ON PERFECTIONISM AND THE WHOLE 30
A long post on perfectionism and avoidance—
I’m always trying to be better and have struggled with perfectionism for a long time. I’m the child of an alcoholic, and this is a pretty common issue for us children of alcoholics.
I’m very goal oriented and a striver—I don’t think anyone would say that I don’t work hard enough or that I don’t try hard enough. In that sense perfectionism can be a tool. A deep seeded I’m Not Good Enough can keep you motivated and always moving towards your goals. It lights that fire inside of you.
On the other hand, I’m Not Good Enough can stop you dead in your tracks. Why bother with something when it’s never going to be right anyway? I’m Not Good Enough can create a lot of self-flagellation and self-hate because: WHY CAN’T I BE GOOD ENOUGH WHAT’S WRONG WITH ME I’M TERRIBLE I SUCK AT THIS I’LL NEVER BE ABLE TO DO IT AS WELL AS STEPHEN KING, LANCE ARMSTRONG, JULIA CHILD, NORA EPHRON, ET AL.
I’ve done A LOT of work on my perfectionism issues, to the point where I thought they were sort of gone and done with and I was like this chill person who flowed with the energy coming her way, followed the signs, celebrated THE PROCESS and the small victories. But lately I’ve had a group of swirling writing projects that I’ve wanted to work on, a lot of great ideas, and yet I just haven’t been working on them. Look, my life is very busy, I work full time, I’m a single mom, I’m trying to exercise and eat right, I’m running a web magazine, I’m doing storytelling shows, I’ve got friends and family and a cat. That is the environment. But that’s always the environment and I wrote a one woman show in that environment so what gives?
I realized all the avoidance of the work was my frenemy perfectionism back, because subconsciously I know as soon as I start developing these ideas, which are big and new and scary, they’re going to be fucked up. They’re never going to be as perfect as they are right now in my head. Because I’m a flawed, imperfect person.
Avoidance comes in all shapes and sizes. It’s your schedule. It’s needing very specific writing conditions to produce. It’s the “I’ll do it tomorrow, today I need to do all the meal prep for next week.” It’s waiting for inspiration. It’s creating a whole bunch of extra work for yourself that has nothing to do with the work you’re scared of doing. It’s starting another project entirely. It’s making easy shit more complicated than it really is so it takes up brain space and time. It’s having a lot of ideas and refusing to pick one. Avoidance is everywhere. The problem is sussing out what is avoidance behavior and what is actual life circumstance.
I love perfectionism when it is serving me, when it is pushing me towards my goals. I like being a striver, I like working and feeling accomplished, it makes me proud of myself and the life I’ve carved out for myself. So when I realized I was IN DEEP into avoidance behavior, I was like, how did this happen? I wrote lists and set goals, why didn’t I stay on track? BECAUSE I GOT SCARED, MOTHERFUCKER. I got scared I couldn’t do it or couldn’t do it well enough, or it wouldn’t be as good as I wanted it to be, or it was too new and I didn’t know how to do it, so I just tapped the fuck out and filled my time with all sorts of other shit.
Luckily I had already set the stage to get back on track. A few weeks ago I signed myself up for a screenwriting class so I could finally revise the screenplay that I’ve been saying for years I wanted to work on. I solicited the support of my closest writing friends for the talks I needed to commit to the idea I wanted to work on. They reminded me I can’t control the process or the outcome—I can work hard and that’s it. I listened to my favorite podcast on writing with Charlie Kaufmann where he says, and I’m paraphrasing, “I accept that I’m not good enough, but I am all I have to offer and I want to offer something.” And today I started that class and I’m scared and excited and thrilled and terrified and ready to go.
I’m a big believer in cutting loose what doesn’t serve you. So this morning, right in the middle of this class I decided, I’m done with the Whole 30. It’s a Whole 12, folks. Look, Whole 30 is great, but what serves me right now is focusing my brain on all the things I HAVE to do (my kid, my job, exercise, cleaning the toilet) and all the creative things I WANT to do. And the reason I wanted to talk about this is: I DO NOT FEEL BAD THAT I DIDN’T MEET THIS GOAL AT ALL. And that is fucking self-care and knowing yourself and not being a perfectionist. I wanted to do the Whole 30 (my perfectionist self wants me to point out that I have already completed one successful Whole 30 in the past) and so I started it and did about half and now my priorities have changed, I know how much time I have in a day, so I gotta cut it loose. I can still try to eat healthier, but I just don’t have time for that hardcore restriction at the forefront of my mind right now—I have other work to do.
Goals are always changing as the circumstances of your life are constantly changing. You have a big project at work. Your kid / parent / spouse is sick and needs more attention. You have an injury and have to recover. The Crown is released on Netflix. I used to think flexibility was the enemy of perfectionism. I love platitudes like “If not today, when?” “If you wanted to do it, you would do it,” “Don’t accept failure,” “Do a job you love and never work a day in your life.” Shit like that that’s cut and dried, easy to digest and live by. It’s taken me a long time to realize that typically life is way more complicated than that and to be successful, you’re going to have to have goals and be flexible within those goals because you’re going to fail all the time and continuing to move forward is the only fucking thing you can do about that.
This is what I want you to know: You are enough the way you are right his very second AND you could be better because every day we are learning. Both of these things are true and it’s a fucking paradox and you gotta accept both. It’s process over outcome. It’s flexibility and kindess. It’s knowing what serves your goals and saying fuck it to the rest. It’s trying even though you might fail. It’s just one foot in front of the other.