Recently, I had one of those “Message from the Universe” moments. You know, when you encounter the same message repeatedly in a plethora of different situations all within a relatively short time frame? I love it when this happens. This time around, I was at singing class, having just finished what must have been my 8th or 9th attempt at getting this one bar of music down. I don’t read music, and I don’t know what the different notes mean with regards to tempo, so I was struggling a little with this one bar. I’d got it right first time, but in every subsequent attempt, I found myself getting stuck at the same point. Overthinking it, overprocessing, frantically trying to figure it out, panicking as the melody caught up and overtook my internal efforts, resulting in messing it up each and every time. After a few goes, I think I got it, but my coach said something at the end that began the theme of the next few days:
“Perfection is never the goal. When you think about it too much, you stop learning – you should trust your instincts more, because they’re right!”
I went off into the night, that sentiment floating around my mind, and thought no more of it until the very next day, when an article forwarded to me by a friend sat in my inbox, entitled The Disease of Perfectionism. How aptly timed (and, if I may say, how very Borg!). I immediately opened it, and was intrigued by the first few lines: “It’s amazing that people admit to being perfectionists. To me, it’s a disorder, not unlike obsessive-compulsive disorder. And like obsessive-compulsive disorder, perfectionism messes you up.”
I’ve seen a lot of “Protesting Perfect” blog posts floating about lately, which I think originated at this wonderful one, and it’s made me really happy to see so many people recognising that we don’t NEED to be perfect, and taking a stand against it. Not only acknowledging, but embracing our imperfections for what they are – part of who we are. One man’s flaw, after all, is another man’s perfection. Take a look around. If a friend of yours said something silly, tripped over their shoelaces, or stated an incorrect fact, would you think less of them? Probably not. You’d both laugh about it in a few minutes, and it’d be something that’s evaporated into the past, barely even remembered by the same time tomorrow. So why are we so afraid to make mistakes?
“The huge problem with perfectionism is that people stop learning when they’re constantly afraid of being wrong. We learn by making mistakes. The only way we understand ourselves is to test our limits. If we don’t want anyone to know we make mistakes, which is how perfectionists tend to behave, we are actually hiding our true selves.”
When I read those words, I’m pretty sure my heart skipped a beat. How many posts have I written in the last few months about staying true to yourself? About being genuine, regardless of it costing readership, comment counts, or social acquaintances? I think the Universe tried to send me this message once more this week, when I was attending a Journal Therapy workshop put on by one of my best friends. The first exercise was the “5-Minute Sprint”, where we were given a question (a big one, like “Who Am I?”, “Why Am I Here?” etc. – something that would usually demand an awful lot of thought), and had five minutes to write the first thing that came to mind. At first, I panicked – in true introvert fashion, I like to take my time to construct my thoughts and write them well, paying strict attention to flow, grammar and language – but when it came to sharing, I realised I was having another Universe moment, and thought of the above excerpt, and my voice lesson experience. When I think about it too much and focus on being or creating something perfect, I lose the raw, natural essence of it all. By being forced to write instinctively, without giving the inner critic time to catch up, I was allowed to be my true self. So why do I devote so much energy to perfectionism?
The realisation that we only have a finite amount of mental energy has been somewhat of a theme as of late. I am guilty of having spent far too long allowing futile, unproductive, negative thoughts consume my mind. Setting goals is one thing, but beating yourself up every day for not having achieved them on the journey to accomplishment is entirely another. In my job, I make a point of encouraging others to learn at their own pace, offering support and telling them it’s okay if it takes a little while, it’s okay if they make mistakes, that they’ll learn from them, and that they’ll get there in the end. Yet I tell myself the opposite story. There’s no such thing as a learning curve. You need to be good at it now. If you screw up, you’ll look like a failure. You’ll wear your mistakes like a giant badge for all to see and judge.
The act of writing this out forces me to see this ridiculous mantra of hypocrisy and self-created falsehood. Nobody thinks this way, and by choosing to spend time giving power to thoughts like this, I’m robbing myself of authenticity as well as of time that could be spent infinitely more constructively. I’m spinning my wheels in a frenzy and remaining absolutely stationary. And what’s the point of that?
As I believe everyone has the choice with how they spend their time externally, I always advocate for the fact that everyone also has the choice regarding how they spend their internal thoughts. Inner critics may have worked their way into our minds, entangled and entwined themselves around our every thought, masquerading as reality, but through the simple act of recognition and choice, we can cut the strings. Realise nobody cares if we’re perfect, and all anybody cares about is if we’re real. By focusing and ruminating on being perfect, we lose our true selves. So let’s put an end to it now. If we have imperfections, it’s okay. It makes us human. If we have ones we really dislike, we have the power to work at changing them. We can choose to work hard at being a good person instead of working hard at beating ourselves up for not being perfect. We can choose to spend our time and energy productively, or self destructively. We can learn to see ourselves through the eyes of others, and give ourselves a bit of a break.
Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone has the choice to learn from them. And at the end of the day, simply ask yourself the question: Does anybody really care if you’re not perfect, or if you make a mistake? Imperfections are the source of growth, of learning, of adventure. And most of all, I think, of sincerity.