Perfectionism & Acceptance
It’s amazing how having professional photos taken will trigger the pipsqueak twerp voice inside your head, setting that thing off in ways you thought were long gone. Thighs! Teeth! A zit! Oh, and don’t even get me started on the topic of hair.
I have a complicated relationship with my hair, as most women do.
For me, my hair represents a major life transition.
About 2½ years ago, I traded in two decades of chasing a high-powered career – and the requisite pantsuits, high heels and polished coif that comes with it – to spend more time with my kids and pursue the long-deferred dreams of writing and teaching yoga. At that time, I also decided to stop wrestling with my hair – and blow-drying and round-brushing and flat-ironing and sculpting – and allowed my natural curls to take over.
At first, friends from my “old” life balked. “You look like a hippie,” one said. But, for the new people I meet, the ones who don’t know me any other way, my curls perfectly acceptable – accepted. Over the last couple years I’ve actually become known for my curls. These days, when blow outs are the exception rather than the norm, people will instead exclaim “Where are your curls?!” when I opt for straight tresses.
I must admit – I do love these curls. I love that they’re playful. Casual. Simultaneously soft and strong-willed. Even a little weird. (Is it a coincidence that these are some of the traits I try to cultivate in myself?)
Most of all, though, I love that my natural curls are a symbol of my leap to freedom and the happiness I’ve found since.
So when the photo shoot for my new website cropped up, I started obsessing over my hair. Curly or straight? Free or polished? Authentic or presentable?
I picked… straight. Because I thought it would look better.
And then proceeded to beat myself up about it. Because it wasn’t “authentic.”
You guys, WHY are we so hard on our sweet and beautiful selves? HOW can we be so afraid of simply being the real-deal, not-trying-to-impress, quirky and imperfect us??
The mental gymnastics of insecurity and perfectionism are EX-hausting. We need all our hours and minutes to lift ourselves up, not shred ourselves to bits.
I never fancied myself a perfectionist but Brené Brown showed me in “The Gifts of Imperfection” that I was wrong.
“Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be your best.
Perfectionism is not about healthy achievement and growth. Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgment, and shame. It’s a shield. Perfectionism is a twenty-ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from taking flight.”
Did you hear that??? Perfectionism doesn’t help us achieve… it keeps us stuck!
She goes on:
“Research shows that perfectionism hampers success. In fact, it’s often the path of depression, anxiety, addiction, and life-paralysis. ‘Life paralysis’ refers to all of the opportunities we miss because we’re too afraid to put anything out in the world that could be imperfect. It’s also all of the dreams that we don’t follow because of our deep fear of failing, making mistakes, and disappointing others. It’s terrifying to risk when you’re a perfectionist;your self-worth is on the line.”
Or, as my hero Elizabeth Gilbert says: “Perfectionism is just fear in really good shoes.”
Funny how it all comes back to fear, isn’t it?
It’s so easy to become paralyzed by that cycle of fear and perfectionism. I need to look no further than the list of things I’ve started but abandoned because of fears they’re just not good enough: the unsent letter to a prospective book agent; not one but two unfinished books; and dozens of unpublished posts that scratch deep and raw and risk exposing myself as, well, imperfect.
But, as Brené says: “You can’t do anything brave if you’re wearing the straightjacket of, ‘What will people think?’”
So, on this brave day, let’s say to hell with the fear.
Let’s commit to trading in that straightjacket for the understanding that perfectionism is an unattainable illusion.
Next, let’s take a deep breath and put our true selves out there in new ways, knowing that what we have to offer will never be impeccable.
Finally, let’s ride the momentum that comes with the grace of finally embracing the philosophy behind Steinbeck’s words:
“And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.”
What do you say?