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Mastering the Art of Imperfection: How I Am Learning to Let Go of My Perfectionism

By , SparkPeople Blogger
I was born a perfectionist and it is something I have fought with for the better part of my life. I believe my need to be perfect has kept me from going out and truly embracing everything that life has to offer. I have often wondered why I expected more from myself than I would ever expect from my friends and family. For me, anything short of what I deemed was perfect was like a Scarlet Letter I wore for everyone else to see.

A few months ago I was watching an interesting documentary on the masterpiece painters. They told the tales of how it took some of the painters years and years of painting and repainting a particular portrait or landscape before they felt all was just right--and even then it may not have been right for them. What surprised me was the sheer beauty of their work and yet these great painters were, many times, never satisfied as they always saw the flaws in their own work when no one else could.

That is precisely what I found true with myself-- my need to be perfect was keeping me from ever accomplishing anything I wanted out of life. I would set the bar so high that the minute I fell flat on my face I did what so many others did and that was to give up. Giving up was so much easier than forgiving myself for not being perfect and moving on.

Perfectionism was a crutch, a character flaw for all the world to see, even if no one else saw it, I believe they did. It was what held me back from taking risks and in some way kept me safe and comfortable. If I didn't try, I couldn't fail and if I didn't fail, I was not a failure.

But what if I do fail? Will that be the end of the world? Will I be any less of a person?

Next week as I celebrate my five year anniversary for reclaiming my life and my health, below is a list of what this journey has taught me about accepting my imperfections.

  • I am fallible and I will make mistakes- I am not going to say there isn't a sense of anxiety when I do make mistakes, but the more mistakes I make, the easier it is for me to accept my imperfections. I believe we all learn more from the mistakes we make than we ever learn from doing everything perfectly.
  • Others do not judge me as harsh as I judge myself - I love it when I read on the message boards how members help one another by saying, "Would you ever speak to a friend like that? Then why would you talk about yourself like that?" Letting go of judgment is by far one of the biggest lessons I have learned from you all. I would certainly never call my friend a 'fat cow' so why is that I would call myself that.
  • Love and accept the body I have- In all honesty, when I embarked on my journey I was doing it for my health, but there was a little hope that when I got to my goal weight I would have the body I had back in my college days 25-30 years ago. That has not happened. I am older. I have had a child and my body is what it is. But one thing I can say, my 20 year old body never ran a marathon either, WOO HOO!
  • Hold your nose, jump in and either, sink or swim-If you said to me five years ago, "Nancy, you are going to have one of the best jobs in the world doing what you have a passion for and that is helping others reach their full potential, I would have said, yeah, right?" But when SparkPeople approached me 18 months ago, I must say not only was I honored but I was scared to death. What if I failed? What if I couldn't live up to their standards? What if I can't do what they ask me to do? And for the first time in my life, I jumped at the opportunity, and while I can't say I haven't made a mistake, I have learned so much about taking risks. I am swimming!

    The past few years have taught me to go out of my comfort zone and as the Nike ad says JUST DO IT! I am taking risks I could have never imagined doing so before I began my journey. In a few short weeks, I will be traveling solo to New Orleans to run in the Rock 'N Roll Mardi Gras Half/Full Marathon. Never would I have pictured myself traveling alone and running with 20 other Spark Friends I have met over the years. This is allowing me to break the mold of perfection and appreciate all the flaws that make me who I am.

    Have you allowed your need for perfection to stand in your way of achieving your goals? Do you judge yourself more harshly than others judge you? What risks would you like to take on in the next year even if it means you run the risk of failing?

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OLDSKOOL556 12/14/2020
Great article 👍 Report
CECELW 8/30/2020
I'm pretty sure I have the art of imperfection down pat! Report
:) Report
STARS2000 5/7/2020
Interesting & valid points✌ Report
Thank you for posting!! Report
there is no fun in being perfect Report
Strive for excellence not perfection. I have Virgo rising so tend to be critical of self & others however that can be a good thing if not taken to the extreme. Not sure I would want to change that. I think the world needs more leaders & teaching mentors rather than those who accept whatever mediocre or flawed thing that comes along. I want more improvements & strive toward that goal. This is about how you view a personal trait & I am positive about it being a part of me. It can be a motivator too.
Thanks for sharing! Report
THis is a hard one for me Report
At my age and stage of health, I risk failing every day. I'm considered a fall risk but I still walk every day. Not so good on remembering so I have to work hard on keeping track of my nutrition counts. Yes, I do fail on a regular basis but I just get back up and go again. You've written a very encouraging article. Thank You! Report
Thank You so much for this article. I needed it............. Report
A true and "down to earth article". I love this one. Report
I used to chase perfection, but today I am content, but just want to stay healthy with the gifts God gave me. Report
Perfection is the enemy of progress Report
Great perspective. Report
I am guilty too of being one in my college classes and in my life. I think of myself as a failure because I am not well off like others around me. I have trouble believing in myself. Report
I honestly believe perfectionism can be a stumbling block. Report
I am a perfectionist when things get cluttered and out of place I have a hard time functioning until everything is back in order. Report
We all tend to want to be perfectionists without looking at some of the costs. This was a good reminder that perfection is in the eye of the beholder. Report
I am guilty of pushing my perfectionism off on my kids. I was really trying to give them the "perfect" childhood. I would stress about parties, clothes, play dates, the perfect school, the perfect grades, etc. I recently discovered that this was making it an unperfect childhood in that they couldn't enjoy themselves and I wasn't enjoying it either. We have certainly downsized on a lot things and focused more on us. Everyone is happier for it! Report
I am a perfectionist and find it hard to accept myself as I am. Being in college and writing papers I often self edit them before they are done. I compare myself to others and come up on the short end. I wonder why my body does not look like theirs. It is hard to let go of this because I think I have to be perfect at something in my life like my grades; otherwise I think I am a failure in other people's eyes. Yet I know that with God I am not a failure at all. Thanks for the article and being so open about it. Report
I am a perfectionist and a painter. I will probably never let go of that, nor do I feel I need to. Aiming for perfection is a personal challenge.

