Ok to be Pretty Good: Walking Away From Perfectionism

“Ring the bells that still can ring/Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything,/That’s how the light gets in.”

—Leonard Cohen, Singer-Songwriter, Poet, Musician and Novelist

Dear Readers,

I started a new job as a Student Fundraiser at the University at Buffalo Call Center.  What that entails is me being hung up on, semi-snapped at and turned down by most of the UB alumni who pretty much don’t not wish to part with their funds to support the college.  If you heard my voice, you would say it’s naturally calm, gentle and belongs to a woman one would allow to pet sit while the family left for a Hawaiian vacation.  And don’t get me wrong–no all the folks I spoke with were rude.  On my first night, I managed to snag two pledges–which is rare according to one of my supervisors.  Shit, I was told I did “very well” for it being my first night.  So you can imagine me walking into the call center the second night, ready to pull in about 5…maybe 6 pledges.  Since I possess a voice soaked with trusty sweetness, I can knock this out!


I was lucky to get one pledge and my beautiful voice was no match for football games and semi poverty.  A fundraiser sitting two computers away from me secured 3 pledges–all of them over $100 or more.  By credit card no less.  By the end of the night, I was stressed, ready to walk out the door and bummed about the one pledge.  As I drove home, my mind began racing about my progress at work:  What happened to my 5 pledges?  Why come I couldn’t get three credit cards to commit?  Am I going to lose my job?????  Do my supervisors deem me a complete failure????  I couldn’t even sleep that night, wondering what I did wrong and imagining myself typing up a whole new script so I would sound more natural and convincing over the phone.

But here’s the asskicker:  I don’t even want to GO to work now.  Everytime I think about walking into the Call Center, I have to breathe to fight back the anxiety attack wanting to choke me.  I find myself wanting to call off and lie about having a tumor on my foot!  Or something.  I just got this job and I’m already scared and I’m thinking to myself: What. In. THE. Hell.  Mind you I’ve been a caller for TWO DAYS!!!!!

When I look back on this chain of events, I see my over-achieving Perfectionist emerged that night.  You know what I’m talking about, Readers, because we all have one:  that Perfectionist inside of us that will not even leave their house unless every hair on our head is straight and in place, every word on our papers is spelled correctly, every dish in our house is clean.  We make sure all the people around us is presentable and–if not–they are staying home because they are NOT going outside with ME looking like that!  I say this all in jest, but you know it’s fuckin’ true.

Joking aside, perfectionism is an enemy of trauma victims.  In fact, we often deem perfectionism an indicator of what we consider normal and acceptable–or what it is according to those around us. Depending on what kind of trauma we endured, we most likely had someone in our lives that told us that we were not good enough.  No matter what we did or said to gain the approval of that one person (or a few people), we could never measure up to what was perfect to him, her or them.  Perfectionism transformed most trauma victims and survivors into two kinds of people:  the Overachiever and the Slacker.

The Overachiever did well in school, made the honor roll, received the full ride to college and the one family member considered the one who was going to “make it.”  The Overachiever is a person who strives for order intellectually, academically, physically, and dares not display emotion.  He or she has to keep it together and expects everyone else in their life to do the same.  This person does everything possible to be noticed for all that they do, which is why they volunteer to “help those in need.”  He or she is the “go-to person” because when everyone else’s existence falls apart, the Overachiever comes to the rescue to pick up the pieces and glue them back together.  The downside of having such a role, however, is that this personality slides into a deep depression if they fall off the high perch they allowed themselves to be placed on.  Also, they anger quickly when not given credit they feel is owed to them.

The flipside of perfectionism is the Slacker–The person who procrastinates and may (or may not) do work at the last minute.  They do not pay attention to what is going on around them and–when they do–it is usually because something happened to make him or her wake up.  This personality doesn’t know what to do with their lives and most likely wishes they could live vicariously through someone else’s adventures.  Many of these folks are wonderful people–as well as intelligent, creative and could be a vital asset to the greater society, but choose to do everything half-assed because it’s the easiest route to drive down.  But I have a secret:  the Slacker is so due to fear of failure.  This person is a Perfectionist in disguise who believes if they don’t try, then they can’t fuck up.  These people would rather be underachievers than put themselves out there–only to “fail” and never hear the end of it.

I played both the Overachiever and the Slacker for the longest of time, thinking I was either too intelligent to deal with my family’s disorder or too stupid to contribute to my life any that of others.  The toxic messages I heard as a child stuck with me like flies to tape, to try anything to contradict them not only seemed like too much work, but unfamiliar.  I also knew that I finally had to take responsibility for my own growth if I challenged these roles I lived with so comfortably.  Letting go of them meant who was hiding beneath such roles:  a scared little girl who needed protection from someone because no one was there to protect her from harm.

Just know, Reader, that playing these roles is basically about having control over something–your mental and emotional state, which isn’t healthy.  Furthermore, fearing failure or living to obtain perfection is about not accepting who we are at the present.  Many trauma victims–and survivors–feel they are letting someone down when unable to live  up to someone else’s version of perfect.  We tell ourselves that we have to be someone else for someone else when we are the ones projecting our old ideas onto other people!  If you find yourself doing this, then try this exercise:  Stand in front of your mirror in your birthday suit.  You heard me!  Stand in front of a full-length mirror and examine your bare body.  Examine your body and see it for what it is:  The body your Higher Spirit gave you.  In order to reduce your perfectionist ways, you have to see yourself for who you are now.

If you’re not comfortable doing so, then do something reeeeeeally cray, like having a mud party and having friends pushing mud in your face, dance in front of the mirror, or do karaoke.  I remember doing country line dancing.  I fucked that up real good, but I had a great time because I knew I didn’t know what I was doing and didn’t care.  But perfectionism doesn’t exist and it never will–at least not if we’re placing high expectations on ourselves and others.  But if we define what perfect is for us and can live by reasonable standards without breaking our necks, then being a human will not be bad at all.

Now go strip in front of the mirror and shake what Creator gave you!


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