A Recovering Perfectionist: Finding Beauty In The Imperfect

I have a confession to make. I struggle, really struggle, with the desire to be perfect. 

You see, I like to call myself a recovered perfectionist because while I may have overcome it to some degree, I still have lapses. I've been this way for as long as I can remember, and this need to be perfect is exactly the reason I nearly died fifteen years ago. (I touch on this a little here.)

That period of time in my life changed me to the core. But, like most personality traits - they don’t just disappear - we have to learn how to manage them. 

In my desire to achieve perfection I don't slow down. I hardly rest. Because, how can we be perfect if we sit still?

There isn't time for rest when you are striving to do everything perfectly. Run a business perfectly. Care for the kids perfectly. Pay bills perfectly. Hell, I even divorced perfectly. (True story.)

Never rest. Be the best. 

Go. Go. Go.

It's unsustainable, I know. It is stressful and causes anxiety and resentment and leaves little room for error. 

The need for perfection, for me, is really more about the fear of failure. What’s ironic about this fact is that in my striving to be perfect, I have failed. Miserably.

I dropped out. Compromised my health. Hit rock bottom. Hurt myself. Hurt others. 

Those were the bad times. Those were the times that taught me, again and again, what being perfect really does to a person. 

It pushes you past the point of logical thinking and to a place where erratic emotions take reckless control over circumstances. To the very opposite of what one would consider perfection; from control, order & poise to impulse, sabotage & harm, 

In seeking perfection, we actually lose control.

Before I hit bottom, I was willing to sacrifice just about anything in order to be what (I thought) everyone wanted me to be. Flawless & exceptional. To be the best runner, daughter, friend, student, employee. Striving for goals that I kept moving further out of reach, while punishing myself for not exceeding them. This drove me to exhaustion. I pushed people away, sunk into depression and withdrew from everything. 

I spent so much energy putting on a front, keeping my life such a secret, that everyone around me thought I was perfect. That my life was perfect.

What they didn’t know, was that I was always wearing a mask. 

I vividly remember doing an “activity” in the hospital that involved using a blank mask and designing it to reflect how we felt about the outside and the inside. The perception versus the truth. On my mask, the outside was brightly painted with a sun and words like “perfect”, “happy”, and full-filled. On the inside, when you flipped it over, it was black. I had written words like, “conflicted”, “lost”, “depressed”, and “ugly”. 

It was my goal to make the inside match the outside. 

When I finally took off the mask, and allowed others to see what was really inside - it changed my life. Not only did I begin to expose my heart & find deeper connections in relationships - I learned to accept myself. And, to my surprise, people liked the real me. They responded in understanding when I said I hated my job, struggled in relationships, sometimes got angry or sad. 

Because, they did too. 

All the years I tried to hide my imperfections, I should have been celebrating them. They made me who I am. They made me human.

At that time, I began to understand that I’m perfectly imperfect. 

I don’t need to be perfect. I don’t need to have the perfect house, the best clothes, the highest title or the greatest body. I’ve learned that to achieve that, would mean I’d sacrifice my health in the process.

Today, I’m still imperfect at not trying to be perfect. Sometimes I find myself getting sideways.

I’ve gone off the rails a few times over the years, especially after having my first son. Just when I thought I had recovered from “perfectionism”, I became a mom, and boy did I want to be the perfect mom. I remember crying uncontrollably when I was trying to breastfeed the first week after having Dylan. I couldn’t stand the feeling of failure that would wash over me each time we had a feeding that would go array. He’d eventually fall asleep and I’d be left swollen and in tears. In hindsight, it was all due to my anxiety over doing it perfectly.

It was in those first few weeks that I flipped a switch and realized that the fear of failure was just making things more difficult. So, instead of trying to control everything, I did the exact opposite. I loosened up, let go, and started to embrace the mess. In doing so, I was able to enjoy every moment (messy or not) with my son.

Life is messy, hard and chaotic. It isn’t meant to be perfect. The need to live it perfectly is sadly reinforced by society, everyday. I still have to check myself before I reck myself (a lot), but my increased self-awareness has allowed me to nip it in the bud before it gets out of control.

In my travels through recovery, many failures, and constant rediscovery of self - I’ve encountered a lot of imperfect people. And, they are beautiful. They remind me to wear my imperfections proudly. To remove the mask.

The dark days are behind me, and these days I’m living in & loving the chaos - especially after having two boys. I kind of had to adapt, and I’m thankful for that.

To embrace the imperfect, means to make positive affirmations a habit, drop all pretense, and live in the beauty of the chaos. 

It truly is a beautiful chaos.