The Enemy of Good

Perfectionism hurts. A relentless striving to meet impossibly high standards - or to avoid the pain of a rigid interpretation of failure - is a trap. When we are driven by perfectionism, we never see good. There is no good. There is only not good enough. Less than. Inferior. Worthless.

What we sometimes fail to realize is that perfectionism serves a purpose, especially for those who decide they should not even try because they will only fail. This can apply to anything, from getting an academic degree, to interviewing for a job, to playing a piece of music, to making a cake. It can manifest as inertia or procrastination, and be confused with plain old laziness. Yet, perfectionism can serve to protect us. What happens if I don't try? I can't fail! I cannot be held accountable, blamed, or...celebrated, so that I now have to maintain a certain level of output or find ways to "top" my last performance. In other words, if I don't try, I cannot be responsible. More than fear of failure, we fear the responsibility for failure or success. Responsibility is a heavy burden; it takes a lot of courage to proclaim that "the buck stops here." So, we pre-determine that we simply cannot meet the standards imposed by, well, us, and so we escape the duty to act, to do, to engage, and to be accountable, even for ourselves. We become victims, and passive bystanders instead of doers. It is easier. It is understandable. It is also disempowering.

When we avoid responsibility, we thwart our natural instinct for self-actualization. Developing our potential and our talents, strengths, and capabilities requires that we take ownership of them. We may meet insurmountable odds - and some of us face greater obstacles than others because, as we know, life is terribly unfair - but trying and failing does not hurt nearly as much as failing to try. I once had a cherished boss who met my proposal to try something new and risky with "do it; the worst that can happen is that you fail." We must give ourselves permission to fail, rather than permission not to try.

On the other end of the perfectionism spectrum are those who try and try, harder and harder, and, in their estimation, never succeed. This is misery, too, because it robs us of having an experience. Hyper-focused on outcomes and results only, we miss the journey, the actual doing and feeling and living. We dismiss the small progress and steps forward that fuel our motivation. This, too, serves a purpose; we love to be right, and when we've internalized a belief that we are not worthy, perfectionism will prove us right every time because we fail (according to our unattainable goals of perfection) to prove we are of worth. See? I told are not good enough, ever. We get to be right, but never happy. Again, we escape the weight of taking responsibility for our own happiness because, who can blame us? we are not good.

Breaking patterns of perfectionistic thinking and behaviors requires a big leap of faith, an openness to being uncomfortable with our good enough-ness, a release of the quest for perfect, and a willingness to take responsibility for shaping and allowing our experiences, just as they are.

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