My name is John and I am a recovering perfectionist.
When something didn’t work right the first time or I made a few mistakes, I’d compare my efforts to the rest of the galaxy and decided my efforts were damaged and flawed.
In other words I’d give up. It wasn’t meant to be, at least not for me. It had to be 100% sterling silver perfect or it was never good enough.
That’s where the self judgement began.
In case you’ve never been there lemme give you the short version:
Trying to be perfect leads to stress. Stress creates anxiety. Anxiety leads to depression which leads to a wild ride of self accusation, self judgement and the notion that nothing you do, will be right, much less worthy so you might as well give up and go sit on your personalized pile of dung.
You start to develop health issues because you are asking your mind and body to do what it was meant to do on top of coping with all this other s**t you decided to throw at it for good measure. Your doctor gives you pills which lead you to having no emotion at all. But hey, at least you ain’t depressed and anxious! Right?
You feel like a fake, a fraud and a phony. You can’t find a certain part of you anatomy with a flashlight.
You try everything.
It’s very real and it can be very paralyzing and debilitating. In other words It ain’t no fun.
It dawned on me that I was fighting a forest fire with a garden hose and trying to put it out with one squirt!
Most of our break through moments are not produced in Hollywood. There is no background music, no tears or fist pumping. It sorta sneaks in unannounced. (No one yelling Yo Adrian! I did it! I did it!)
One day I am sitting on the exercise bike at my gym and the voices, suggestions and good intentions in my head were all talking to me all at once. It was deafening and maddening. It was a cavalcade of everything I was doing and was falling about an inch short of being successful. It was fourth down and inches and I didn’t make it!
I got really angry – Mostly at myself.
So much noise. So much confusion. So much insanity. I actually stopped pedaling the bike and just sat there wondering if this is what it was like to go crazy. I sat back, closed my eyes and yelled to all those voices:
“Shut the f**& up! All of you! Right now! I am so f**#ing sick of listening to this sh**!
It got really quiet inside of me.
I got really scared.
Oh s**. What have I done now?
All I could hear was clanking of weights dropping on the gym floor and the rhythmic sounds coming from the cardio equipment.
This is it! I’ve finally gone over the edge and in a few minutes they are going to come and take me away.
One voice had the courage (?) to stick around. It was gentle and soft.
It didn’t ask me to do anything more than exist. No hoops to jump through, challenges to face or other people to be.
Perfectionist me! Just being? Yeah right!
No books to read, exercises to perform, coaches to consult. (Blog posts to write!)
Just be and breathe.
For one nano second, one frozen moment in time there was no self incrimination, no reminders of everything I’d messed up in my life. No negative voices. Just me and my breath.
There was this moment of clarity.
Since that awakening I am learning these five things:
Please note: I am not a doctor or a therapist. The things I share with you came from my own moments of self discovery, my journey and trial and error. THEY WORK FOR ME. It doesn’t mean they will work for you. In other words, don’t stop taking your meds just because I shared some crazy ass ideas that work for me! ( I still take my meds!)
There, I’ve made the lawyers happy!
I came to realize what perfection meant in my life.
It is like wearing your sweater inside out. I was trying to be perfect because I felt inadequate and broken. I felt I had to go above and beyond, just to be equal to everyone else. Every time I’d hit a road block I’d leap into self judgement mode It meant I had to work harder to catch up with all the rest of you. Guess what? I never did because I was running a race that had no finish line.
Meditation is medication for the mind and soul.
Twice each day I sit down, relax, breathe and meditate. In the morning I follow a practice that helps me set my intentions for the day. They are wrapped around the mantra Progress, not perfection. It allows me to set some boundaries and some goals for my day. When I finish I can relax and enjoy my day.
A whole lotta little things lead up to one big thing.
Creating a simple to do list for that day is a big help. You won’t find saving the world on my to do list. Being self employed I have a hat rack with a dozen hats on it. I manage it be creating a list that deals with the most pressing issues of my day day. When I am setting my intentions in the morning the meditations help me create some clarity.
In the evening I use a variation of a Shinto practice called misogi. It’s a Japanese word that means to purify. I take some time to look at my day and to see where I may have clung to a behavior or a belief that doesn’t serve me in a positive manner. I take a mental and emotional shower and before I go to sleep. I shed those negative thoughts and behaviors so I can sleep and wake with a clean slate the next day.
Follow your intuition.
For a long time I played a game you might be familiar with. The game is Monkey See, Monkey Do. If I knew people who were happy, healthy and confident following a certain practice – I’d jump in as well. It didn’t matter if the class, or book or behavior didn’t suit me. Other people had success and BTW the guru who espoused it was world renowned, owned a yacht and a plane and was scheduled to help colonize Mars.
It had to work. The Holy Grail. The Golden Ticket. The Promised Land. Right? Except when it didn’t and then it was the same old rinse and repeat. There must be something wrong with me.
I’m not throwing shade. These programs and ideas do work. They just didn’t work for me. But instead of going with my intuition and taking a pause I was so desperate to be perfect that I went along with everyone else.
I am learning that when faced with a decision, I stop, take a deep breath and listen to my soul. Is it right for me? How will I benefit from the decision?
I’m not going to lie. Old habits die hard. I’ve spent most of my life trying to prove something I didn’t have to prove in the first place. Following my intuition takes practice and I gotta tell you that I’m about 75% successful. But ya know what? Nobody’s perfect!
Talk to someone.
I walked around with a lot of this all bottled up inside of me for a long time. You’see I was different. I had to be different in order to be perfect. I could do this all on my own, until I couldn’t.
There was no moment of enlightenment that led me to my therapist. It was 100% survival mode. I was out of options. The walls were closing in. Okay, you get it right? I didn’t go kicking and screaming but once again, even in 2019, I felt like there was something wrong with me.
By this point in my life I should have all this stuff behind me.
This I can tell you, along with my meditation and learning to trust my intuition, working with a therapist to improve my mental health has been a life saver in managing my perfectionism.
My therapist is someone who can be objective. There is no emotional skein to unwind.
She speaks gently but bluntly which suits me just fine.
It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
Health, wellness, success, call it what you will, does not happen in thirty five seconds.
I have to laugh when I get one of those emails that says Follow this plan and you’ll be earning six figures in six months! You’d be surprised at the people who’ve invested in this hokum. They are people like me. People who think we have to rush to the front of the line and prove our value and worth. In reality it takes a lifetime of learning and hard work.
If someone suggests a magic short cut RUN!!!!
I’m going to offer you a sixth reason. A bonus of sorts.
Through my entire adult journey, my wife, partner, friend and advocate Joan has always been their to support me.
I’m not gonna sit here and tell you we walk around smiling and hugging and kissing and singing all day long.
We have a pretty typical marriage. We agree on most things but not everything. We argue about really important stuff like how my driving habits scare the snot out of her sometimes and how I’m always right even when I’m not . In the end though, being with her is my safe place and everyone, perfect or not needs a safe place. To me, this is the most important point of all. I can be me, warts and all, and I know I’n never judged.
So, that’s a wrap.
Please share this post with anyone you feel may need to read it and if you feel moved to do so I’d love to hear how you manage perfection in your life. You can email me at John@NewCareerCreations.com
Until next time.