Confessions of a Perfectionist

Sketch-perfection

“Perfectionist” is a mask that I have worn for far too long.  A mask that I’ve worn to cover up a deep seated fear that I would never be good enough. A mask that, to this day, I often have a hard time taking off. I am a recovering perfectionist. Case in point: I just spent half an hour tweaking the size and color levels of the artwork at the top of the page :/

Truth be told, perfectionism has gotten me very far in life. In school I was always at the top of my class (and by top I mean the very top), and I’ve excelled in my career. In the past I wore the title of perfectionist proudly. Now I realize that what I once considered a a badge of honor has actually held me back in life.

Below are some confessions of a perfectionist:

Perfectionism is the fuel in my self-degradation fire. Perfection is a completely abstract, un-quantifiable, and entirely subjective concept. When I shoot for perfection I am grasping for air. I am setting myself up for failure. Whenever people give me complements my first reaction is to point out something wrong, or less than perfect, about whatever they are complementing. I justify this self-degradation by staying, “I’m a perfectionist,” with a shrug and a smile.

Perfectionism stops me from starting. Whenever I have an inspired, creative idea I instantly start to overthink it. I feel like I can’t start something until I have the end game all figured out. However, the truth is I can never fully control anything in this life. No amount of worry or over-analyzing can change that.

Perfectionism gives me an excuse to procrastinate. When working on a new project, whether it be designing a building, starting this blog, or starting a new piece of art, I use to research, research, research. Then tweak, tweak, tweak. Then perfect, perfect, perfect. Then decide the whole thing was shit, throw it out, and start over. I was so overwhelmed with a desire to make something “the best” that I would rarely ever make anything at all.

Perfectionism stunts my growth. Because I’ve been so scared to make a mistake, look stupid, or fail at things I rarely step out of my comfort zone when it comes to my career. Yes, I have been “successful” in my life according to social standards, but that desire to appear perfect has led to me excel in a career that I don’t actually like. And has made shifting my career towards something more meaningful and fulfilling difficult for me.

Perfectionism has led me to disregard my health. I have never shied away from hard work, and by hard work I mean not sleeping for a week in order do my absolute best on a project. I probably average four hours of sleep a night for five year of my life in college and graduate school. I wanted to be the best. I wanted to create the best work. Nothing else mattered. And health-wise I have been paying for it. Even after four years of prioritizing my health I still experience chronic headaches, debilitating migraines, adrenal fatigue, and other health issues that developed as a result of my perfectionist ways.

Perfectionism makes it difficult to let go. There are projects and people in my life that I have taken far too long to “quit.” I get stuck in the mindset of, ” I should be able to make this work.” And for the longest time I saw letting go as a sign of failure. I now know that letting go is not giving up. I wrote a whole blog post about it here.

I have been working to let go of my perfectionist tenancies for a couple years now. The more inner work I do the more ingrained I realize this characteristic is. It’s been tough, but completely worth it. This blog would not exist if I hadn’t made a decision to let go of perfectionism and start before I’m ready.

Perfectionism is just fear in a pretty, socially acceptable mask. Lets not let fear dictate our lives.

Let it go. Start before you’re ready. Make a move. It feels amazing.

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4 thoughts on “Confessions of a Perfectionist

  1. After reading several of your posts I felt compelled to connect and offer my support. I too am a recently lisenced architect working in Portland Oregon. I struggle with wanting more autonomy in my career but not knowing what it looks like if it’s not simply running another architecture firm. Being a perfectionist has dogged me as well, I’m constantly repeating affirmations in my head to let that go & be more courageous with my gut instinct. I enjoy writing quite a bit & have been blogging for years, but fall off the wagon when I don’t really see the purpose or end game. I appreciate having found someone with similar qualities & look forward to supporting your mission of a well traveled life!!!

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    1. Hi Jen – Thank you so much for reaching out! It’s a small world… I use to live in PDX, and got my MArch at the U of O Eugene. The more I think about it, I think it’s totally natural for us to feel a bit “lost” at this point in our lives. We’ve worked our butts off for so long and now it’s like all of the sudden we’re licensed and we’ve accomplished the thing we’ve been working towards for the last 10 years. For me there’s a feeling of like… this is it? Doing things that are fun, just because they are fun, has made a huge difference in my life. And to help myself not fall off the wagon I’ve built in some accountability 🙂 For instance I recently started an instagram account where I post a sketch a day! I think it’s so awesome that you love to write and have been doing it for years! I can’t wait to check out your blog. Have you read Liz Gilbert’s book “Big Magic”? I think you might love it!

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      1. Thanks Eva, I love Elizabeth Gilbert and have been enjoying her podcasts as well. I appreciate her push towards following one’s curiosity. I like the idea of the sketch a day Instagram, it’s s good way to stay accountable and get better at sketching as well. Have you listened to the Clever podcasts? They are great for learning the process behind creatives, plus Jaime Deringer wrote a great article a while ago on perfectionism that’s worth a read …
        http://citygrammag.com/im-writing-an-article-about-art/
        It’s funny, I also graduated from the U of O with an MArch! It was awhile ago, ’98. Took me quite awhile to get my lisence as I focused on starting a family rather than IDP.
        Happy to have found you on Tiffany Han’s facebook site, I’ve been really interested in morphing the architectural world and the online entrepreneur world in some way. There’s so much solidarity and support in groups such as hers that would benefit our profession!

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      2. Wow, that’s a great article! Thank you for sharing 🙂 I’m looking forward to checking out the Clever podcast too. I’m a bit of a podcast junkie! It sounds like you and I are in a really similar place – trying to figure out how to fit an architecture background and skill set into something more entrepreneurial and a bit more creative & free. I don’t know how that’s going to work yet, haha! Right now I guess I’m just exploring all of my curiosities and seeing where they lead me. I’d also like to do something more service oriented with my skills. Right now I just design fancy apartments for old rich people! Someone has to do it, and we do a good job of it, but I’d like to transition into something that has more of a positive impact on communities and touches other, underprivileged populations.
        Do you currently have a blog? I’d love to check it out!
        Wasn’t U of O awesome? I loved that place, and learned so much there. I have a couple friends who landed at firms in PDX (more of us, including me, would have stayed if the economy hadn’t been so bad in 2011 when we graduated). How crazy would it be if we knew some of the same people!?

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