As I've shared in my last blog, quite often how our problems present is merely a manifestation of a deeper root. And one of the biggest roots to our biggest, most persistent challenges is fear.
Fear isn't just about being afraid of spiders or heights, it's actually a level of consciousness that can keep us in survival mode, feeling stuck, stressed and overwhelmed at the idea of living our lives fully. It manifests in many ways to try and keep us feeling safe, secure and protected, which I guess is quite nice of it, but generally not super conducive or necessary to us actually embracing the full, exciting, delight of daring to live.
Perfectionism is one way it plays out for many of us and I wanted to talk about that today because I know it can get in our way of getting things done, showing up creatively, allowing ourselves to be authentic or even just feeling relaxed in our work, relationships and life in general. If we keep putting our lives on hold until all aspects of them and us are perfect, we're missing out on the whole experience of them.
And if you're reading this, that is not what you're here to do.
I love this quote by Elizabeth Gilbert on it, 'I think perfectionism is just fear in fancy shoes and a mink coat, pretending to be elegant when actually it's just terrified.'
So, does this fear in fancy shoes hold you back from leaning more into your life? Are you afraid to create or commit or contribute because you might not get it all right? Do you feel a strong need to be seen as flawless, to never be seen making mistakes, to avoid failure at all costs? And how's that working for you?
If any of those resonate, I hear you and I can completely relate. Growing up, for me at school, ninety nine out of a hundred was still not good enough. I was a gymnast for most of my life too so even an un-pointed toe or wayward wobble were problematic for me. Throughout my teenage years, it began to spread into everything about me - what I was saying, doing, how I looked, my body, my clothes, my choices. Constantly chasing something that didn't exist.
Which from all that extensive experience, I can now wholeheartedly confirm, is a significant waste of time.
What even is perfect? If we’re constantly trying to tick all the boxes and be everything to everyone, when will it be enough? And no, this isn’t about simply striving to do well, that’s all good because that’s self-focused. Perfectionism, on the other hand, is other-focused, driven by the constant question of - what will they think of me?
“When perfectionism is driving, shame is always riding shotgun and fear is the annoying backseat driver”. Brené Brown
As always awareness is key to actually being able to change so let's look at why perfectionism is showing up.
Here’s what perfectionism tries to do:
- Serve as armour to try avoid the pain of judgment, blame and ridicule
- Keep us from being hurt or embarrassed or uncomfortable
- Stop us from being fully seen
- Gain approval, acceptance and a sense of worthiness from outside of ourselves
Here’s what perfectionism actually does:
- Prevents us from embracing the magic of vulnerability - connection, love, creativity, joy, change.
- Stops us from being our real authentic selves
- Keeps us paralysed by the opinions of others
- Stops us from showing up to our dreams, ideas, and opportunities
- Disconnects us from our inherent worthiness
Brené Brown says it so well when she speaks about perfectionism as 'A 20 ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when in fact, it's the thing that's really preventing us from taking flight.'
As often happens with fear, it appears as though it's keeping us safe but realistically, life is not happening within its perceived safety. There's a whole world of imperfect, messy, growth and expansion waiting for us. And as humans, we're here to embrace that world. We don't need to lug around this shield because the attacks we're imagining aren't even real.
What we're most afraid of is not being enough in our fallibility. We fear that imperfection = not good enough.
But the truth is, none of us are perfect and none of us are meant to be. And the sooner we use this awareness to actually empower us to have our own backs and let go of the shields, armour and protection, the sooner our life will become enriched.
We don't need the protection of perfectionism, we need to realise we're already enough exactly as we are.