“I’m a perfectionist.”
You’ve heard it before and it probably had some sort of condescending tone to it, didn’t it? Like some white girl bullshit with that weird, yet stereotypical sideways head nod and the eyebrow raise paired with a half eye roll. Or it’s someone’s scapegoat as to why they can’t do something.
Either way, you’ve heard it and probably cringed… at least internally you did.
Perfectionism, albeit sounds great on the surface, is not a positive trait but yet it’s a negative one. A hinderance to your work and your daily life. Nothing will ever be good enough, so why even try?
In 3rd grade, there was a discussion that was being had between my friend, the teacher, and myself. “That’s a perfect circle!” I had exclaimed, and was making no reference to what was an amazing band to come later in time, but something that I saw on a chalkboard. It could have been a compliment to whomever drew it, but quite frankly it’s not a part of the memory that stuck. The friend at the time countered and made sure that we all knew that there could never be anything that’s perfect, as it will always have it’s faults. This hit in one of those strange, 3rd grader, philosophical ways that would morph your perspective on life for years to come.
There cannot be a “perfect” anything. Nothing will ever be perfect, certainly not even this piece. Everything has faults, no matter what it is, there will always be some insignificant breaking of the symmetry or some insignificant mistake made by the artist that, with the largest magnifying glass on Earth, you could find.
The rest of the day I spent breaking down everything in sight and why it wasn’t as perfect as initially thought. The carpet beneath my feet had scuffs, the walls had bump outs in the paint, the gym floor was uneven. On and on this went, sending the 3rd grade me into a spiral of criticizing everything… including myself and my work. Not coloring inside of the lines perfectly, not having perfect handwriting, not getting a 110% on my quizzes and tests (perfect meant getting that extra credit by spelling that 11th word on the quiz).
This was absolutely terrorizing to the malleable mind of a 3rd grader. Setting up this unachievable state of perfection, knowing it doesn’t exist, but also trying on each attempt of anything to achieve it. Oddly enough, I’m realizing now that this is when the decade long battle with migraine symptom began. What interesting correlation…
You’re now put on a treadmill where it’s your job to keep chasing the dragon, but it’s moving ever quicker and further from your sights until eventually… “fuck it,” and you hop off. Despair can start to set in. To reiterate what was said earlier, why even try? It won’t be perfect, you know what it takes to achieve that 110% and if it can’t be that, why be anything at all? The cycle begins. You’ve now stared your work in the face, you’ve thought out everything it’s going to take to complete to the best of your ability, you now see the mountain of tasks you’ve compiled for yourself, you see the entirety of the project… the time it’ll take, effort, thought.
Oh no. Well, you’ll be able to get that done when you finish the dishes, take out the trash, vacuum the house, clean off your desk, watch that one YouTube video.
Oh no. It’s 5 hours later. Okay, well, you can start it all tomorrow, right? Now that the conditions will be perfect…
PLAY THAT SHIT AS IT LIES, MOTHERFUCKER!
What needs to happen is a restructuring of the perspective and habits. If nothing can be perfect, then EVERYTHING is perfect. With anything, we must accept and love its’ faults. The mismatched carpet is artistically beautiful, the bump outs in the painted wall have character, the uneven floor helps your balance. They are perfect. Purely existence is perfection.
From time to time, it’s nice to reflect upon other more successful people’s perceptions of the world. Jocko explains how he sees things that “suck.” His question will be rhetorically asked if something sucks and his response to himself or his audience is “good.” The existence of the suck gives the opportunity for growth in one form or another. Does running sprints suck? Yes, yes they do. Good. If they didn’t, you’d continue to exist within your comfort zone and anyone with a brain knows that being comfortable is the opposite of growth.
Returning to the idea of perfectionism, we stare at the mountain of work we’ve created. The perfect storm of problems? That’s OUR creation… we did that to ourselves. We’ve created what smarter-people-than-I would call “paralysis by analysis.” We’ve now overthought the issue, the project, and stifled any progress we were going to make by asking that pesky old question “What if?”
“What if” is a killer. The hypothetical mind spends more time worrying than it ever did problem solving. The perfectionist mindset can’t slip. It won’t allow you to fall and pick yourself up. To fall is to break the idea of a perfect run. The fear of failing stops you from even attempting. Within this mindset, there is no growth. Growth comes from failing, from fucking up, from blowing shit up in front of your face. Without failing, there are no lessons learned. With everything needing to be perfect, you never tried. Now… the memory, the creation, the attempt of something great never existed.
Fuck it. Seriously, fail often, fail hard, fail big, and laugh it off while you learn your lessons. The only one that gives a shit is you. Personally, I have a great deal of respect for the people that get in the arena L after L chasing just one fucking W. Nothing is more simple than fighting. You put your health, the most universal trait we all share on this planet, for nothing more than glory. You just want to win. That person that has lost 15 in a row and continues to fight has my respect. Regardless of their record, they’ve spent more time in that ring than most, and now have more experience than that undefeated record of 3-0. What has the undefeated fighter learned? That they’ve played their cards right thus far, but they haven’t learned a whole lot from their experiences… not yet. Each upcoming fight is more pressure than the last. The feeling of loss is alien to them. What will happen when it inevitably happens?
Probably relief. Now they can focus on being their absolute best and not give a fuck about records.
To have an outline of a project is productive and helpful, but steps 2-100 matter not. What does matter is step one – getting started.
When you do fail, be happy, because now you have something to take from it, something to learn from the experience. You can appreciate those that have attempted and been successful. You’ll see all the work that they put in and appreciate what they had to put in for those results. Now little by little, apply those to your next project.
In conclusion, that white girl nonsense of holding their “perfectionist” mindset above you like it’s some dumbass trophy, can fuck itself. Focus on step one – sit your ass down and get to work. By creating your work, it will be perfect. You are exactly where you need to be, right now. Put the pen to paper and quiet the mind.
Get started… but make sure the dishes are done first. Dirty dishes stink.
“I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.” – Mark Twain