Daring Greatly: Perfectionism

Of all the parts I’ve written in this series, this one is the most important to me personally. It contains some of the issues that continue to be my personal challenges. I approach this with not little discomfort.

When in the grip of vulnerability Ms Brene Brown tells us, there are certain behaviors we manifest, consciously or unconsciously. To my absolute dismay I found that I manifest the worst of them. It was a sobering and very uncomfortable realization. But I suppose, this is how we open our eyes to who we really are.

The first thing we do in an attempt to counter vulnerability is to Forebode Joy. When something really good has happened, do you ever find yourself crossing your fingers- physically or mentally? Do you ever bite your tongue and mutter a hasty (and fearful) touch-wood while trying to quell the rising tide of delight within you? I do.

The reason? You’re sure it is too good to happen/ last. You don’t want to ‘tempt fate’. You are convinced that speaking about (or really letting yourself feel the joy of that moment) will unleash all the malevolent forces of the universe upon you and that thing/ event/ person will be snatched away from you.

Who on earth programmed this nonsense into us?! What absolute drivel it is! The only way there can be an iota of truth in this silly belief is if you believe that the universe is a terrible monster out to suck your joy. A dementor (thank you JK Rowlings) if you will. Can anything be a bigger lie?

The solution? Practice Gratitude. Instead of looking over your shoulder in a moment of joy, expecting the boogey-man to reach his slimy hand and snatch away the reason for your joy, express your gratitude. It seems to be a simplistic measure, but it isn’t. I’ve been practicing it for a week and it really, truly has brought peace to my heart.

Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Your blog stats are shooting through the sky? Say, “Oh, I’m so grateful I have been given the opportunity to connect with so many people who will surely enrich my life!” instead of “Oh, that’s just today. Tomorrow the stats will be back among my shoe-laces. No need to get all excited. Big deal they’re shooting up today! Ha!

You just got the promotion you were praying and working for? Say, “I’m grateful I’m being given a wider scope to make my contribution not only to personal growth but also to that of my company!” instead of , “I may have beaten that slimy toad Verma today but I’m sure he’ll shoot past me at the next review. The nasty snake!

You are overwhelmed with love for your kids/ partner/ spouse? Say, “I’m so grateful for the beautiful kids I’ve been blessed with. May God He keep them well and happy!” instead of “I hope they don’t fall sick now!” or mentally creating scenarios of accidents complete with mangled bodies of your loved ones.

The part that really hit me squarely between the eyebrows was about the P monster- Perfectionism.

Perfectionism is not going to protect you from vulnerability. Why? Because Perfectionism  is a bottomless abyss you will never reach the end of. No matter how hard you try, you never reach it. There is always scope for improvement. As you reach one summit, your elevation shows you higher mountains to climb… mountains you did not see before.

Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.

~ Anne Lamott

The very Perfectionism you hail as a cure for vulnerability is actually the shove that pushes you into its dark hole.  The harder you try to reach it the more shame you feel when you don’t reach it.

I particularly loved Ms Brown’s definition of what Perfectionism isn’t and what it is.  This is what she says:

Perfectionism isn’t the same as a striving for excellence, self-improvement or personal growth. It is not the key to success. It actually hampers growth and achievement. It doesn’t protect you from vulnerability or feelings of inadequacy- it fosters them.

Perfectionism is a damaging, addictive and self-sabotaging behavior. You end up spending your life going deeper and deeper into how inadequate you are because you’ve never reached something that doesn’t exist in the world. You move so far away from  I am enough that it becomes nearly impossible to reclaim your life and all the joy that you were capable of creating for yourself and the world.

I remind myself: don’t let the perfect be an enemy of the good. A twenty minute walk that I do is better than the four-mile run that I don’t do. The imperfect book that gets published is better than the perfect book that never leaves my computer. The dinner party of Chinese take-out food is better than the elegant dinner I never host.

~Gretchen Rubin

Perfectionism is a disease I suffer from as well. Though of late- in the past few months- I have worked actively to loosen its throttle-hold on me. I might still not have done it, had I not noticed that I’ve infected my eldest one with this bug too. And I’ve seen how unhappy and dissatisfied she always is with whatever she does… specially when she has every right to be proud of it.

