A Wish Come Clear

Choosing Love, Losing Fear, & Finding Home

Confessions of a Recovering Perfectionist

Have you ever had your life get flipped, turned upside down?

No, really – I want to know. This isn’t just an excuse to quote the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme song. I want to know if you’ve had every shred of confidence swept away. I want to know if you’ve stood in the clearing, terrified of the emptiness around you.

And most of all, I want to know if you’ve come through stronger than you were before.

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When I first started this site in January 2011, I wrote for a clearly-defined group: caregivers of people with disabilities. But when I transitioned out of my caregiving role, my stories changed.

And when that shift happened, I didn’t put a new ‘label’ on our readership. I did that in part because people are too rich and complex for labels. But the deeper truth is that I was afraid.

I was afraid of getting you ‘wrong’. I was afraid of letting you down. I was afraid of making a mistake.

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During a recent meeting of The Luminaries Club, my brilliant friend and mentor Jen Gresham asked me a simple question: “Who is your blog for?”

Though I tried, I couldn’t find the ‘right’ words to describe you, dear friends. And when my words faltered, doubts poured in.

Follow the twisted logic with me: maybe because I didn’t have this one answer meant I didn’t have any answers. And because I didn’t have any answers, I also didn’t have anything to give. And if I didn’t have anything to give, then three and a half years of labor and love were wasted. And if that was the case, then I was a failure.

This is the most dangerous moment for us as perfectionists: when we move from, “Man, I messed that up,” to “I am a mess.” It’s the shift from fact to fiction, really. It happens when we take a misstep too seriously, when we read every error as an indictment.

It’s easy to jump to negative conclusions about ourselves. What’s really hard (and really important) is to stay calm instead. To say, “I don’t know the answer, and that feels so scary! It’s tempting to think that I’m a failure. But realistically, I know better. I’m resourceful and resilient. With some time and some help, I’ll figure it out.”  

***

By the end of the Luminaries Club meeting, I’d received a helpful assignment: to take time to discover what characterizes our readership here at A Wish Come Clear.

So I spent a weekend rereading the archives and especially your comments. I felt lost and afraid, but I kept asking: what common thread binds us together? These are just a few of the powerful comments I reread:

“I’m such a perfectionist. It certainly is something that I’ve been dealing with all my life so I relate to your post. I’m working on being free … Thanks for sharing your story. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one.” – Joanne

“I’ve started my own blog … and I’ve been so intimidated and discouraged. My theme is embracing imperfect motherhood. So many mothers today try so hard to be perfect, for fear of ruining their children, that they burn out. They’re miserable. I know because I’ve been there and I’m still trying to escape that mindset … ” – Nicolia

“Caroline, I used the ‘p’ word (perfectionist) a few hours ago …. Your post is so timely it is almost magical/miraculous … . There are no coincidences; this is a reminder. Thankfully I’m learning to allow the ‘perfectionist’ to have its say as I simply carry on.” – Kathy

“Grace. I have been thinking about that a lot this year. Mostly because I am so bad at giving it yet I know I must …. I am working on it. Imperfectly, as we all are imperfect. So I must also give my perfectionist self some grace.” – Jeanne

“Grace has set me free – free from striving to be good enough, or smart enough, or religious enough, or any of the other futile things I often pursue. Grace is what I strive to fill our home with, and I’m pretty convinced that we all need heaps and heaps of grace, each and every day.” – Haynes

***

Your words called to mind this story (now featured on our revised About page) …

In certain Native American traditions, artisans weave small, purposeful ‘mistakes’ into each blanket. Why? Because they believe that the ‘mistake’ is the very place that allows Spirit to move in and out of the fabric.

And that’s exactly what perfectionists like us need to hear.

A Wish Come Clear is a place for recovering perfectionists, for those of us who get lost in unrealistic expectations, criticism, and shame.

The phrase, ‘A Wish Come Clear’ is my brother Willie’s brainchild, and it showcases his favorite kind of humor: purposeful mistakes. From the beginning, this ‘purposeful mistake’ of a blog has been a space through which Spirit moves.

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***

We encounter perfectionism in our own particular ways; the trait expresses itself differently in each person. We may enjoy perfectionism’s benefits (focus, determination), even as we cope with its drawbacks (self-deprecation, discouragement).

