Why I Let Go of My Perfectionism in Creativity
Written By Wendy de Jong
I sit at my desk in my busy office, pretending to be busy myself.
Secretly I sneak glances out of the window, dreaming of a different life. I can’t help but think about where it all went wrong.
I followed the steps. I did everything right. Why was I failing at my job? Why was my perfectionism failing me?
You see, I used to have it all together. Or so I thought. I was the good girl, the smart girl. Your typical overachieving straight-A student. My good grades got me love and attention and praise.
And so, I took on the persona of the perfect student. This role was written for me. I was born to be the perfect student. As a perfectionist, I deployed my perfectionist super powers: being diligent and extremely detail oriented, focusing on quality over quantity, holding myself to high standards, and working in a structured and organized manner. I thrived all the way through high school and college.
As I sat there feeling miserable at my desk in my busy office, I made a promise to myself. I promised to figure out what was really going on with me and my perfectionism and to do something about it. Back then, I could never have imagined what a life-changing journey it was going to be.
Reading Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly was a game-changer for me.
It was the first time I saw perfectionism for what it really is: a dangerous and harmful way of thinking and behaving. Perfectionism is a coping mechanism that we use when we feel scared, insecure, uncertain, and/or not good enough.
I always thought that perfectionism was a collection of traits, because this is the way perfectionism is portrayed in popular culture. If you’re an hyper-organized type A, then you must be a perfectionist. But the more I read and researched - book after book, scientific research publication after scientific research publication - the more I was proven wrong.
I began to see how perfectionism had taken root in me at a young age. As a kid, my good grades got me love and attention and praise. To me, it felt like love was conditional. Not who I was, but how I performed determined whether I was good enough and deserved love.
This dangerous thought pattern became the core of my belief system: ‘If my school or work performance determines whether I get love and attention or not, I better perform perfectly so that I can make sure that I never feel the pain of not getting love and attention again.’ Being the smart girl became my identity.
After digging even deeper and getting more vulnerable with myself, I also came to see that what I’d always assumed where my perfectionist super powers (like being diligent, preferring quality over quantity, and holding myself to high standards) were actually MY super powers.
They’re my strengths and my talents. All these years, I’d been abusing them through perfectionism.
That was the moment I realized I had to let go of my perfectionism.
Right now, I run a business that I’ve built around my strengths and talents. Because the thought pattern of my perfectionism is so deeply ingrained in me, it still pops up now and again, especially when I feel insecure or do something that’s outside of my comfort zone.
What I’ve learned over the past few years is that I can choose how I respond when the warning signs of perfectionism pop up. Instead of listening to fear, I’ve learned to listen to my intuition through meditation and journaling. My intuition always knows the best way to move forward.
I can tell you this, the best way to move forward is never trying to perfect something that is good enough as it is.
Wendy De Jong
Wendy de Jong is a recovering perfectionist on a mission to help fellow soul-connected yet stressed-out creatives embrace their perfectly imperfect selves. She’s the bookworm and gratitude geek behind The Gratefulist. Her latest guilty pleasure is driving around in her bright red convertible car.