of our selves and a richer enjoyment of different experiences.
Perfectionism can be addictive and self-destructive, writes Brene Brown, in her book “Daring Greatly.” It fuels the thought that if we appear perfect and do everything perfectly, we can avoid or minimize painful feelings of shame, judgment and blame. Brown writes that perfectionism is addictive because when we experience these negative emotions, we blame ourselves, rather than our belief system. It becomes the self-fulfilling prophecy. Perfectionism is self-destructive because it’s simply not attainable, she writes.
As people who are seeking to improve ourselves, we need to let go of perfectionism. We need to tear down the walls we’ve built and let the fresh air in. Release the controls and give in to today, right here, right now. Be spontaneous and allow the present to be your guide. Let go of expectations and let the essence of the moment wash over you.
Jason has suffered from depression and anxiety for over twenty years. He can be contacted at: https://www.facebook.com/jason.large.12?fref=nf
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