Eliminating Perfectionism

In Podcast by Sonja

I love listening to the intro music as a way to warm up for these podcasts. So I’m sitting here with my headphones on, snapping along, thinking wow, my snaps sound great! And then I realize … I can’t hear my snaps at all, that’s the music. Womp woomp!

Today I want to talk to you about a topic that’s near and dear to my heart: perfectionism.  

It wasn’t until very recently that the idea was even floated that maybe “perfect” as a goal was not helpful, and more recently had the realization that shook my understanding of perfectionism to the core. 

When I was a kid (and by kid I mostly mean teenager), I thought perfectionism was an admirable trait. I thought it was something to strive for, because obviously you want your stuff to be perfect. Obviously you want to keep poking and prodding until something is right … right? 

But perfectionism is a sneeeaky little shit. Because it’s taking your desire to be awesome, taking your desire to do that thing your heart wants, and turning it against you to keep you safe. 

So let’s unpack that a little bit.

You, and most other humans, have a fear response that is triggered by your amygdala in your brain. You may have heard this referred to as the lizard brain, or as your fight-flight-freeze response. Now this triggers in real threat situations, like being chased by a lion. It also triggers in situations that feel just as threatening due to a past trauma. 

Your amygdala responds to the unknown, because the threat could be hiding there. This is a time for high alert. Your amygdala looks around and says, “I don’t know where the fuck we are, but we are not going over there.” 

Now. Let’s say you’ve been wanting to write a book. 

You are not in mortal danger when you decide you’re going to write a book. And you’ve been writing for a while and your gut says it’s time. It’s time to write that book.

You guessed it, you are venturing into the unknown. As we’ve evolved, the unknown as a threat has remained the same. So now, threats include writing your first book. 

But some part of you knows that you’re not in mortal danger when you decide you’re going to write the book. 

So here we are. In the unknown. Your amygdala is freaking out. And another part of your brain is saying, I’m not in danger. 

Your fear response has some seriously complicated work to do here. It needs to convince you that you are in mortal danger when you put your fingers on the keyboard. 

This is where trickster level genius happens. Your fear response looks around and says, “Don’t do that. It won’t be good enough. You’re going to look like a fool.” 

Boom. Perfectionism has landed, my friends. Because in this space, logic will lose. Your fear can keep saying, “it won’t be good enough, you’re going to look like a fool” every single step along the way, every edit, every improvement, and you do it all in the name of perfection. 

This was my first introduction to the idea that maybe perfectionism was holding me back. It was keeping me from releasing the thing, from posting the stuff, from learning the learnings. 

And this is where the popular concept, “done is better than perfect” often comes in really handy. Get that thing out the door, because getting it out there is better than not. 

But we can actually take this to another level that destroys perfectionism completely. 

When we say, “done is better than perfect”, we are implying that done and perfect are both equally measurable. Most of us can agree on when something is considered done. It’s been released, it’s been mailed, it’s been printed it’s been handed over to a recipient.

But how do you measure perfect?

How did you measure perfect 10 years ago? How will you measure it 10 years from now? Is your neighbor’s definition of perfect different than yours? Your family’s? 

Have you ever made something that you were really excited about, and then you came across that same thing a few years later, and you looked at it and you couldn’t remember why it was so exciting to you?  Or, have you ever had the reverse happen. Where you made something that you thought was just okay, and then finding it many years later, it seemed almost magical. 

Or when you find something in a store that you don’t really like. You have a lot of complaints about it, and your friend walks up and says, “OMG, that’s amazing, that’s exactly what I’ve been looking for.”

Perfect is relative. Perfect does not exist as a measurable, achievable, state. 

And when perfectionism is trying to keep you from looking like a fool, who are you worried about? You aren’t worried about yourself. You’re worried about how other people will see you.

And you have no idea what they consider perfect.

The other day, A friend of mine was tweeting her frustration at creating homemade Yule cards.  She was frustrated, because there was no way she could achieve the same look that printed cards in the store had. She felt like it was an impossible standard to live up to.

This blew my mind. Because when I create something like a card, I am comparing to what’s inside my head. I am comparing to what I think I could create, versus what I actually can create. It never occurred to me to compare my creation to store printed cards.

These comparisons are worlds apart. Neither one is right or wrong. Her experience of perfect is wrapped in mass production, mine is wrapped in fantasy. Both cases are impossible. Both are 100% relative. And I know that her cards will be amazing, because I’ve seen what she paints. And it’s amazing.

Hopefully, this blows up your concept of perfection enough to allow letting it go. But I want to put one more thing out there.

In a lot of new age personal development – people, memes, social media – talk about how “you are already perfect.” And I understand what this is trying to do. It is trying to create a space where you feel complete, exactly how you are now.

This can be really hard to take in.

You start to argue. You imagine how you know something about you that they don’t know, that of course you don’t feel perfect, and then you start to feel shame.

Because you feel like if they knew, then of course they wouldn’t be calling you perfect. 

So here’s what I want you to know, as I close out today’s episode.

Perfection is relative.

And if someone tells you that you are perfect just the way you are,  know that what they’re really saying, is that they appreciate you.

That they love that you’re here.

That you are a wonderful human being in their life.

That you are perfect to them.

That you matter. 

Thank you for joining me here today. If you’ve enjoyed this episode, please rate it on iTunes, or if you have feedback I’d love to hear from you. If you know someone who would appreciate this content, I would love for you to send it to them.