The Secret Fears of Perfectionists

I’m a perfectionist.  I’ve come to see that as a bad thing and, as is my nature, I’ve got to fix it.  Seeing it as a bad thing has to be half the battle because being diligent about doing quality work doesn’t seem so terrible.  Perfectionism is a pretty glamorous problem to have.  It sounds really sexy to want to be mindful about every detail.

As a student, perfectionism took a toll on my GPA.  I’d turn in perfect work weeks late.  My teachers were impressed.  They’d say that I understood the assignment when no one else had.  My papers usually dropped two letter grades before they were even read.  And then, I wanted to overcome whatever impression they had of me.  Did they think I was a slacker?  I’d work extra hard.  I’d prove myself.

As a writer, perfectionism has rendered me completely incapable.  I maintained a blog for a couple of years in college.  I wrote everyday.  Just seeing my words on the screen was enticement enough at first.  Then one day I looked at all the crap I was putting out there.  I could no longer, in good conscience, waste people’s time.

I’ve had several short-lived blogs in the years since.  Each of them failing because I failed to write.  I failed to write because I could not meet my own ridiculous standard.  This time will be different because I’ve thrown the standard away.  It wasn’t working for me, so I fired it!

I’m thinking more clearly now.  I’d like to offer a few insights into what perfectionists are really afraid of, speaking for myself.

These are 4 of my secret fears:

That people won’t accept me.

That’s the obvious one.  It doesn’t take an hour of Dr. Phil to make that diagnosis.  I’m not overcome by this fear, but it shows up from time to time.  I don’t think so much about people in particular as I do people in general.  It’s the desire to create something great to prove something great about myself. 

That I will mislead people.

This is the self-doubter’s eternal quandary, “What if I am wrong?”  This dilemma was further complicated for me when, in bible college, it was ingrained in me that I should take great care not to speak strictly out of my own opinion or agenda, but to base my message on biblical truth.  Even when an issue isn’t directly addressed in scripture, one should be diligent to seek the answers.  I’m not always sure we have the answers.  I do find though that talking about my understanding is helpful. 

That I only have one good idea.

What if this idea is all I got?  I better make sure to knock it out of the park.  I’ll take my time even if that means taking years.  It might be my only chance.  I wouldn’t want to blow it.  The reasons this is dumb are really self-explanatory.

That I’m going to fail anyway so why not delude myself awhile longer…

I’m a writer.  I do very important work, wink wink.  I have this book I’m going to write someday.  It’ll be a smash!  But secretly, I’m thinking, it probably won’t happen.  I will be rejected.  Why hurry to get it together and mail off that manuscript when they’re just going to send it back and then—and then, all my dreams are crushed!  EGAD!  This is the dumbest fear of them all.

Perfectionism gets you nowhere.  Get a patch.  Kick the habit.

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2 Responses to The Secret Fears of Perfectionists

  1. Nicole says:

    This. In every way possible. It’s paralyzing. Thank you for putting it out there.

  2. kristinherdy says:

    I think I used to be this way, but don’t feel the crazy pressure from myself to be a perfectionist anymore. I had children; that helped me “get over myself” a bit. I had to start doing what I could do when I could do it. And, then I had an advisor tell me, about my thesis that took two years to write, “it doesn’t have to change the world, it just has to pass your committee, and they agreed to be on the committee because they like you and think you do good work.”

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