Mastering the Art of Imperfection: How I Am Learning to Let Go of My Perfectionism

24SHARES

By: , SparkPeople Blogger
3/22/2013 12:00 PM   :  237 comments   :  32,651 Views

I was born a perfectionist and it is something I have fought with for the better part of my life. I believe my need to be perfect has kept me from going out and truly embracing everything that life has to offer. I have often wondered why I expected more from myself than I would ever expect from my friends and family. For me, anything short of what I deemed was perfect was like a Scarlet Letter I wore for everyone else to see.

A few months ago I was watching an interesting documentary on the masterpiece painters. They told the tales of how it took some of the painters years and years of painting and repainting a particular portrait or landscape before they felt all was just right--and even then it may not have been right for them. What surprised me was the sheer beauty of their work and yet these great painters were, many times, never satisfied as they always saw the flaws in their own work when no one else could.

That is precisely what I found true with myself-- my need to be perfect was keeping me from ever accomplishing anything I wanted out of life. I would set the bar so high that the minute I fell flat on my face I did what so many others did and that was to give up. Giving up was so much easier than forgiving myself for not being perfect and moving on.

Perfectionism was a crutch, a character flaw for all the world to see, even if no one else saw it, I believe they did. It was what held me back from taking risks and in some way kept me safe and comfortable. If I didn't try, I couldn't fail and if I didn't fail, I was not a failure.

But what if I do fail? Will that be the end of the world? Will I be any less of a person?

Next week as I celebrate my five year anniversary for reclaiming my life and my health, below is a list of what this journey has taught me about accepting my imperfections.

  • I am fallible and I will make mistakes- I am not going to say there isn't a sense of anxiety when I do make mistakes, but the more mistakes I make, the easier it is for me to accept my imperfections. I believe we all learn more from the mistakes we make than we ever learn from doing everything perfectly.
     
  • Others do not judge me as harsh as I judge myself - I love it when I read on the message boards how members help one another by saying, "Would you ever speak to a friend like that? Then why would you talk about yourself like that?" Letting go of judgment is by far one of the biggest lessons I have learned from you all. I would certainly never call my friend a 'fat cow' so why is that I would call myself that.
     
  • Love and accept the body I have- In all honesty, when I embarked on my journey I was doing it for my health, but there was a little hope that when I got to my goal weight I would have the body I had back in my college days 25-30 years ago. That has not happened. I am older. I have had a child and my body is what it is. But one thing I can say, my 20 year old body never ran a marathon either, WOO HOO!
     
  • Hold your nose, jump in and either, sink or swim-If you said to me five years ago, "Nancy, you are going to have one of the best jobs in the world doing what you have a passion for and that is helping others reach their full potential, I would have said, yeah, right?" But when SparkPeople approached me 18 months ago, I must say not only was I honored but I was scared to death. What if I failed? What if I couldn't live up to their standards? What if I can't do what they ask me to do? And for the first time in my life, I jumped at the opportunity, and while I can't say I haven't made a mistake, I have learned so much about taking risks. I am swimming!

    The past few years have taught me to go out of my comfort zone and as the Nike ad says JUST DO IT! I am taking risks I could have never imagined doing so before I began my journey. In a few short weeks, I will be traveling solo to New Orleans to run in the Rock 'N Roll Mardi Gras Half/Full Marathon. Never would I have pictured myself traveling alone and running with 20 other Spark Friends I have met over the years. This is allowing me to break the mold of perfection and appreciate all the flaws that make me who I am.

    Have you allowed your need for perfection to stand in your way of achieving your goals? Do you judge yourself more harshly than others judge you? What risks would you like to take on in the next year even if it means you run the risk of failing?
     


