Very few things suck the joy out of life like our slavery to perfection.
On the surface, perfection seems like a good thing, right? Surely, people with high standards achieve more and make the world a better place.
Even if it were so (I argue it’s not), there’s a steep cost for chasing perfection.
In the world of a Slave to Perfection (STP), everything is about all or nothing. Nothing can start without guarantees that it’s going to turn out perfectly. The right conditions must be gathered, the necessary skills acquired, every step mapped out and, only then, do we dive into whatever it is we’re proposing ourselves to do.
Except by now, the fusion of creativity, passion and joy that gave birth to the idea has been stripped out of it – its beauty compromised by its transformation into a to-do list. Add a few layers of complication induced by constantly overthinking and analysing every detail, and you get the perfect recipe for procrastination, disappointment and a feeling of permanent emptiness.
And it’s not just the big projects either. It’s everything, every day, all day long.
The STP lives on a diet of shame. Because nothing is ever good enough. Especially them. Even that cup of tea poured in the morning could have been better. They notice every little thing that’s out of place. Even the smallest decision can be paralising.
Control is the STP’s best friend. It’s the only way to cope with the world, because the false illusion that keeping others, situations and everything else in as much order as possible offers a temporary sense of relief and comfort. Somehow, it makes you feel like you’re compensating for your brokenness… Until guilt kicks in…
The STP lives with a corroding guilt. The guilt of not being enough, not doing enough, not getting it right enough. And it castrates others in the process, because they, too, can’t measure up to these impossible standards.
A sprinkle of self-sabotage ensures that even when the awesome happens, the STP slaps someone else’s definition of success on it and pushes the standard just a little bit out to ensure there isn’t as much reason to celebrate or be proud.
If not all aspects are perfect, then the ones that are great aren’t worth appreciating. And no matter how good life gets, there’s this underlying sense of numbness to the greatness of life that pulls you down for no apparent reason, dragging others with you. And it does it in such a subtle, pervasive manner that you could easily end your days almost happy.
As a recovering STP, I know this too well, and I can see so many people around me, especially women, suffering from the same condition.
Parenthood hit me in the face and gave me no hiding place. It forced me to confront how nasty all of this is and how I’d been sentencing myself to a life of almost happiness.
It made me question whether it was worth tainting the happiness that constantly floods my life, awaiting appreciation, simply because things don’t always look the way I had planned, or happen in the timing I had in mind.
Above all, it made me look in the mirror and ask myself if I’m willing to perpetuate this by passing on this way of life to the next generation of Goddesses in my life. The answer is a clear NO.
It’s nuts, I know, but I see it all around me. Our obsession is creating the chaos we see in the world, starting with our own.
So how does a Slave to Perfection claim their way to freedom? There’s no magic formula; that, in itself, is looking for perfection again and part of the same trap.
I’ve found that there’s only the choice (available for us to take any time) to enjoy the in-betweens of life, one moment at a time, exactly the way they are (and the way they’re not). After all, aren’t they life itself? Everything else is one big cloud of automated, paralising thoughts and worries – which aren’t real anyway – hovering over us.
Some times a simple pause to feel my breath is enough to stop the spiralling wave that takes me away from enjoying the moment. Other times, starting something, or taking action towards something I love, even if I feel it’s not the perfect time, or the result won’t be perfect, does the same thing.
And slowly, I’m starting to honour progress, not perfection. And celebrating the process, not the result. The lid on happiness is lifting up and I’m loving what I’m seeing and feeling. Paradoxically, when I stop chasing perfection, life starts looking more and more perfect. Although by now, I’ve retired that label and replaced it with awesome instead.
Enough with the lukewarm. Because a life lived with joy, passion and zest is the only kind of life worth living.