Perfectionism is the perfect excuse not to do anything in life. Perfectionism is often the equivalent of procrastination, or at the very least, being a perfectionist usually leads to a great deal of procrastination – “If I can’t do it perfectly/properly I won’t do it at all!” is a common cry for us perfectionists/procrastinators.
Perfectionism in many ways is the ultimate cop-out, the ultimate way of avoiding ever truly putting ourselves out there. Depending on its level of severity being a perfectionist can mean we don’t ever put our stamp on anything for fear of what others will think if it is not done “perfectly”.
The Utopia of Perfect – that non-existent, totally subjective creation of our own minds that often stops us doing the things we would most like to do and may ultimately bring us the most joy. Striving to be perfect is like striving to get to the end of the rainbow – there is no such thing so it’s impossible to ever “get” there.
I once proudly identified as a perfectionist. I saw it as a badge of honour. To me it said to others “I have high standards and I do quality work”. What I failed to realise was it also put me under intense stress to perform at higher and higher levels. This led to many tears and even health problems.
To my credit (I guess) I didn’t let perfectionism paralyse me and have me do nothing. I got my High Distinctions for my finished essays and exams and theses. I even got awards to say how great I was. But somehow I never could get that “thing” that said to me “it’s ok, you’re good enough”. That’s because that “thing” is not something anyone can give me. It is only something I can eventually be generous enough to grant myself. And over time I have done this more and more. I have become kinder to myself and cut myself some slack. I’ve allowed myself to be courageous, take risks, and put things out into the public eye without scrutinising it a million times.
But I still find my worries of “is it good enough?” or maybe “am I good enough?” still stop me. I know life coaching is my calling, yet I still doubt myself enough to fully commit to it. I know writing is my passion and combining my knowledge and experience in life with my ability to write is something I want to do to make a difference to many lives, yet I still write draft copies of blogs but don’t post them. I still allow the desire to be perfect to stop me when, ironically, my willingness to expose myself as a real, flawed, imperfect human being is what draws people to me – it’s what makes me relatable and real and human.
The truest heroes in life are far from perfect. They are just brave enough to stand for what they believe in, despite their many flaws and failings. They are courageous enough to put their neck out, knowing full well there will be many ready to chop it off, ready to knock them down and use their mistakes and flaws against them. They are the ones resilient and determined enough to get up time and time again and keep moving toward their goal. Things stop them. They are not perfect. But as opposed to perfectionists, they don’t let things stop them for long. Their willingness to be vulnerable is what makes them inspiring – the real heroes in this harsh world.
For people with chronic illness perfectionism often trips us up as we think if we can’t do something “properly” or as well as we usually do it, we won’t do it at all. This exacerbates our sense of loss, their feeling we have lost our identity and our ability to do the things that matter to them in life. Many times there are still ways for them to participate in the activities that we are most passionate about, however we are stopped by the fact we can only do a small amount or we have to be creative in how we approach the task, and do it differently to how we usually would.
So to all you perfectionist chronic illness sufferers out there, there are still ways for you to participate in life. You can still have your passions, just not always in the way you used to participate in them. You may no longer be able to play tennis, but you can watch it on TV, you can visit your local club and become part of the administration, you can make afternoon tea for the players and live vicariously through them or you can start a tennis blog where you regularly interview well-known tennis players. Get the idea?! You might have to be creative and flexible, but if you loved something in the past, even with your health restrictions, you can still have it as part of your life. And if it’s not tennis, what new passion can you find in the big wide world of the world wide web? The choices are endless. Let me know what you choose!