Perfectionists have it good. As long as what they want to create, express or perform is never quite good enough for them, there’s no need to finish the project, have work judged by critical others or ever feel the bruise of doubt press firmly on their chest.
Perfectionists understand more than they’ll ever let on. Because perfectionism means being in control.
At. All. Times.
No real perfectionist would risk reputation to rush the un-rushable.
“I’m leaving it rest for a bit,” says Wendy.
“I’m busy at the moment — I’ll get back to it,” says Peter.
“I’m waiting for that missing piece,” says Tinkerbell.
Put off the real test. Play in the imagination of problematic pirates intent on bringing you down.
There’s a lot at stake.
It’s a tense energy that holds a perfectionist in a void of never-good-enough in a loop of never-ending not-quite-the-right-time moments.
A series of excuses holding back a looming sense of non-achievement.
It’s a lie painted white.
Because procrastination at its core is about control. It’s in the void, the darkness where doubt has earned an honorary voice veiled under the false pretense of protecting a frail ego.
The protected ego is too sensitive to survive if found to be a fraud.
I took up running a few years ago — for a few months.
Sharon, the twig-built chiropractor I was seeing at the time, was encouraging. She said it would be good. She invited me onto her running team.
“You can do this Barbara — you’re not too old. There are women older than you running and it’s great to see them getting out there and getting strong.”
She was (still is) an amazing athlete whose tenacity defies her tiny muscular frame — much like a grasshopper defies gravity.
I trained. In rain and wind. My runners felt like paddle steamers spreading a low berth over land for balance. So alien to their stiletto cousins in the cupboard they were mightily ignored by the haughty glossy ones. She gave me gloves to protect from cold mornings. I listened to Robbie Williams and Take That and boy did I.
She said I could do it. She’d be there to cheer me on. And she was.
And as I stood at the starting line on that chilly afternoon lightly quipping to the gathering of women mentally preparing for the run at how this was my first race (in the hope of finding a kindred soul) I witnessed warrior women who’d run the race and survived many times. Veterans. Regional contenders. Off the track they were mums, workers — on track they were there regular die-hards who ran because the spirit of competition was etched into their DNA. I was out-of-bounds.
After the first ten strides I was on my own. By the twentieth, the warrior women were rounding the first bend. Getting a teensy bit worried at the stigma of not only running last but probably holding up the next race, my little blue car popped into view. Trusty reliable friend. An exit plan was forming — keep running — another thirty steps should get me there. Too late. Sharon loomed, her coaching voice clear and crisp as each step shortened to a shuffle.
“Keep going! You can do this!” She bent forward, leaning into the moment, spurring the un-spurrable on.
Onto the last curve — cavernously alone. Not wanting to pass the stand of hot-dog munching families huddling from the cold I looked down, focusing on the next step, listening to shoes tread the rubber track, (just like Forrest), feel the muscle burn as I began counting steps intent on focus … and then I saw it.
Nothing quite prepared me for it.
A ‘marathon event’ was playing out between hips and knees. Muscle trying its hardest to do what bones insisted. Unfortunately the message to ‘run as one’ hadn’t reached the layer of glutinous fat rippling in an improbable pattern as it bumped up against pale skin interpreting the internal slish-sloshing as something between a jig and a rolling lollop. It was as if independent globules comprised of man-made inactivity had joined in a weird co-dependent relationship. Totally out of sync. They were on a mission, and one way or another they’d carry me forward in all their freedom — finally un-tethered from trousers or stockings — free to express themselves like only the innocent can.
That was the last time I ran. Willingly.
The last time a public performance between my knees and thighs was given.
Sometimes I wish I was still a perfectionist — I could save myself a lot of grief.
There’s been many times in my life where my fallen ego swallows a few spoonfuls of pride and exposes wobbly bits — the ones not yet quite firm enough to hold themselves up to public scrutiny.
At other times those fledgling muscles have strengthened and despite a few hisses and giggles from the sidelines as I lean into the last bend, I learn a lot about myself, about battling the inner critic and a whole lot about what it takes to go the distance.
Because this is all there is. Moving forwards towards the goal no matter how long it takes. Like the end of the day when I’m laying in bed watching the moon’s shadow layer reflections on how I could do things better — one step at a time, one thought at a time, one word at a time, one line at a time, one idea at a time.
The perfectionist’s rant.
Sometimes we aim to control the impossible, the unknown. As if we can influence any painful possibilities from happening. And when we catch ourselves in this moment — concerned with all that could go wrong — something inside freezes. The pain of being exposed stings. The discomfort of running last humiliates. The defeat of failing harps ring in our ears.
Yet I know the only person who remembers the inelegant dance of muscle, bone, fat and cellulite-affected skin on the track that chilly Saturday afternoon is me. And thankfully it’s in knowing only my ego took a dive that I can see the non-athletic me choosing a sport more akin to my body make-up and mind-centred presence. Walking on sandy beaches — long languishing walks full of dreaming, thinking and planning.
It took 12 months for me to wear high-heeled shoes again after my fledgling running career ended— my feet absorbed my ego’s pain and birthed a bunyon. I see my feet now with a new respect. I asked them to do something alien and they said ‘yes’ — we’ll take you where you want. Just ask and we’ll go. They didn’t know they’d never quite be the same again — but that’s the chance taken when trying something new.
