I used to think perfectionists were high maintenance and prissy. They needed their clothes and hair to be perfect at all times. As I become more aware of my own perfectionist tendencies, I admit I was wrong about that definition.
Perfectionism is me—trying to be the perfect teacher and pouting over one negative student assessment amid dozens of good ones.
My perfectionist tendencies keep my feet stuck in idealistic cement. In my quest to make situations just right, perfectionism bleeds into procrastination and control. I want to make it all perfect, and since I can’t control the outcome, it never will be and therefore I balk and do nothing.
In her book Daring Greatly, Dr. Brene Brown examines perfectionism as something that keeps us from achieving. If we are stuck in trying to reach perfection, we are also trapped in the fear of failure.
I am trying in several ways to get myself out of perfectionist sludge. I find these actions are helping, even though they are sometimes hard to do.
1. Focus on the good
Looking back at the student evaluations, most of my students said wonderful things about their experience and my teaching skills. I’m so grateful. Unfortunately, I can’t please everyone all the time. By focusing on the good, I ease up on myself.
2. Be nice to yourself
Perfectionism has a lot to do with beating myself up. By practicing loving-kindness and remembering it isn’t going to be over-the-top wonderful all the time, I can be more compassionate when things don’t go the way I want. Most importantly, I can still be nice to myself when a situation goes colossally wrong.
3. Just do something
If you don’t know what your new job should be, can’t decide where to live, or can’t pull the trigger on that art class you’ve been pining over, just move in some direction. Make a decision and know that if it’s the wrong one, you can move again. Yes, making big choices isn’t easy, but no decision is perfect. We can only try our best.
4. Let it be imperfect
It’s high time to just let the things be. Maybe I'll even leave the dishes in the sink for once (baby steps). I still have a long way to go. I know this because I’m having a really hard time convincing myself to quit nitpicking this essay and send it already.
Michelle Kennedy is a writer and adjunct professor in the Multimedia Communications Department at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. A world traveler and former journalist, Kennedy also acts, hosts, and consults. You can follow Michelle on Facebook and Twitter.