I couldn’t bear the thought of the disease blighting her life as well. Since one can’t preach what one doesn’t practice, I must defeat the monster within myself first. Then maybe, maybe, I will be given the insights and wisdom to help her defeat the Perfectionism monster too.

 Perfectionism has done enough damage already. No more!

Daring Greatly- Perfectionism
Picture Credits: Altered google image

Daring Greatly: Perfectionism

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12 thoughts on “Daring Greatly: Perfectionism”

  1. Yeah. That affects me too most of the times, that crossing fingers or touch wood, but it’s kind of involuntary. I don’t know if it is because I’m afraid it won’t come again, but maybe on the lines of I’m grateful that it has come, but I hope it doesn’t go away now. And as for perfectionism, I’ve never strived for that. It’s like trying to reach the end of the rainbow. Takes more out of me than I know. Though most around me try to push me towards that. I suppose, for those ‘most’, perfectionism feels like Everest, not a disease.

    1. It is involuntary for me too. I feel as if I’m really calling bad luck upon me if I take delight in something… or express the delight. That ‘nazar lag jaayegi’ thing is too strong in us I suppose.

      As for perfection, don’t let anyone push you up Mt Everest. If everyone goes stomping up the Everest, who’ll stay below and look after the crops?


  2. But are we doing the “touchwood” thing because we are afraid something bad will happen or because deep inside we know that like everything this happiness too is momentary and will go away? It is a genuine question that came to me as I read this. And then the answer also came – at least I think it is an answer – perhaps the best response we can or should have when something good happens is to have no response. I mean to practice and develop a sense of equanimity. Maybe it is another side of gratitude. Or another form. This way we can have the same response or non-response when something bad happens. Because inevitably bad stuff will also happen in life. Just thinking aloud here.

    As for perfection, reading what you have shared here has given me an idea. Will send you a message about that.

    1. To answer your first question, our ‘touch woods’ cannot be because we know that the happiness is transitory. If we are so detached and our sense of equanimity is so well-developed, why would we want to ‘touch wood’? We know it is momentary. Even before it fully comes to be, we are already prepared to let go of it. Why ‘touch wood’?

      At least, that’s how it seems to me. 😀

      1. I’m hoping you and Beloo will teach me this. I am clueless. When I try to practice detachment, I go skidding into numbness. And I don’t want me numbed… not any more.

  3. Ah thought provoking! I am not a perfectionist. I am just particular about a few things about certain spheres in my life. I hate perfectionists. They drive you nuts. About gratitude, absolutely agree. I also do touchwood but I think of it as harmless just like we do Kala tikka thing. I don’t think I invest much thought into it or am superstitious. Does this make sense?

    1. Perfectionists do drive everyone nuts… themselves included. Not that it condones them… us. 🙂

      And why do we do kala-tika? We don’t want it harmed, right? But why does it ever occur to us that something we take joy and pride in is sure to be hurt/ damaged/ destroyed?

      So happy to see you! <3

  4. I am full of flaws, but perfectionism is not one of them. I had learnt this long ago when the children were growing up and I had gone through several surgeries and required bed rest. you are so right when you say that the way to beat the monster of perfectionism is through gratitude. I learnt to be grateful to the husband who created a mess as he made breakfast for the children and then cleared it up haphazardly; to the children when they washed and dressed themselves in the best way they could; to the maid who did an indifferent job. So what? They were keeping the household running and all to give me another day/week of rest. And they all were so solicitous of my health. That was when I had thrown out the monster from my life and have not allowed it back. But there are a lot of small and big monsters hiding in the nooks and crevices of my personality and I trying to find them and chase them out. Loved your effort to become less of a perfectionist to help your daughter. That is in itself a great victory over the imperfection of perfectionism.

    1. You amaze me Zephyr.. honestly, you do. How graceful your acceptance of mess sounds. I wish I had been as calm and graceful when I finally needed to learn to let go of perfectionism. The transition wasn’t easy or smooth for me. I was full of strife and emotional roller-coasters. But I’ve made room for mess now- though I still have a long way to go yet.

      I think the more I practice gratitude the easier the journey will be. What do you say?

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