The Antidote to Perfectionism? Okayism.
I wanted my first entry of 2018 to be amazing. I was going to take a whole new twist on the nature of this blog. It was going to be so much better than what I’d done last year.
Pretty much every time I set out to do something, I envision the end result being MY BEST WORK YET. While I am embarrassed to admit this, sometimes I picture the work going viral and launching me into fame. I’ll go as far as imagining an interview with Oprah, recalling that turning point in my life where things really took off after I posted this stroke of genius blog that ‘to my surprise’ gained mass attention as some transformational soliloquy of universal truth. The hypocrisy, of course, being that I'm imagining the surprise.
Keep in mind, this all happens before I start. Once I move from the inflated fantasy to the reality of doing the work, the balloon starts to lose air real fast. Then, when it’s almost completely deflated, I release it into the world feeling a little embarrassed for having shared my measly limp-ballon-of-an-idea.
What I’ve come to recognize easily is the tragic flaw in my approach; that is the flaw of perfectionism. That sounds a little paradoxical, doesn’t it?
What makes perfectionism both a flaw and a tragedy is that it will only accept what doesn’t exist, because nothing in nature is perfect, or everything is perfectly imperfect.
I’ve been fine-tuning this flaw from a young age. This memory in particular comes back to me vividly:
My nine year old self sitting on the living room floor in a mosaic of various colours of construction paper, when my mom walks in to say, “Tara you have to go to bed. It’s almost midnight.” Burdened by my still incomplete project - one that was only intended to be a simple essay on Mi’kmaq culture, not an elaborately illustrated pop-up book - I jerk my head around and through tears of frustration say, “BUT I HAVEN’T EVEN DONE THE TITLE PAGE.” Beyond the many interactive illustrations included in the essay, the title page was meant to be the pièce de résistance, MY BEST WORK YET. When I got the project back from my teacher, beside a glorious 10/10 she wrote, “Tara, you worked too hard on this project!” which left me feeling a bizarre mixture of shame and validation.
Somewhere early on I learned to attach my self-worth to my creativity. It was only recently while reading Daring Greatly by Brené Brown that the detriment of this tendency became clear. In her words, “If you’re wondering what happens if you attach your self-worth to your art or product and people love it…you’re in even deeper trouble…Everything shame needs to hijack and control your life is in place… You’re officially a prisoner of “pleasing, performing, and perfecting.” ”
If at this point you’re thinking, I'm so glad I’m not a perfectionist, keep reading.
While I started the subject of this blog a few days ago, last night I coincidentally stumbled upon a podcast with Emily Pereira on the subject. In the interview, she describes the 3 archetypes of perfectionism that most of us fall into:
The type A, overt perfectionist who is proud to be perfect and flaunts it like an unfortunate strength. Omg - I’m SUCH a perfectionist!
The covert perfectionist who wants things to look like a happy accident. Really, it was no big deal. I just threw it together.
The unconscious perfectionist who has set the bar so high that they don’t even bother trying. I’m too cool too care. What does everybody care so much?
I can relate to all three, expressing them at different times. Regardless of what category you may fall into, the sad truth is that all of us are capable of the same faulty belief: that we, just as we are, are not enough. That we must strive to be better and do better to be worthy of love, success, happiness, joy [insert positive emotion here].
Yes. We can all do better and should strive to be our best selves, but let’s get real about what our best self is.
For me, my best self is the one that is fully alive when I am creating, engaged in the spontaneity of the moment. Basically, it’s when I forget ‘I’ exist. Things go awry when I start to attach the outcome of what I’m creating to what it says about who ‘I’ am. Instead of knowing I’m enough regardless of what I produce, perfectionism says, I will be enough when I create this perfect blah blah blah. A bar we all know cannot be reached.
When it comes to obliterating perfectionism in order to create, I am reminded of a horoscope I read years ago that said, “find the hidden strengths in your weaknesses and the hidden weaknesses in your strengths”.
If perfectionism is a weakness, its hidden strength is an exceptional passion to create. And if having a passion is a strength, the hidden weakness is intensity.
There’s nothing like farming to beat imperfection out of you, and to stay the course you need passion because it’s damn hard work. I want to be passionate in my livelihood, to grow more both literally and figuratively. As always, I approached farming with everything I had, hoping to achieve - you guessed it - MY BEST WORK YET. I wanted our naturally-grown chemically-free vegetables to look [unnaturally] perfect. I wanted the garden to be perfectly free of weeds even though nature hates bare soil. I charged into the first two seasons with great force, only to burn out quickly. I was aiming for something that didn’t exist and my intensity was not sustainable.
The thing is, passion doesn’t have to be a big, beautiful burst of fire.
In fact, our truest passions really shouldn’t be, because like a steamy summer fling that kind of passion dies out quickly. Lasting passion exists like a small vulnerable flame. It may burn less intensely but it burns with longevity.
It was in reading The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer, that a simple truth occurred to me. It was when I read this line, “The truth is, everything will be ok as soon as you are ok with everything.”
This was the permission I needed to grant myself: to be okay with being okay. What I call okayism.
At its core, being okay means feeling non-resistance to whatever is thrown your way. If we think of the flow of life as working like a magnet, where when you’re in the flow negative moves effortlessly to positive, perfectionism works counter to the flow. It turns the magnets on each other, where the negative belief that we are imperfect repels all of positive aspects of life that are inherently imperfect. Okayism works in the flow, where acceptance of imperfections and the negative aspects of life move effortlessly to a positive state of being.
When you’re okay with being okay, you’re more open to feedback and improvement, because there’s no shame in having not known this information in the first place. Like a sturdy platform from which you can launch, okayism puts you in a stable position to take your next step. A perfectionist, however, is constantly in a position of instability reaching on her tip toes for that bar that can’t be reached.
Okayism does not accept things that aren’t okay.
I’m not saying that if you’re in a terrible relationship or a thankless job you should just be okay with that. No, you should take action in your life to make things better. But the dread and turmoil we put ourselves through when we feel stuck in a position of not wanting to be where we are does not help. If we can be okay with where things are, rather than feel trapped by how imperfect they are, we generate more steam to change them.
We can still aim for big goals from a position of being okay, and chances are we’re far more likely to go for them.
Rather than ask myself “Is this blog my best work yet?” and feeling disappointed knowing it isn’t, I could ask myself, “Am I okay with where I’ve gotten with this blog?” If not, I keep working. If yes, I ship it out into the world and move on to my next thing, inching my way towards improvement. Everything is okay when you’re okay with everything.
Somewhere, years ago, I heard that the word okay was derived from a acronym used in the military, “0.K.” which stood for “Zero Killed.” If this is true, it makes the essence of okayism all the more powerful. If you accept that things are 0.K., as in not dead, as in alive and well, then in being okay you are expressing a reverence for being alive.
Maybe you’re thinking, but if you’re just okay with everything won’t that prevent you from experiencing the highest highs (and lowest lows) that life has to offer? Maybe, but I’m okay with that.
If any of this rang true with you, like or share the post below. Or don't. Either way is a-okay!