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Comments

  • 237
    Beautifully written, Nancy. A few years ago I was really working at letting go of perfectionism; eventually when I'd do something wrong, I'd be able to say "ah, this is my first time being wrong today." My way of taking responsibility and then being able to move forward with remedying whatever hadn't gone right. Hope you are well. I am. - 5/3/2014   10:31:50 PM
  • 236
    Great blog - perfectionism stands in the way of enjoying the moment. - 12/18/2013   5:56:35 AM
  • RACEWELLWON
    235
    Wonderful Blog - Perfection is overrated ! - 11/25/2013   7:02:09 PM
  • 234
    Thank you for sharing your insights. It sounds like I could have written it! I'm sure I will read it a few more times when I get "stuck" from trying to be perfect. - 4/24/2013   9:32:00 PM
  • 233
    I could have written this post! Thank you for sharing and inspiring me to 'ease up' so I can move forward! - 4/5/2013   2:00:00 PM
  • 232
    i use the term "i am perfect" as an excuse to explain away why i live as a recluse and why i run everybody away. being around people, making a mistake or failing at an empty attempt at completing something, i can't deal with it. soooo, if i remain a recluse and lock myself away, i don't have to deal with anyone knowing i failed. but reading the comments, it's not reality. i, myself,know i failed! time to do something different. thanks nancy! - 4/4/2013   5:17:15 PM
  • ROGERSBABE1
    231
    I loved this article. It is so freeing when you realize that you don't have to be perfect---no one is. Thank you for reminding me. - 3/26/2013   1:02:49 PM
  • 230
    Perfectionism has been the death of so many of my dreams. I still struggle with it, but not nearly as much as I did before MS. I have learned - 1. Perfection is a myth 2. You can recover from mistakes (and learn from them too!) 3. Aim for Progress. not perfection. - 3/25/2013   6:28:34 PM
  • 229
    Yep, perfectionism is a big problem for me. If I know that I won't do something perfectly then I don't even want to start which is obviously completely ridiculous! - 3/25/2013   5:52:30 AM
  • 228
    I've never tried to be perfect, which is the reason I was able to raise five children. - 3/25/2013   12:27:35 AM
  • TIMDEB
    227
    thx - 3/24/2013   10:52:45 PM
  • 226
    Awesome blog, Nancy, and so timely for me! I am so very happy you took the risk with SparkPeople! - 3/24/2013   8:59:12 PM
  • CRABTREEJ
    225
    I totally understand the battle with perfectionism. It does get in the way of experiencing new things. I'm beginning to see that I don't have to be perfect, and it is ok. I still waiver, but I keep trying. - 3/24/2013   8:46:26 PM
  • VIXENVERBOSE
    224
    At my group therapy we call that kind of harsh self criticism "recovery profanity" it is absolutely amazing how often I was doing it...I'd never paid attention. - 3/24/2013   4:59:16 PM
  • 223
    I am a high school teacher and find that one of the biggest stumbling blocks for many of my students is a kind of incoherent perfectionism.... they can visualize their concept of perfectionism, but don't have the skills yet to break the journey into steps they can accomplish. So they do nothing... and then tell themselves "I told you so...." - 3/24/2013   12:43:04 PM
  • 222
    I have never thought of myself as a perfectionist, but you are probably right that I do put myself under self criticism. I also frequently say @ work that we are only human but I don't think I give myself any leeway.
    Thanks for your insight. - 3/24/2013   12:22:39 PM
  • 221
    I can completely relate to this. I have this problem and I have been working on it for years but it constantly creeps back in. I anguish at times over doing something "the right way" and waste lots of time trying to do it perfectly....when I finally give it up and JUST DO IT, I often find that I was making way too much out of it and it was not such a big deal after all. I just keep trying to remember that. I also have to quit comparing myself to others because the fact is, what I see in them as "perfection" often hides their own imperfections....I am a work in progress. - 3/24/2013   11:56:55 AM
  • 220
    Fabulous blog, Nancy! - 3/24/2013   10:58:54 AM
  • 219
    Thank you for such a great blog! I can relate to every word writtent. I am a recovering perfectionnist. I would never ask of others as much as I ask of myself. This stems from the deep rooted belief that I am not worthy of love just like others. I need to work very hard to earn it. And even then, it is never enough. Well, that is an absolute lie! I am worthy of love, a precious creation and I have the right to be here. Embracing myself is a daily practice. When things don't seem to go my way, I always try to remind myself how much I am given everyday. Listing the positives, being grateful and staying in the moment really helps. Enjoy the journey! Namaste - 3/24/2013   9:56:00 AM
  • 218
    Thanks for a great blog! I am a recovering perfectionist and work every day to treat myself better and to "put myself out there". - 3/24/2013   9:51:38 AM
  • 217
    I, too, am a perfectionist so I really appreciate all the comments made in this article. - 3/24/2013   9:36:04 AM
  • 216
    this was great thanks so much - 3/24/2013   8:53:14 AM
  • 215
    I love the quote "my 20 year old body couldn't run a marathon" - there's always hope!
    Google's motto is "Done is better than perfect." - 3/23/2013   2:55:10 PM
  • 214
    Spot on, just what I needed today! Thanks. - 3/23/2013   2:43:09 PM
  • 213
    Thank you. - 3/23/2013   2:21:53 PM
  • 2DIETORNOT2DIET
    212
    I do not want to know the perfect person no fun in that, part of the journey of life is learning from your mistakes, some of my favorite times of my life was the learning from the mistakes, the key is to learn and not keep making the same mistakes thinking the out come will be different. - 3/23/2013   11:06:56 AM
  • 211
    A great blog at the (you'll forgive me) perfect time. I have struggled with perfectionism for years. I think it started way back in childhood when I was dealt with very harshly when I did not do things up to other people's standards or when I made mistakes. I grew up believing that I was inherently not good enough, and that the only way to avoid abuse was to do things "perfectly." Even today ~ and I am 61 years old ~ if I make a mistake, I feel that immediate surge of "fight or flight" adrenaline that is a mixture of shame and fear. Who will find out? And how much will it hurt? Your blog was a very welcome reminder that to stay in that perfectionistic mindset only locks and freezes us into a place where we cannot enjoy the wonders life has in store for us. Fear of failure and reprisal has kept me from being a brave and daring person, and so there are many things I would like to do but dismiss. But if not now, when? Best of wishes in your race! - 3/23/2013   9:52:18 AM
  • 210
    Boy I needed this. Not that I'm a perfectionist - but I'm afraid of some things and I need to just do them. I will not get shot in the morning even if I fail at doing them. But I have to have done them.

