Sara loves art class. It’s the highlight of her day, but today she is surrounded by balled-up pieces of paper, and hot tears are flowing down her face. She just can’t get the assignment “perfect,” and the messages streaming through her mind are: “You are talentless. You are so dumb. Everyone is already done, and you have nothing to show for your time. You are failing. Don’t ever draw again.”
Sara is a fictional student struggling against a very real roadblock: perfectionism. If we are honest, not only do our children battle perfectionism, we deal with it, too. Where do you think our children learned it?
Perfectionism is not reserved for the high-functioning, type-A personality. It can be the underlying reason some children and adults give up easily on assignments or tasks because they feel they just can’t get the job done “right.” Everyone has struggled or will struggle with the concept of perfection. We can’t escape it, in this 21st-century, media-saturated environment that constantly sends the message that we are not acceptable the way we are, but if we buy a certain product, we will then, be perfect.
The word, perfection, defined by Webster, is completeness in all parts or detail, a quality that cannot be improved. Personally, I think that definition is anemic. Think about the Sochi Olympics right now, and the way every Olympian is striving for absolute perfection. A simple eighth of a point can be the difference between complete failure or triumph. Imagine the enormous pressure and emotional burden in being an Olympian. Some of us are caring that Olympic pressure with our everyday living. When I think of perfection I think: flawless; without error; cannot be negatively judged; is always accepted; never shunned or rejected; good and right. I think that is why so many of us struggle.
But, here is the sick and twisted part of riding on the perfection road. There is no end, no landmark, the trip is in vain, because the place where we are going, Perfection, does not exist. We might as well get in a car and drive straight to the North Pole to say “Hi” to Santa. [Sorry for those of you who still believe;)]
Perfection is a mind-obstacle that can be disguised as doing one’s best. How do you argue with someone (or self) claiming to be doing their best work, putting forth their best effort? I guess it can boil down to a few checks and balances like motivation. Am I doing this work, hanging out with these friends, playing this sport, buying this house, so others will look upon me favorably, or am I fueled because I enjoy and believe in the purpose of my actions?
This internal thought process can be a real eye opener, because most of us are motivated by the external. That realization can make you squirm. We want acceptance by others, but, if we are real with ourselves and others, then we might not belong. There is a huge cost to staying the course to perfection.
We are hardly ever true to ourselves.
We do not believe in ourselves.
We are never good enough, and we believe the ongoing negative dialogue we have with ourselves about our inadequacies.
Our self-esteem, confidence, and worth get run over at 100 mph on the road to perfection. Our essence, the person we really are, becomes road kill.
How do we jump off the highway of perfection? Brene Brown, Ph.D., L.M.S.W., in her New York Times Best Seller book, The Gifts of Imperfection, outlines three areas in which we can practice.
1) Self-Kindness*: being understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate.
2) Common Humanity*: understanding that all mankind endures suffering and experiences feelings of personal inadequacy—i. e., “It’s not just me.”
3) Mindfulness*: taking a balanced approach toward negative emotions, so that feelings are neither suppressed nor exaggerated. We cannot ignore our pain and practice self-kindness at the same time.
Our fictional student, Sara, would benefit from accepting that her assignment is not coming along like she desires, due to a creative block and that is okay and happens to all artists. She can acknowledge her frustration and compassionately tell herself, “This event does not define me as an artist”, and take a break, enjoy another’s project or ask the teacher for some help.
Keeping perfection at bay is daunting! May we be mindful of its presence, may we respect our person with kindness, and may we remember we are never alone in the process. Love thy self, and Happy Valentines Day!
~Sammy @TURNING STONEchoice
For more information on TURNING STONEchoice and its process, visit http://www.turningstonechoice.com
*Paraphrased from the book, The Gifts of Imperfection, by Brene Brown, Ph.D., L.M.S.W.