Over the past three months, I’ve struggled with moving my thoughts past the draft stage and into the posted stage on my blog. Those who also blog will possibly relate, many (maybe too many?) great topics and ideas arise in my day to day work and life, and yet I’ve started more posts in the past few months then I have obviously finished. I’ll admit it publicly, no fewer than nine “drafts” in various states of completion are currently languishing in my “posts” folder on WordPress.
I was participating in a conference call yesterday with several women who are good friends and colleagues planning our upcoming ACPA session called “Wonder Women: Leaning In as Women in Student Affairs.” Eventually as we worked on our plan for our session, the conversation got around to our tendencies (or rejection of) perfectionism. As women, we all admitted to struggling at some point in our lives with perfectionism. And, those who know me or have worked with me know that I struggle with perfectionistic tendencies that play out in my parenting, my work, and apparently also in my blogging. My personal definition of perfectionism is the endless striving for unattainable excellence, but (and here’s the catch) without looking like you’re working that hard to achieve it.
In just a little over two weeks at ACPA in Indianapolis, I will be among many student affairs educators in the audience or listening via live-stream to the closing keynote by Dr. Brené Brown, whose book, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, fundamentally changed how I feel about and deal with my perfectionism.
“Perfectionism is a self destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: If I look perfect, and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgement, and blame.” – Brené Brown
For me, where healthy striving and perfectionism diverge is the resulting behaviors and self-doubt that perfectionism can result in. Questions I often ask myself when I see perfectionism emerge in my thoughts about my current project or post include “For whom am I aiming to please?” “Why is it so important that it be done a certain way?” and “How is this making me feel about myself?”
Pleasing Others: Perfectionism is often rooted in caring too much about and focusing on what others think. Maybe it’s just me, but I think the desire to receive positive feedback, praise, and to please others should not be the reasons why we engage in blogging. But, yet as personal platforms for ideas — blogging becomes a megaphone, and the response we receive fuels positive emotions. After a while, these positive emotions become addicting. As I write this, I am literally asking myself — do I really care what others think? What if I get no response from this post? Is it really about pleasing others and getting praise? Of course I care, but should this be the reason why I’m doing it? I want to please myself and as I look at the drafts in my “posts” folder, I think about what moving those drafts to the “published” stage will do for me personally, and that’s a much larger driver then whether anyone reads them at all.
Doing it Perfectly: The second question I ask myself when I look at the drafts, is “why must they be done a certain way to be publishable?” So what if I don’t have links and references embedded! So what if there are a few grammatical errors! Is it really the end of the world?
Recently my son was working on a project for his third grade class. He had to write a 5-paragraph report on an animal based on a week-long field trip that the entire third grade had taken to the zoo. He had chosen the Binturong (I know, I didn’t know what it was either and had to look it up, here’s a link to the San Diego Zoo’s website) which he had observed over the course of the week and then researched in class. In preparing to start his report one afternoon, he was literally in tears because he was so overwhelmed. As a parent who personally struggles with perfectionism, I am very conscious of not passing along these tendencies to my children. I heard myself saying “Just get it done. It doesn’t have to be perfect!” I want him to know that I want effort and focus, but that perfection isn’t realistic or what I expect. I thought about how my high standards that I have for myself and how that image impacts others. So, over the course of the two weeks that we worked on the project, I avoided suggesting ways to make it better. I even avoided thinking these things to myself. And, I refrained from all negative feedback or criticism. I gave suggestions when he asked for them, but I didn’t offer any unsolicited commentary that wasn’t positive. It’s his work, after all. I know plenty of parents who would have done it for him. Made it better. Heck, ask me about a previous science fair project — I have been that parent! So, ultimately, I only praised his hard work and dedication for getting it done. As he finished up, I asked him how he felt about himself as a result of his hard work. As you can see in this photo, it’s obvious that he was immensely satisfied with himself.
How I feel about myself: So, that’s what it’s all about, right? I want to promote feelings of satisfaction and contentment with what I’m able to do and produce. Going to bed at night believing that as I am striving to live a wholehearted life, that perfectionism has no place in my struggle for worthiness. As Brené Brown says in Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead:
“There are many tenets of Wholeheartedness, but at its very core is vulnerability and worthiness; facing uncertainty, exposure, and emotional risks, and knowing that I AM ENOUGH.” – Brené Brown
In conclusion, I will refrain from beating myself up for my multiple incomplete and un-posted drafts. I will just let that feeling go. There is obviously a reason why coming back to them and finishing them didn’t rise higher in the priority list. There are only so many hours in the day and how I choose to spend them indicates my priorities, but not my worthiness. Perfectionism is debilitating and a daily struggle to overcome, but I am a work in progress (as is this post, but it’s going to be published before I can overthink it!)