    A work in progress - that's me. - 3/23/2013   7:16:35 AM
  • 209
    You almost took the words right out of my mouth! I have been trying to tell myself for years that its OK to try, but affirmations alone and trying to do it myself hasn't gotten me anywhere. I just joined SparkPeople and for the first time and see myself actually breaking through these barriers! Perfectionism has kept me from following through on much of anything. People wouldn't look at me or my life and think that I am a perfectionist since I have failed to complete anything, but I think that is the point. When we think of perfectionists you imagine the people that have it all together and they seem to be able do anything and everything, but the funny thing is that it's quite the opposite! Thank you for reminding me that it's OK to make mistakes. I am good at supporting others, but when I make a mistake, no matter how small, I tend to feel like a complete idiot and that whatever I was doing would need to be started over from the beginning so that it can be done seamlessly. Of course that never happens. I don't get around to it and then I've failed again. Sorry, didn't mean to ramble. I also have ADD. Sorry....However, rambling is also therapeutic and until SparkPeople I was afraid to ever comment on anything in case whatever I was saying wasn't the right answer. Ok now we have gone full circle. It's OK..................breathe........
    ......I'm done, I promise. :) - 3/23/2013   4:57:18 AM
  • JULSY_BEAR
    208
    This is the best thing i have read. It really hits home for me. It is so hard to not judge myself but i try and some days are better than others. This helps me though to know that there are others that feel the same way and i not alone. I can get it together! - 3/23/2013   3:58:09 AM
  • 207
    I'm a recovering perfectionist too :) It's such a relief to now be able to laugh at my mistakes...rather than constantly try to avoid them (and miss out on life!) - 3/23/2013   3:57:31 AM
  • JULSY_BEAR
    206
    This is the best thing i have read. It really hits home for me. It is so hard to not judge myself but i try and some days are better than others. This helps me though to know that there are others that feel the same way and i not alone. I can get it together! - 3/23/2013   3:57:31 AM
  • SCURRY53
    205
    Thank you for sharing! This was truly helpful to read as I also struggle with being a perfectionist. - 3/23/2013   1:00:48 AM
  • LEXIED1
    204
    Thanks so much for your insights on this:) Too often I overwhelm my self with unrealistic expectations. This article helps me to rebuke these thoughts and stay on the path. - 3/22/2013   10:24:36 PM
  • 203
    Long ago I realized I was a perfectionist, but it took me until the past few years to realize the harm I was causing myself. There are so many things I never attempted and often times I would start something, but easily give up instead of stretching and challenging myself. I short changed myself in so many ways and suffered a certain degree of arrested development.

    I am an artist, and I can now leave what I perceive to be flaws in my work. I am now facing life and all it's challenges fearlessly as no mistake I have ever made has resulted in the end of the world.

