The Perfection Monster

So I stumbled upon this article today, and to say that it hit home is a bit of an understatement.

I know this is really going to shock most of you… You might want to sit down when I reveal this… You ready? Hold on…

I struggle with perfectionism.

I’ll pause while you all gasp in surprise and recover your faculties.

(Right now, my mom is reading this and rolling her eyes as she mentally recounts how my perfectionist tendencies have reared their collective, ugly head since I was in the womb.)

I have always been a perfectionist. I am not exaggerating. My mom actually does talk about what a reluctant walker I was as a baby, largely because falling down would discourage me from even trying to walk. She says I would fall and then watch everyone around me as if trying to figure out what I’d done wrong and how I could get it right the next time.

My friends are also not surprised by this revelation. Ethel, the BFF, has consoled me many times over grades lower than 100%, self-recrimination over words or actions I regret, and the horror of not writing a perfect book. My husband, who has known me since the 80s, has seen me struggle over and over with frustration, regret, anxiety, even anger over not executing something perfectly. (And yet, he still loves me and remains married to me. His sainthood is pending.)

Here’s a thing I’m realizing lately that the article I linked to above really kind of hints at…

Perfectionism is suffocating.

When I get stuck in these perfectionist feedback loops, I can’t get anything done. These are the times when I can’t even start for fear of failing or even just executing imperfectly.

I’ve run into this many times recently in the process of rebuilding my copywriting business.

I have tweaked, rewritten, and edited the Story Junction website dozens of times. I’m still not satisfied.

I wrote the copy for an e-book to offer as a free download on my site and even retained a graphic designer to do the design and layout for me. But I had to tell her not to actually use my copy yet, because I want to edit it. And truly, it was a pretty rough draft. I asked another writer to give me feedback, and she did, and…

There it sits on my hard drive, waiting. I’ve opened it and tweaked a couple of sentences, but have I really done the work? No. Why not? Because it won’t be perfect.

It took me weeks–weeks!–to gather the courage to start sending inquiry e-mails to prospects. I agonized over e-mails of less than 125 words to the point of editing and re-editing dozens of time. I played out impressions in my head–“What will people think of me? Who am I to be e-mailing or contacting these people? What if I make a mistake/fail/don’t get any responses?”

Well, one thing is certain–I wasn’t going to get any responses if I didn’t send any e-mails!

This is a constant, ongoing struggle for me. I do think that some of it is rooted in a lack of confidence (another struggle which I may eventually blog about), but that’s not the only problem here.

The biggest thing, truly, is perfectionism. To paraphrase Mike Myers, “If it’s not perfect, it’s crap!”

Clearly this is an area of growth opportunity for me.

I am attempting to resolve a few things in my own head:

  1. There was only one perfect person in the history of all mankind, and since no one expects me to die for the sins of humanity, I think I’m okay with not measuring up to Jesus.
  2. No one writes perfect copy, prose, books, articles, blog posts, e-mails, or even texts.
  3. The only way to keep from being imperfect is to… well, shuffle off this mortal coil. I’m not quite ready to do that.
  4. Doing something imperfectly is usually better than doing nothing.

Here’s a thing that happened: all those imperfect inquiry e-mails actually resulted in many conversations begun and some potential work on the horizon. Those conversations, that work–those things would not have happened had I been paralyzed into inaction for fear of imperfection.

So… *deep breath* I hereby embrace the imperfect.

My books.

My business.

My physical appearance.

My social awkwardness.

And all the other little imperfections that make me… well…

me.

Of course, this is not to say there’s not room for improvement, and this is not an excuse to not strive for better. I cannot imagine not attempting to improve.

But I have to be okay with the fits and starts, the mistakes, the inadequacies along the way.

And on that note…

I’ve started work on book four of The Taurin Chronicles. Title: Soultainted. Yes, I know Unquickened still isn’t finished. Yes, I know the print version of Bloodbonded is still languishing. But the story demands attention, and maybe if I vomit all the imperfect words onto the page, I can edit them more adequately and hopefully get some overall cohesion in the series.

So there you go. This is my new habit, I guess–allowing myself to be imperfect.

(Somewhere, my mom, Ethel, and The Man are all muttering, “Finally!”)

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