March 2016

I’m a perfectionist. A self-proclaimed co-dependent perfectionist, actually.

That means that not only do I want everything to be perfect for me, it must also be perfect for you in order for me to be happy.

When I admitted this to a coach friend, she howled, “I’m glad I don’t have that!”

Yeah, it’s messed up.

I began this coping strategy as a kid, growing up in an alcoholic home, watching my parents work through their troubled marriage. Throw Catholic school in the mix, and it’s game over.

It went like this: if I do everything right and don’t make any waves, then everything will be all right. Don’t create a ruckus because there is already enough ruckus.

Maybe if I’m watchful enough, if I read the room right, if I do and say the right things, follow all the instructions, then everything will stay under control. Everyone will be happy.

You and I both know this strategy didn’t work all the time, but it gave me the illusion of feeling in control. That there was something I could do to affect my life.

Perfection is really about control. It’s an attempt to foster the illusion that if you do everything right, your life will be under control. Nothing bad will happen to you. People will love and admire you. Everything will be perfect. (What does that even mean, anyway?)

We believe that if we act perfectly, we will be shielded from the whim of other people’s judgment and actions. It’s a safety strategy. You hold yourself to a standard so high that no one can reach up and smack you down.

But we end up wearing perfection like an armor. We think it protects us, but it is incredibly constricting. It’s a narrow way to live your life. It’s exhausting to keep up that kind of standard. Eventually it becomes paralyzing.

We wait to start until we’re sure we’re got everything prepared. We’re afraid to even start because what if we don’t have everything right? What if we make a mistake?

Near the end of my Big Corporate Job, I confessed to my husband that I was terrified of making a mistake at work. He glibly replied that everyone makes mistakes. He let out a little laugh at the end just for punctuation. I wasn’t laughing.

I was genuinely frightened that something horrible would happen if I messed up. That’s how hard I was trying to hold it together.

The truth is that he is right. Everyone makes mistakes.

Perfectionism doesn’t protect you.

I was not Atlas. I could not hold up the world.

I couldn’t fake my strength anymore.

I’m not in charge of the world, only my piece of it. I don’t need to be perfect for anyone, even for myself.

They say that making mistakes is better than faking perfections.

Because faking is all you can do with perfection. You’re trying really hard, because deep down inside, you’re afraid you’re not worthy of love and attention.

You are worthy of love and attention, imperfections and all.

It’s ok to lay it down.