Perfect is a goal many of us aspire to; the perfect body, the perfect house, the perfect garden, the perfect wife, the perfect Christian, the perfect student, the perfect teacher, the perfect …
To be perfect means to have all the elements and qualities required to fill the role. Perfect means to be free from flaws, to be faultless. Perfection means to be exactly correct.
Perfectionism is the belief that perfect is the only acceptable outcome.
To those who know me this may be surprising, but I suffer from perfectionism.
Perfectionism meant that the task had to be precisely correct when completed. It meant that there could be no flaws, no mistakes. It wasn’t in every area of my life, but the parts it was in affected other areas of my life. If I was to clean my room, I would have the goal of having everything completely clean – sparkling. As this was so unachievable, I would ignore the task, avoid it, procrastinate, anything to get out of it.
Contact paper was another of my nemeses. I couldn’t stand any bubbles or creases. I hated the folds or the slightest messy corner. They made me disappointed with myself, they drove me to believe that I couldn’t do it, and they drove me to tears. The bubbles in the contact paper made me hate the project I was completing, I wouldn’t want to use the notebook I just covered. I wouldn’t want to own it. I would become frustrated and angry. I would be so uncomfortable having to continue life with it in my presence.
This scenario makes me tense up, even now writing about it. This situation wasn’t uncommon. My hair, a crease in my sock, a drawing, a page I had made a mistake on, cleaning my room, or the way my body looked.
I began to shift my views on perfectionism in my art lessons at high school. Our art teacher, didn’t allow us to use erasers when we were sketching as she said that it wasted time and prevented us from completing our art. I hated this rule. Mrs Latham told us that if we made a mistake, we should attempt to work it into the picture instead of erasing it. It felt like a mean rule, like she didn’t care about our artworks.
It turned out that this rule was actually very beneficial to us, or at least myself. It meant that I had to slightly release the grip I had on perfection and as a result the grip that perfectionism had on me loosened.
Around that time I began drawing trees, and observing trees. Trees are amazing to both draw and to learn from. I found that drawing trees really showed me how trees were not perfect – in the sense of completely predictable and smooth. Trees are knotted, they have patches in their bark and their branches sometimes curve up, sometimes down and sometimes they are horizontal. The branches on a tree do not always follow the same pattern. This unique imperfection gave the trees their interesting features and I began to realise that they actually made the trees beautiful.
The imperfections in the trees were what made the trees beautiful.
This was a pretty pivotal realisation and it helped me to change my view on what perfect is.
I used this new knowledge to intentionally become imperfect. I don’t have to be a perfect host, a perfect wife, a perfect friend. When I am the best imperfect version of these things I help reduce stress and trial for myself, but I also help others who may struggle with perfectionism to know that I don’t expect perfectionism from them and they don’t need to expect perfectionism from themselves.
Imperfectionism is not that I give up, or that I don’t try. Imperfectionism means that I accept myself and my best effort. I don’t beat myself up over the mistakes, flaws or gaps I can’t fill. Imperfection means that I forgive myself and others.
Imperfectionism means that I am free from flaws. I wasn’t rid of flaws but I was free from their frightening grip.