Stop Chasing the Ghost of Perfection

For more years than I am willing to admit I held myself physically, emotionally and mentally hostage refusing to give myself permission to live a full life until I reached my goal weight. Only then would I deserve love, success, joy and true happiness.

Monday would always signal the start of an impossible new diet, and by Friday I’d be sitting home defeated and refusing social invitations because I couldn’t fit perfectly into a little black dress.

This controlling behavior didn’t limit itself to my body, that’s only where it started and from there it metastasized like a disease, spreading its venom into the rest of my life; career, apartment, relationship, even my spirituality was judged harshly when I didn’t mediate long enough or pray the right way.

My relationship with perfectionism robbed me of the ability to have a healthy connection with myself, or anyone else. I thought that by being a firm taskmaster it would make me accountable and help me to achieve my goals and if I slacked off I would have no one but myself to blame for my failure.

Perfectionism can be incredibly positive when it helps you to up your game and elevate the quality of work. But I wasn’t giving productive criticism or mere tough love it was full on self-flagellation that only made me feel worthless and miserable. I’d set unrealistic goals — lose ten pounds in a week — and create crazy deadlines — write a new screenplay in a month — and I’d feel terrible when I didn’t succeed.

One day I found myself in a conversation with a group of amazing, vibrant, successful women and the thing I noticed wasn’t their fabulous lives but how incredibly tough they all were on themselves. It made me realize that if bestselling authors, college professors, CEOs, and mothers could be so unforgiving for the smallest of infractions then something was wrong.

Until that moment surrounded by those women I hadn’t even thought of myself as a perfectionist. To me, being a perfectionist meant that my life was perfect but I was wrong and I was tired of being on that treadmill chasing after something 24/7 that didn’t make me happy and didn’t make me a better person. Once I realized that thin didn’t equate to better, and holding on to projects until they were perfect wouldn’t help my career, I decided to change.

First, I sought help around my food issues because unlike normal people, my obsession with diets and weight had spiraled out of control and tripped me into dangerous territory where I could not heal alone.

Then I decided to take a long hard look at myself without the thick goggles of denial and fear. I no longer needed to be special. I wasn’t the best person in the world but I also wasn’t the worse either despite some glaring mistakes.

I got out a blank notebook and started to write about my past. It shocked me to realize that I held onto innocent childhood infractions to judge myself. It made me aware how hard I was being on myself for basically being human. The yardstick that I had been using to measure my life, body, love life, career, and so many more things felt abusive and unacceptable.

If someone I loved told me the issues they were dealing with and the reasons they felt unworthy, unlovable… I am usually the first person to stand up for them, to remind them of their net worth in real terms not based on their FICO score or dress size. I had to start to do that for myself.

When I let go of the ghost of perfectionism I began to feel like a whole new person. There is something magical that occurs when you stop caring what other people think about you or your body or career or parenting or decision not to parent or everything else. I know it sounds simple but the journey to loving myself was the most difficult road I have ever taken because I had to let go of all the crap that had built up walls and was in my way.

We are all flawed and great and annoying and funny and scared and fearless and so many other things that I wasn’t able to see when my eyes were focused on what I now think of as the booby prize. I finally get the joke, everyone is on their own journey. Don’t knock them especially when we are still on our own. This is how I am living today and I know for a fact that this only happened when I let go of the need to control everything.