As a recovering perfectionist, many may agree, our feet want to visit new places, experience new ventures — but the internal voice of self mockery created to defend ego will have none of that.
Denial and resistance — those twins that reappear when challenges beyond comfort zones threaten to interrupt the pathos of everyday-ness offer a view into self that can be painful to witness.
“What you resist not only persists, but will grow in size,” Carl Jung wrote.
In scanning my life I can see markers planted long ago flagging those innocent moments of perfectionism masquerading as control.
Each moment of our life offers an insight if open to receiving it. If I wonder why I took up running and was honest with myself it was to make a friend, to enter someone else’s world and see it from her perspective. And while my chiropractor was friendly, running ultimately didn’t connect or bind us. I stopped running and she started hurdling.
Earlier in my life I married an alcoholic. Was he one when I married him? I don’t know. All I know is that his drinking and dark side became more dominant than his light as years went on. Alcohol aside there were flashing lights and buzzing sirens screaming about the problems I could avoid when I first met him if only I listened.
But I was in control. I knew best what I needed.
My desire to gain a connection — to be loved — to rest in a place of acceptance became greater than the sirens so I turned down their sound and wore large blinkers.
Hindsight offers perspective that the present moment holds only for those wise enough to pause and hear the wisdom ever-present in silence. That space holding insight that’s easier to think ‘I get it’ when in fact you don’t understand it at all. I battled perfectionism with a mindset, not realising it was my body that had the answers all along. A shift from ‘understanding’ to knowing only came when awareness opened.
I was a perfectionist and he a controller. Both of us under the ego-driven mania of pretense that became raving lunacy for way too long.
People often ask why I didn’t leave sooner.
He was a bully who found people willing to be his puppets. I was one of them. And our son, sadly, was caught in the tension of a seemingly ‘happy’ relationship to the outside world that held minefields within.
Bill was a chameleon, a predator with wisdom into people’s motivation that he wielded with an engineer’s calculations. He instinctively knew how to use a lure and bait the most gullible. I gobbled the lure with relish, hook-line-and-sinker.
When you eat and drink from an ego-driven place, you’re bound to get hooked.
Most who came into his orbit got burned. I became charcoal. My son buried himself in technology escaping to a place that carried him away from the real-world bully he faced every day into a time of warrior heroes where anything was possible.
Perfectionism is crippling.
Because the seeming ‘control’ one believes one has limits choices. I thought I could control Bill. Heck, I couldn’t even control myself, how on earth did I think I could control another person! And sad as it is to own this, the seed of my control was birthed in my familial relationships. I see now the role my mother played as matriarch and martyr. My father’s shadow the result of an unfulfilled life. She wielded a silent power, he a distance that kept us children wondering who we were in the scheme of family dynamics.
I became arrogant. Self-absorbed in the power of ‘love’ I believed I had over Bill. Love and sexuality — beautiful life-giving gifts abused by impoverished thinking. Limited to controlling another’s actions rather than owning my own and simply choosing to leave the toxicity of a power game I was destined to lose.
I was running in the wrong race. I could have been hurdling, instead I was exposing all my wobbly unformed bits all over again. I needed to get some muscle and remove the soft flabby hope of ‘things-will-improve’ in the Neverland we lived in.
I, like Wendy needed to leave the nursery. It took 18 years to finally see I could only run my own life — not control another person’s. To witness the ‘control’ I thought I held over my life was to see the sham I’d chosen to live in, lycra-encased jelly melting under another’s power.
Perfectionism is a lure. It coddles you into believing there’s time. That’s a lie. Time in youth morphs to lost-time in middle-age and ends with an out-of-time older person where ‘I-could-have’ becomes the stem sentence of lost hope still masquerading under some sense of control. The joke’s finally up.
What resists persists.
There seems so much at stake no matter what age one is. Reputation. Loss of face. What will friends and family say?
“Did you see her running yesterday?”
“She’s brave wearing that outfit with those thighs.”
“Hadn’t realised she’d put on so much weight.”
“Let herself go.”
“Calls herself an artist — she shouldn’t give up her day job.”
And so she doesn’t. The fear of criticism silencing dreams until the faded glow of youth cements into the concrete cancer of control. Of holding back. Of watching others live the life once believed possible.
I’m so thankful that having held up the next race on that cold Saturday afternoon all those years ago as my wobbly bits and I headed down the home straight that my comfort zone was finally shaken out of complacency. Nobody cared. Not one person would have given it a moment’s thought since, yet the self-mockery I punished myself with still has an image seared on my conscience.
What resists persists.
I faced a fear all those years ago — running an impossible race I wasn’t prepared for and couldn’t win — in electric royal blue lycra.
I exhumed a marriage long after it was buried believing my control was greater than his. My desire for a perfect relationship only birthed grief.
Perfectionism and misplaced control — what terrible bed fellows.
Too many times I’ve run the wrong race and exposed my wobbly bits.
And in the process proven nothing to myself except that a bruised ego recovers and that running someone else’s race won’t ever help you start your own.
And as in life, some things spur you to greater heights of mastery and others remain as beautiful looping metaphors of recurring stories and life patterns where ego and control dance to an impossibly imperfect tune.
What resists persists.
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