    I do think the axioms, "Youth is wasted on the young." and "If only I knew then what I know now." are entirely true. But there are no do overs, so I forgive myself my past transgressions and eagerly live in the moment.
    - 3/22/2013   8:51:07 PM
  • TXTRAIN2004
    202
    Great words! I let fear of failure control me for years. In college I adopted a motto I saw on a poster in a laundry mat. It was of a rock climber attempting to traverse a difficult spot with the quote, "Only those who risk going too far, can ever know how far one can go!" We won't know what we are capable of if we don't ever push it too far. It has served me well. Plus I learned through the years that I really never learn anything without failure, so failure instead of a dreaded enemy is a friend to be embraced. - 3/22/2013   7:01:22 PM
  • NEWFREEDOM4ME
    201
    Thank you for writing on this. I too have an all or nothing attitude. If I can't do it perfect I don't start or if I start and it is not going my way I want to quit. Thank you for writing and thank everyone for commenting. I see I am not alone. - 3/22/2013   4:20:00 PM
  • 200
    Thank you, thank you, thank you! I mistreat myself so much because of my weight. Like you said, I would never allow a friend to talk to herself the way I do. I would tell her to treat herself with respect, love, and kindness. So why can't I do the same for me? Excellent article! - 3/22/2013   3:35:32 PM
  • 199
    I really needed to read this today - A therapist once told me that making mistakes is OK as long as we learn something from them. And a friend told me that "perfection is not an option." I just LOVE that saying! - 3/22/2013   2:59:39 PM
  • 198
    I really loved this blog! I can relate in so many ways! Thank you for being so honest! - 3/22/2013   2:58:12 PM
  • 197
    Perfection is overrated. Is Picasso's art perfect? Manet? Cristo? My favorite is Vermeer, and he just slapped them out - one perfect painting after another. Cristo was having fun. My mother was a beautiful knitter, but always knitted in a small "flaw" so no one could ever think she was a perfectionist. You've heard people say, after they've made a slip, "Tee hee. I meant to do that." That's my kind of perfection. What I'm trying to say, here is that I am perfectly flawed, even when I'm trying my best. - 3/22/2013   2:29:31 PM
  • 196
    I have struggled with the discrimination of being overweight all my life and always felt "not as good as others" because of it. In the '70's, I read a life changing comment by a reporter for the NY Daily News, Liz Smith(God bless her!) who wrote.."As you travel down the road of life, if you can't hide it, decorate it." My BFF and I decided to be the most decorated, well dressed overweight (now called curvy) ladies around and spent hours at the mall shopping and dressing up wherever we went. Our self-esteem improved 100%, and attitudes followed. We weren't perfect but pretty good looking for the shape we were in and enjoyed life from that time on, being the best selves we could be. - 3/22/2013   1:53:13 PM
  • 195
    wow i have never thought of things that way, my whole life i have been so hard on myself, it got really bad at one point... i never thought that I was expecting perfection from myself, just that I was born not good enough, That is changing now! Thankyou so much for this! - 3/22/2013   1:48:20 PM
  • 194
    Sounds like me! - 3/22/2013   1:22:29 PM
  • JAIMESIZED
    193
    I LOVED this blog. I have such a problem with perfectionalism, and this blog really helped open my eyes! - 3/22/2013   1:22:25 PM
  • DFREITAG4
    192
    Awesome blog post. I go back and forth with perfectionism. But sometimes the idea of being perfect or doing it perfectly stops me from attempting it in the first place. Lately, now that I'm older I take it as it comes. - 3/22/2013   1:04:31 PM
  • 191
    I was one of those "perfectionistic artists" I worked for days on a small section of a painting in college. Finally, I was so disgusted with my less than perfect results that I threw a paintbrush full of paint at the painting. Needless to say, I had a mess to clean up and finally accepted what I'd done on it, although I still felt it was not up to my standards. That painting went on to win a National Award. I guess those judges didn't see the flaws I saw! - 3/22/2013   1:03:55 PM
  • MICHELLESEARS
    190
    Nancy thank you for sharing this post. It's amazing what we can do once we get rid of the "got to be perfect" attitude. - 2/8/2011   6:20:16 AM
  • 189
    Dr. Phil has pointed out that a "perfectionist" is just a person with anxiety, since the fear of failure keeps them from doing something with the thought "It won't be perfect." Reading biographies like Abraham Lincoln, taught me in school that successful people failed many times, and didn't worry about being perfect. They just kept trying. - 3/25/2010   11:58:45 AM
  • 188
    Thanks for this! I think we can all use the reminder that perfection is a process. I have had so many of those same thoughts...it's nice to know that I'm not alone and there is hope in forgiving ourselves and moving forward. - 3/21/2010   10:39:46 AM

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