As for the person who asked "Is Picasso's art perfect? Manet?" The answer is yes. Their work was perfect. The Cristos however were hacks. ;) Report
I am a perfectionist.. This article sings to me, I asked myself questions like "Do I love my body for what it is?" "Do I allow myself to fail?" Anyways I had negative answers to those questions. Thanks for giving me the motivation and inspiration to find what I need to work on! Report
Beautifully written, Nancy. A few years ago I was really working at letting go of perfectionism; eventually when I'd do something wrong, I'd be able to say "ah, this is my first time being wrong today." My way of taking responsibility and then being able to move forward with remedying whatever hadn't gone right. Hope you are well. I am. Report
Great blog - perfectionism stands in the way of enjoying the moment. Report
Wonderful Blog - Perfection is overrated ! Report
Thank you for sharing your insights. It sounds like I could have written it! I'm sure I will read it a few more times when I get "stuck" from trying to be perfect. Report
I could have written this post! Thank you for sharing and inspiring me to 'ease up' so I can move forward! Report
i use the term "i am perfect" as an excuse to explain away why i live as a recluse and why i run everybody away. being around people, making a mistake or failing at an empty attempt at completing something, i can't deal with it. soooo, if i remain a recluse and lock myself away, i don't have to deal with anyone knowing i failed. but reading the comments, it's not reality. i, myself,know i failed! time to do something different. thanks nancy! Report
I loved this article. It is so freeing when you realize that you don't have to be perfect---no one is. Thank you for reminding me. Report
Perfectionism has been the death of so many of my dreams. I still struggle with it, but not nearly as much as I did before MS. I have learned - 1. Perfection is a myth 2. You can recover from mistakes (and learn from them too!) 3. Aim for Progress. not perfection. Report
Yep, perfectionism is a big problem for me. If I know that I won't do something perfectly then I don't even want to start which is obviously completely ridiculous! Report
I've never tried to be perfect, which is the reason I was able to raise five children. Report
thx Report
Awesome blog, Nancy, and so timely for me! I am so very happy you took the risk with SparkPeople! Report
I totally understand the battle with perfectionism. It does get in the way of experiencing new things. I'm beginning to see that I don't have to be perfect, and it is ok. I still waiver, but I keep trying. Report
At my group therapy we call that kind of harsh self criticism "recovery profanity" it is absolutely amazing how often I was doing it...I'd never paid attention. Report
I am a high school teacher and find that one of the biggest stumbling blocks for many of my students is a kind of incoherent perfectionism.... they can visualize their concept of perfectionism, but don't have the skills yet to break the journey into steps they can accomplish. So they do nothing... and then tell themselves "I told you so...." Report
I have never thought of myself as a perfectionist, but you are probably right that I do put myself under self criticism. I also frequently say @ work that we are only human but I don't think I give myself any leeway.
Thanks for your insight. Report
I can completely relate to this. I have this problem and I have been working on it for years but it constantly creeps back in. I anguish at times over doing something "the right way" and waste lots of time trying to do it perfectly....when I finally give it up and JUST DO IT, I often find that I was making way too much out of it and it was not such a big deal after all. I just keep trying to remember that. I also have to quit comparing myself to others because the fact is, what I see in them as "perfection" often hides their own imperfections....I am a work in progress. Report
Fabulous blog, Nancy! Report
Thank you for such a great blog! I can relate to every word writtent. I am a recovering perfectionnist. I would never ask of others as much as I ask of myself. This stems from the deep rooted belief that I am not worthy of love just like others. I need to work very hard to earn it. And even then, it is never enough. Well, that is an absolute lie! I am worthy of love, a precious creation and I have the right to be here. Embracing myself is a daily practice. When things don't seem to go my way, I always try to remind myself how much I am given everyday. Listing the positives, being grateful and staying in the moment really helps. Enjoy the journey! Namaste Report
Thanks for a great blog! I am a recovering perfectionist and work every day to treat myself better and to "put myself out there". Report
I, too, am a perfectionist so I really appreciate all the comments made in this article. Report
this was great thanks so much Report
I love the quote "my 20 year old body couldn't run a marathon" - there's always hope!
Google's motto is "Done is better than perfect." Report
Spot on, just what I needed today! Thanks. Report
Thank you. Report
I do not want to know the perfect person no fun in that, part of the journey of life is learning from your mistakes, some of my favorite times of my life was the learning from the mistakes, the key is to learn and not keep making the same mistakes thinking the out come will be different. Report
A great blog at the (you'll forgive me) perfect time. I have struggled with perfectionism for years. I think it started way back in childhood when I was dealt with very harshly when I did not do things up to other people's standards or when I made mistakes. I grew up believing that I was inherently not good enough, and that the only way to avoid abuse was to do things "perfectly." Even today ~ and I am 61 years old ~ if I make a mistake, I feel that immediate surge of "fight or flight" adrenaline that is a mixture of shame and fear. Who will find out? And how much will it hurt? Your blog was a very welcome reminder that to stay in that perfectionistic mindset only locks and freezes us into a place where we cannot enjoy the wonders life has in store for us. Fear of failure and reprisal has kept me from being a brave and daring person, and so there are many things I would like to do but dismiss. But if not now, when? Best of wishes in your race! Report
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