How I realized my perfectionism was holding me back and am channeling it into something productive

8 stones stacked neatly on top of eachother

Hi. My name is Kay, and I am a recovering perfectionist. For most of my life, I have held myself to unrealistic standards of flawlessness and then been hard on myself when I failed to meet them. Sounds like fun, right?

…being a perfectionist was once a quality I was proud of…

Being a perfectionist was once a quality I was proud of, and in fact, it served me well while I was growing up. As a student, achieving perfection was well-defined, measurable, and achievable: go to school, and get ‘good’ grades. Then I graduated from college and was hoisted into the adult world: a sea of open possibilities with no generally accepted scale for measuring success. I felt lost, uncertain, and completely out of my realm. So… now what do I do?

In some zombie movies, when the survivors inevitably find themselves surrounded by the undead, they try to get out by blending in, limping awkwardly along with the zombie current, and desperately hoping to go unnoticed. This is how I approached the first ten years of my adulthood. I got a job, moved out of my parents’ house, lost my job, moved back into my parents’ house, got temporary work through my dad’s job, moved out of my parents’ house without any steady income to support it, got a job, got a house, got married, had a child. I was grappling onto the adult-iest goals I could think of and flubbing my way in life toward them.

That last one was a doozy: having a child. Have you ever tried to be a perfectionist modern-day mom of a newborn? Failure, failure, everywhere. And I started my new mom journey pregnant with the ideals of a beautiful unmedicated, minimal intervention birth. This dream spiraled terrifically over 26 hours into several medications and a surgical delivery. As I lay on the operating table, having lost all sense of control, my brain dived into the depths of the worst-case scenario—losing my baby—and latched onto that idea so firmly that even after my baby was born safely and without complications, I struggled for months—arguably years—to cope with this experience. As I said, perfectionists’ brains are super fun.

Failure, failure everywhere.

Thus I entered motherhood—where the zombie apocalypse metaphor is ever more appropriate.  Trying to recover from my “failed” labor and delivery, I buried myself in the overabundance of contradicting parenting advice and obsessed over whether my baby was eating or sleeping enough. Thank goodness my mom stayed with our family in the early weeks, or I may have starved. I don’t know that any of this is related specifically to my perfectionist mindset, but this experience was a catalyst to my nights of online research of how the human brain works, lots of introspection, and practicing letting go of so many of my expectations. Over time, I realized how immobilizing my perfectionist habits have been and how they’ve prevented me from trying or starting so many things because I was afraid of disappointing myself.

One of these things I had always had difficulty starting was a blog. There was never a topic that was perfect enough, a blog title that was perfect enough, or a purpose that was perfect enough for me to move out of brainstorming and into the doing phase. But this time, when I wondered if the topic could continue to inspire me, I reminded myself of other blogs that evolved, changed direction, or rebranded. I don’t have to get it “right” at the start. Maybe it’ll lack clear direction or have a shaky “voice,” and maybe that doesn’t matter because, over time, I’ll figure it out. With any luck, sharing my journey will invite others to learn with me.

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