Sunday, December 8, 2013

Why Perfectionism Blows

The most miserable people on the planet must be perfectionists.We work so hard for something that is by nature impossible to achieve and in doing so are never able to enjoy any of our accomplishments. Because the marker for our goals is always moving, always inching forward moments before we reach it. 

It's the horse that keeps chasing the carrot on the end of a stick.
The horse never gets the carrot. I never get the carrot. No one ever gets the carrot. 

We run ourselves to exhaustion, trying to snatch it. 

But, really... why do I want that dumbass carrot anyway? I guess I never stopped to think about it. And now that I am, it's really simple. The fact is that I want it because somewhere along the line I decided that she who gets the carrot is "good enough" (i.e. deserving of love). And there's nothing I want more in the world than to be good enough. Good enough for myself, for my lover, for my parents, for my society,  and maybe even for history. It depends on how far I take it. 

California is full of perfectionists--people who look amazing on paper, who have great jobs, great cars, great looks, great educations, great spouses. They're just so beautiful to look at. I mean, really they are! So, why is everyone so unhappy? Why is everyone on antidepressants, or spending the last half of their day trying to forget the first half of it?

Maybe it's this idea that we have to present a perfect image to the world, that there is something so inherently wrong with us that we must hide it  in the console of our BMW's, underneath our cosmetically enhanced facades, and buried deep under one failed relationship after another. It's all a charade, and at the end of the day, we still have to look at ourselves in the mirror, and know deep down who we really are. We don't wake up or go to sleep as the avatar that we present to the world. When we are alone, we don't have others to reflect back to us the image of ourselves that we put forward to the world. When we have moments of stillness, of quiet, of solitude, and we remove ourselves from the worlds expectations, thats when we have to face our true selves, and the facts about who we are being. 

So, we keep ourselves distracted…through television, through the internet, through shopping, through drama. We wrap ourselves up in the stories others and ourselves, either fictional or real, that perpetuate the myth of our masks. 

Advertising agencies and media have done a really good job completely saturating the market with this dogma, and now people can brand and sell themselves to their friends on social media. We are all basically advertising how beautiful, how cool, how talented, how interesting, or how right we are. We are building a case for ourselves on-line that we are "good enough".

But it doesn't matter. We can fool the rest of the world about who we are being, but we can't fool ourselves. 

This used to eat me alive! Seriously, the lengths that I have gone to and continue to go to in order to present the perfect picture to the world....It has literally nearly killed me, and it took seeing that I would have to choose between my perfectionism and my survival in order to change. And of course, I knew that before anything else, I had to change my thinking. 

I started looking at myself with a microscope. Not externally, but internally. I started looking for irrational thoughts, unhealthy perceptions, and false beliefs that I held about myself and the world that were keeping me from both knowing myself and knowing happiness.

Here is the conclusion I have come to after peeling off a few layers of the onion.

Perfectionism is boring. And stressful. And more than that, I think most people innately sense that people who are seemingly picture perfect 24/7 are doing it to cover a deep-seated darkness or insecurity. 

I have a friend who is a really good lawyer. He spends most of his time analyzing human behavior, decoding it and searching for motivations. He tells me that he doesn't trust anyone without flaws, because you know they are hiding something truly grotesque. 

So, instead of trying to hide my own flaws, I've been practicing the art of laughing at myself. Laughing at all my weird quirks and idiosyncrasies that drive the people around me crazy, at my sometimes self-destructive habits, and at my moments of embarrassment, when I make an ass out of myself, or when I don't have all the answers. I even have started to poke fun at what I perceive as a shortcomings. At risk of sounding like I have all the answers, I will venture to say that I've had shift in consciousness. And the shift says: these things don't say anything except that I am more human than I thought. And that's okay. 

And luckily, I'm not alone. There are a lot of us. 

Don't get me wrong. A lot of the time our shortcomings need to be recognized. We should be more honest, more kind, more generous. We should have more integrity. We should be healthier, and more disciplined. But the thing is, we don't need to make ourselves wrong for being the way we are. It's good to look at ways to improve, but once we make ourselves wrong for being a certain way, our first impulse is to cover it up, to hide it from the world, to conceal it under layer upon layer of paint. As long as its covered up, we are able to continue throughout our day harboring our secret. But in the darkness, this ugliness only grows, as we feed it more energy…and it takes a lot of energy it to keep up appearances. So much energy that you might feel that you don't have a moment to actually be, instead of constantly projecting who you think you should be. 

I'm pretty sure thats why in Alcholics Anonymous, the first thing they ask you to do is to admit to the whole room that you have a problem. You resist it, and you're scared, and then you stand up, and you say it, and you realize that you are safe. Because you are in a room full of people exactly like you. 

And the thing is, the planet if full of people who are exactly like you. We all experience the same basic desire--to be loved, to be secure, to be happy. What separates us is the ways we go about getting these things. And it seems to me that the main problem we face as humans is a lot of misdirection. 

Are there just so many people on the planet that we feel that we must divide ourselves into groups, draw lines in the sand, and jump on either side of it? 

I understand that a lot of you probably don't relate to any of this. You are secure in every aspect of who you are, and who you've become. You are light as a feather, and happy with the decisions that you've made in your life, and you go to bed every night with a sense that you have spent another day satisfying your life's purpose. For the rest of us, for those of us feel that we are still searching for it, maybe it's time to take a look inward. To lift the painted veil of our assumed identities and peer at the trials and joys of our life in the light of truth, and give others the opportunity to do it too by withholding our judgement and being gentle with each other. 

And….because I feel like I should definitely be practicing what I preach, I'm starting a video diary starting on Tuesday, so you can watch my own social experiment-- of hopefully showing a conscious effort of transformation. Tuesday happens to also mark exactly 101 days from when I'll be leaving to run across the country. When I originally decided to run across the United States, the idea was to push myself-- physically, spiritually, mentally, and emotionally.

One of my favorite proverbs is, "The best time to fix the roof is when the sun is shining." And because I know the battle between my true self and my own insecurities, shortcomings, and flaws will be my hardest-won, I figure I should tackle that on-line, and in doing so inspire and encourage others to start to push themselves in the same way.

And instead of being embarrassed about who I am, or trying to present a perfect picture to the world, a branded image of who I am instead who I really am, I'm going to keep it real. And hopefully, when I say my truth out loud,  the power that my secrets have will vanish, and it will give me the opportunity to break my invalid ways of thinking down and seeing them for what they are. And then all of a sudden, through the habit of catching myself in, say, judgment of another, or losing my keys for the third time in one day, or deliberately distancing myself from others -- it's no longer a reflection about who I am as a person. It just means I have room for improvement. 


  1. That's a beautiful article, Anna. Well said.

  2. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand this is why we ugly dance. :)