The Problem with Perfectionism

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how I often identify with and am inspired by women who share their lives via social media. Within a week, I found myself being forced to confront the flip side of this: how intimidating it can be to live in a socially mediated world. If you read  What is Movement?, you’ll recall that I often ask upon meeting other women: “How can I get there, too?” But there’s a fine line between being inspired by someone and being obsessed with their life – especially when you reach the point of measuring your accomplishments against the accomplishments (or shared-on-social accomplishments) of others.

In addition to my research and personal experiences with social media, I’ve had the opportunity to work as a content curator for going on four years now. Through my work and conversations with other curators I’ve learned one thing for sure: smiles behind filters and stories told in 140 characters or less are not real. I’ve used a filter and a few enhancements to turn gloomy weather into sunshine plenty of times. What we encounter online are productions, and our reactions to them are perceptions. And as a Roman poet and somebody’s mother would say: “Things are not always what they seem.”

Pacing the fine line between searching for inspiration and fending off obsession has been a part of my journey to overcome perfectionism.

Take this blog, for example. After I created it, I sent it out to a group of close friends to solicit their help in encouraging me to keep it updated. Over the years I’ve started, and ended, and transferred blog after blog. First, I’ll obsess over the title: Is it catchy enough? Is it too long? Too short? Is it corny? Next, I’ll spend hours tweaking the design: What color describes the mood? Should I have one sidebar or two? What does this header say about me? Finally, I’ll become so frustrated with making tweaks and changes that I abandon the idea altogether. The problem has been that I frequent so many blogs that are so well done I start telling myself I can’t/won’t reach that level before I give it a fair shot. Because of this, several of my best ideas and stories never saw the light of day out of fear of falling short of perfection.

Thankfully, I’m over that. So, take this blog, and its header, and its one sidebar as opposed to two, and its lack of color scheme for what it’s worth: a learning process.

Going through the Ph.D. candidacy process (five days of 4-hour comprehensive exams and a 2-hour defense with a committee of five) taught me several lessons related to perfectionism: you will never know it all (ever), someone always knows more than you, you can’t be an expert without a constant hustle (and even then the title is fleeting), and sometimes getting it wrong (and being corrected) is more productive than getting it right.

Obsessing over perfection (and/or thinking that somehow someone other than you has achieved it with ease) will drive you crazy. It will cause you to abandon great ideas because you witnessed great execution of a mediocre one. It will keep you up at night thinking about details that others may or may not have noticed. For example, did you notice that the hyperlinks in the Twitter feed on the right are orange and on the rest of the site they are blue? They will remain that way. Because in the grand scheme of things, the color of the hyperlinks do not alter the goal of this project. And, in the end, that is what matters. In my journey to abandon perfectionism, I’ve made a commitment to focus on what matters, what makes a difference, what has meaning. Sometimes it’s the little things. Sometimes, it’s not.

Besides, perfectionism leaves little room for life’s learning processes – now what fun is that?



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