Freedom of the Imperfect

Nothing has to be perfect. Because nothing can be.

Perfectionism can push you to achieve incredible feats, but it can also freeze you. For as long as I can remember, I have felt this push deep in my bones. This need for perfection, this fear of doing things wrong, getting shamed or excluded. I still don’t really know where this came from. It could’ve been simply growing up, a product of often feeling left out. Maybe it was because it felt like everyone else had their shit together, so I felt like I had to have mine together too. Or maybe, it just sits in line with my urge to experience life and be the best person I can be - something that I feel like can only be achieved if I do everything right, and live as perfectly as possible.

Obviously these things aren’t the healthiest; it could be any myriad of things that created this need for perfection. Alas, it has been instilled within me, and sits in my very core. I’m all-in, or all-out, on nearly everything I do. It is very difficult for me to have a middle ground. I have always considered this to be my superpower. When I was all-in as a runner in high school, I never once skipped a workout. I would run late into the night or wakeup at 3 AM before a family vacation to get my workout in. I skipped social things, never partied, and stretched like my life depended on it. Maybe it wasn’t a healthy balance, but my all-in attitude is what got me places. It made me fast, capable, and helped me win. I earned myself a full scholarship to the best team in the country. It made sense to me that perfectionism created success, I saw it enacted in my very own life. It worked. Until it didn’t.

The Didn’t part: Perfectionism is great when it keeps you motivated, when it keeps your actions aligned with your values. It’s great when it pushes you to stick to your dreams and never give in, if it helps you accomplish things. Yet, there’s a tipping point. There’s a point when perfectionism morphs from it’s initial appearance of calm determination to pursue your goals no matter what, into it’s true form: a fear of failure due to an attachment to these goals. Perfectionism is fear in the form of action. It happens subtly.

Either way, perfectionism began to push me away from my goals. I feared rest, I feared vulnerability. I feared exclusion. I feared being myself. It’s always been something I have tried to work on, a consistent New Year’s resolution that often floats into the abyss by February. Yet, I want this year to be different. My perfectionism comes from fear of failure. Mostly, fear of public failure or rejection. In short, I care way too much about what others think about me.

It takes me days to gather the courage to post something on social media. I rewrite captions for hours. I analyze every single way someone could interpret my words wrong, or make fun of my actions. I am paralyzed by perfection. I worry that if something isn’t perfect, I should hide it. But I realize that no matter what, pleasing everyone is inherently impossible, and deeply soul-draining. So what am I now practicing? Imperfection. I have now given myself time limits to my writing. I paint my nails different colors and wear weird clothes. I read half of a book and never open it again. I practice being bad at something or acting weird and letting it stay that way. I am trying my hardest to do the opposite of what my fearful brain wants. I am trying to let go of perfection through small actions that probably mean very little to anyone else, but mean everything to me. I have enough rigidity in my life; I know I need some blobs of imperfect jelly “meh-ness” to balance it all out.

That is how I am pursuing freedom. Freedom of the imperfect. A skill to be learned and practiced, a pursuit of quiet confidence and acceptance that half-assery (sometimes) is actually a very important asset, that leaves room for full-assery in the things that matter.

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