letting go of perfection

Did you know that I used to play piano? I absolutely loved it. I played for 8 years, and then one day I quit. For a really long time I attributed my quitting to a lot of different things, but the truth is that I saw so many people complimenting those around me on how talented they were and I got it in my head that I was not good enough. So I quit. I also used to write short stories and poetry, but around the time I realized exactly how much I loved writing, I quit writing because I thought I wasn't good enough to write. I thought my words were less than, that I wasn't worthy enough to be a writer.

I've always known I struggle with perfectionism. And while mostly I wished I didn't, I kind of liked the idea that I cared so much. I tricked myself into believing that I was just trying to do great work. And if it couldn't be great, I wouldn't do any work at all. I didn't realize how much shame is wrapped up in perfectionism.


1. the doctrine that the perfection of moral character constitutes a person's highest good

2. a disposition to regard anything short of perfection as unacceptable; especially: the setting of unrealistically demanding goals accompanied by a disposition to regard failure to achieve them as unacceptable and a sign of personal worthlessness

Unrealistic, unattainable standards that if not met means you are worthless. This is what perfectionism is. I never understood until recently how much I let perfectionism and shame make my decisions for me. In more than just creative endeavors, perfectionism and shame paralyzes you. It makes you believe you aren't skinny enough, or athletic enough, or popular enough, or witty enough. It makes you believe you are not enough. It forces you deeper into yourself until no one knows your true beauty. True beauty is not found in perfection, it is found in the slight but distinct differences. I know it's so cliche, but there is no one on earth like you. This means no one else can design the way you do, or write with the same voice as you, or be kind in the same way that you are kind. The idea of perfection hides you from the world. We weren't designed to live in hiding. We were designed to live out loud, bravely.

I watched a TED talk from Brene Brown, a researcher and storyteller, titled Listening To Shame. Before you watch that talk, make sure to watch her first TED talk titled The Power of Vulnerability. In her talk, Brene discusses how shame has become an epidemic in our culture. She references a quote from Theodore Roosevelt:

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."

She goes on to talk about how we all stand outside of the arena, waiting until we are perfect before we enter in. We will never be perfect. And besides, nobody wants perfect anyway. We want authenticity, we want your quirks, we want honesty. We want people who are willing to dare greatly, who are willing to fail, get up, and do it all over again.

JournalSarah JensenComment