Combating Perfectionist Purgatory

Confession: I am a perfectionist.  Always have been…probably always will be.  In high school, a friend coined the phrase “HSC” which stood for “Honors Student Complex”.  It was the disorder that possessed us all–the idea that a B was considered “failing” and that you couldn’t be involved in too many after-school activities.  We took all of the hardest classes (with the exception of one friend who dropped down from honors to regular biology because she was afraid she wouldn’t be able to get an A in it–a super case of HSC!), and I was in all of the top auditioned choirs, even making it all the way to All State Jazz Choir.  We graduated with GPAs over 5 points on a 4 point scale.  Give us a task, and we excelled.

That was the positive side of perfectionism–hard workers getting excellent results.  But there was another side, too.  The side that threw outrageous tantrums because I couldn’t play an etude on my cello correctly the first time.  The side that mentally beat myself up when I got the wrong answer to math problem.  It’s this side that held me back and made me ask, if I couldn’t do something right the first time, was it worth doing at all?

Nowadays it’s this dark side of perfectionism that has its hold on me.  It has me anxiety-ridden, thinking that I’m going to pick the wrong career, the wrong grad program, and I’ll be trapped in something that I hate.  And so I’m stuck in a different way–paralyzed by my fear of choosing the wrong path.  So I’m stagnant, paused in the place before I take the leap, before I get too invested.  It keeps me from taking a risk, any risk, for fear that it might not be the “right one”.

I know that sounds completely ridiculous.  My fear of ending up trapped has me trapped in a purgatory of my own making.  And I find that the side I most want to develop, the creative, artist side of me, is in direct opposition to this very demanding and ugly personality trait.  Art is all about risk.  It’s about vulnerability, and it’s the opposite of people-pleasing.  It’s practicing, and failing, and doing it anyway.  Art is an exercise of the soul, and perfectionism is a soul-killer.

I’m not sure yet how to wrap up this blog entry because I haven’t found the answer to this reconciling this dichotomy yet (what a perfectionist way of putting that).  But I thought I’d just throw this out there and see if anyone else struggles with this same thing, and if so, what do you do about it?  Is there a way these two two attributes can work together?

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