The Fault in Perfection

As a kid, I never considered myself a perfectionist. My mother always used the word to describe herself any time she undertook a project of a crafty nature. She didn’t do it too often- though more so then than now- but anytime she sketched or cut or stitched anything, even when she’d color with us, she would erase, remeasure, undo and redo until it was just so. “What can I say, I’m a perfectionist,” she’d confess.


 But I’ve never really cared much for crafts myself. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve wanted to want to, but that’s about as far as I ever get. At the end of the day I find the thing I lack is not the talent, but rather the necessary patience and desire. So crafting is out for me. Crafting and I, we’ve made our peace. But because I always heard perfectionism in the context of all that is “artsy,” I just assumed that it was something best left to those who actually gave a damn about hand-made cards in the first place. Personally, I was perfectly content with what Hallmark had to say. Perfectionism couldn’t possibly be my thing.

A+perfectionism-239x300And so I poured my energy into less perfection-oriented pursuits, like academics. I pulled enough all-nighters in high school to ensure my transcript was filled with uninterrupted, shiny A’s, landing me at the top of my class. I color coordinated my closet, killed entire rain forests writing single essays, washed my hands so often they bled [true story]. In college, as I jumped into communal living, I often found myself seething is self-righteous amazement that people didn’t seem to know how to pick up after themselves. I’d take out my aggression by scrubbing the floor boards with a toothbrush and cleaning things until they sparkled because, “if you want something done right, you’ve simply got to do it yourself.”


But me, a perfectionist? 

I imagine by now you can sense the sarcasm dripping from every sentence. Sometimes self-depreciating humor is all that is left. In fairness, I did eventually come to realize that I held myself to an exceptionally high standard, and that that alone might in fact qualify me as a kind of perfectionist. I was able to intellectually cut ties with the idea that perfectionism was intrinsically tied to artistic pursuits. I’m not that dense. But even still, it’s really only been in the last year or so that I’ve begun to explore just how deep and wide is the pond of perfection in my life. As it turns out, its actually a lake. A very big lake, flowing into an even bigger ocean. I’m positively drowning in it.

Granted, it doesn’t look anything like my mother’s, and rarely resembles that of my peers, but a perfectionist I am. In fact, it’s come to my attention that my primary “need” – and by need I mean compelling drive – is a need for Perfection, specifically, a perfection of character, or righteousness. And as I’ve begun to examine- rather painfully I might add- this tendency of mine, I’ve begun to see with new eyes the many casualties it’s taken along the way, perhaps the most notable of all- my writing.

Writing is something I was made to do. Few things make me come alive the way writing does. Few undertakings make me feel as genuinely and generously myself, and yet, nearly every time I sit down to write, my desire to create something flawless keeps me from creating anything at all. 

This is my Achilles’ heel. 

I confess, even as I write this stupid post, I’ve been coming back to it for days. I read and reread, rephrase, reread again, edit and rewrite. If the flow isn’t just right, I rewrite it until it is. It’s so exhausting. I defeat myself before I have the chance to really get in the game. And this is the primary reason I end up not writing. It’s not really because I don’t have time- after all, time is never found, only ever made, isn’t that right? It’s because I know the amount of time it’s going to take me to finish a single thought, a single post. By the time the post is finished, it’s likely not even relevant anymore. 

This is why I’m more drawn to article writing than to blogging. Give me a prompt and a deadline, and you can bet I’ll get it done. Give me loose boundary lines, and I’ll find something better to do.

In an effort to combat this, I’ve begun to do what’s called Morning Pages, three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing first thing in the morning. People apparently swear by it, but I absolutely loathe the idea. But already I’ve begun to notice benefits, a dislodging of connected concepts that I’d not taken the time to see or unpack. Hopefully it will help dislodge my writer’s block, which, as it turns out, is just my own perfectionism. 



2 thoughts on “The Fault in Perfection

  1. Oh goodness, Cayla, I just love this. I resonate so much with that wide lake of perfectionism, and I love how optimistically your writing acknowledges it. Beautiful!

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