Perfectionism is something I’ve struggled with for as long as I can remember. I’ve always strived to not only do well, but be 100% perfect the first time I try anything because that’s a completely normal expectation thankyouverymuch. Yes, yes, it is.
But it’s really not.
I remember, for instance, the intense frustration and tears when I was first learning to drive a manual. I got angry at myself for crunching the gears and not transitioning to the next gear smoothly enough. What. What even is that. As I’m writing this, and in hindsight, I know perfectly well that it is completely unreasonable to think I should be able to know how to drive from the moment I start and yet, there that thought was, springing up in my mind, whirling around, making itself known until the frustration caused by my mismatched expectations and reality got too much and tears came rushing out and I felt like a giant useless loser.
I have also experienced this frustration when I recently started to learn crochet. Oh boy. That was not a pretty sight to behold. Or hear. There was a lot of swearing. Poor Mr. birdandfox. And, also, ouch to my poor creativity. Perfectionism can be a bitch to the creative process, hey? Little doubts sneak in, as is only natural in the creative process it seems, and perfectionism attaches itself like a dirty little leech and sucks out all the self-belief, replacing it with more fuel to add to The Fire of Doubts until you just don’t even try because what’s the point. Urgh.
The paralysing power of perfectionism can also be found in my uni life. I expect myself to be able to understand complex statistics from the word go. I also expect to be able to write brilliantly and get everything correct in the first draft. I constantly question myself and my abilities – “Why can’t I understand multi-level modelling?”, “Why don’t I know how to write a manuscript for publication?” – and it often ends in me not even wanting to try, for fear of failure. Because, yes, in my brain, not getting it right the first time = failing. Never mind the fact that I’m still a student, still learning, still finding my way. Unwavering perfectionistic standards for myself begets professional-level procrastination begets paralysis.
So my expectations have a lot to answer for. I’m well aware of that. But figuring out what constitutes a reasonable expectation for yourself can be a tricky business. What makes it even more frustrating is that I don’t hold these same expectations for other people. If someone repeated to me some of the things I tell myself, I would tell them to cut themselves some slack. I would tell them that you’re not expected to know how to do everything right off the bat and not to cry and also please don’t throw things. Ahhh, double standards. How I loathe thee. But do thee so well!
I envy the people who say that they accept, and often expect, they will make mistakes when learning something new. How are they comfortable with this? How did they come to think this way? Tell me your secrets! Teach me the ways of this magic! But I digress.
Writing these points on perfectionism has been rather cathartic for me and I think there’s something in that. Writing your expectations down, talking about them, or simply getting into the habit of questioning them yourself, can go a long way. Because once you start challenging those impossible, towering expectations, they begin to come undone. So pull on that loose thread. Unravel that jumper. Or knitted overalls, whatever. And watch your unrealistic expectations come crashing down around you, making room for learning, fun, and creativity. Don’t let your perfectionism paralyse you.
You’ll be pleased to know that I have since learnt to drive a manual and am now a very competent driver. It just took more than a few hours to get it right.
Crochet is still not happening.