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“measuring tape on mannequin” by Fancycrave on Unsplash

Perfectionism: How we stunt ourselves trying to save face

I used to think being a perfectionist was fine and good.

It’s just healthy self-scrutiny. We’re supposed to analyze and hold ourselves to a high standard, right? To strive to be our best? Not anymore. Not once I realized what’s really happening.

I need to be reminded often of a simple fact: people can’t ever be perfect; we’re inherently flawed. We can try all we want, but everyone has their issues: anger, cowardice, selfishness, lack of empathy, avoidance, the list goes on. Or maybe it’s just lacking abilities that others have—there will always be someone better than us.

Perfectionism says we can’t put any of our selves or work on display until it’s all just right. For me, this looks like questioning everything, doubting myself, and quitting half-way. Specifically, I hesitate every time I’m about to submit a code review for my coworkers to look at. Or I decide I’m not qualified enough to speak at a local tech meetup or write a new post (like this one!).

Since we can’t achieve “just right”, because there will always be something to improve, perfectionism is really about keeping up a façade. While claiming perfection, we’re really trying hard to hide our imperfections. It’s our shield to avoid the discomfort from doing anything new, daring, or vulnerable.

And the worst part is: we’re most drawn to people with imperfections that brave this vulnerability. We prefer to see the humanity of others that don’t have everything together! It builds connection, marks our favorite art, and inspires us. Yet we won’t expose ourselves until we pass our own bar of perfection (usually never). Instead, we hide and usually increase the very shame we’re trying to avoid.

Summed up by Brené Brown in The Gifts of Imperfection:

Perfectionism is a self destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: If I look perfect, and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgment, and blame.

After a lifetime of experience, I’ve come to learn perfectionism isn’t a glamorous self-improvement plan. Rather, it’s being enslaved to the opinions of friends, family, or anyone else we’re trying to impress. I’m convinced our communities have missed out on so much good work and connection due to perfectionists like me. I don’t want to be a perfectionist anymore.

By all means, we should all learn, grow, and improve our skills. But in the process, let’s face fear, embrace our imperfections, engage, connect, and truly live. I know I need that.

In pursuit of a calm, productive life.

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