We may be fairly relaxed in one area and totally overwhelmed in another. We may be able to laugh at dust bunnies and dirty laundry even as we cry over any grade that isn’t an A+.

Personally, I struggle with perfectionism in my relationships, physical health, and work. (At least I can laugh at dust bunnies.) In these three areas, learning to let go is a lifelong task.

That’s why I share stories of how to let go of perfectionism and embrace people: in part because it’s a vital skill, but mostly because I have lots of experience getting it wrong. What I have to offer you is my own weakness.

All those fears of failure, all that intense pressure to ‘get it right’ … the struggle itself has showed me the way to serve. As ever, what you’re going through is what you have to give.

***

We are in this together; perfectionism is our shared struggle. In fact, I’m struggling to press publish on this post, because I’m not sure if it’s ‘good enough’. But I’m doing it anyway, because we can’t wait for ideal conditions to start being brave.

And you know who taught me that, don’t you?

You did, dear friends. For three and a half years, you have accepted and cheered and welcomed me just as I am. So it’s only right that I ask for your input, your insights, your wisdom at this time.

Please click here to take a quick survey to help me serve you better.

(With only 3 required questions, it’ll take less than 5 minutes!)

Also, there’s a prize! To enter to win said prize (which is described in the survey itself), simply fill out the short form between now and noon CST on Monday, June 30.

Thank you for your help!

***

Image courtesy of nuttakit / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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10 Replies

  1. My life is upside down right now. Single father with a autistic son. Been hard to make ends meet. I hardly ever get a break. My family is seemingly unsympathetic. His mom is … I have no idea what or why she is so out of touch, … finally the local courts help me. Forget a social life of any kind.

    1. Eric, my heart goes out to you and your son – thank you for being brave and sharing from right where you’re at – it isn’t easy. I wish I could offer to help in a concrete way. Parents like you are my heroes.

  2. Donna

    Thanks for reminding me that “what I have to offer is my own weakness”. Not my own perfection. Love the concept to leave (weave) in the purposeful mistakes- they truly allow room for laughter and acceptance. Who would have thought that Willie’s humor is such a great teacher? :-)

    1. :) Indeed! So glad you liked the post, Mom – thank you for all the laughter and acceptance we’ve shared!

  3. Cindy

    Thank-you Caroline! I agree that what we have to offer, the best thing we can offer, is our own weakness. And paradoxically, in so doing, we strengthen what is weak in ourselves.

    Ring the bells that still can ring,
    Forget your perfect offering.
    There is a crack in everything
    That’s how the light gets in.
    (from Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem”)

    An excellent speech on perfectionism was given on July 9, 2013 by Tyler J. Jarvis, a Mathematics professor at BYU. It’s entitled “That’s how the Light gets In” Find it at speeches.byu.edu.

    1. Cindy, what an apt quotation to pair with this post! Thank you for sharing those beautiful lines, and for affirming what rings true from your own experience. Much appreciated!

  4. Caroline, I think you have a lot to offer: hope, camaraderie, a voice…your experience, not your weakness (at least, that’s how I see it). Going from the fact of “Man, I messed that up,” to the fiction of “I am a mess” is something I am very familiar with, though I’m getting better.

    And you’re so not alone in standing “in the clearing, terrified of the emptiness around you.” Not only have I been there, I spent – well – decades there. Fortunately, surprisingly, I was on the right track and have found a way out.

    You are your toughest critic, like I am mine. This was a beautiful, honest post. Scary to write, I’m sure. But thank you for bringing us with you on your journey.

    1. Laura, thank you for your kind, supportive comment! It sounds like we are kindred spirits … so glad you liked the post. Thank you for taking the time to share – thanks to you, I’m encouraged to keep being brave.

  5. Renee

    Really great post! I feel like I want to comment on something specific, but darn if I can get my brain to articulate what I want to say at the moment. Suffice to say I am also a recovering perfectionist, which is no mean feat when your boss is also a perfectionist. *sigh*

    1. Renee, you made me smile. :) I’m always glad to see your name in the comments. Glad the post resonated, and I’ll be rooting for you in recovery – it does make it that much harder when people close to you share the same trait. But then, perhaps that relationship can also give you an opportunity to see perfectionism ‘from the outside looking in’. Keep us posted!