Perfectionism isn't a Personality Flaw: It's an Excuse

We say it all the time. When an interviewer asks about our weaknesses, it's the first thing that comes to mind. When we fail to finish a project — or even start one — the same fatal characteristic is always the culprit. Perfectionism. 

"I would love to start exercising," we say, "I just need to really nail down a workout plan before I start."

Or, "It'd be really fun to start a blog, I just need to do more research. I'm not comfortable with 'winging it'." 

"I'm super passionate about writing," we might admit, "but I think I need more practice before letting anyone read it."

We're sometimes even petty enough to say, "Nah, I'll go grocery shopping tomorrow. I look like a train wreck today — I don't want anyone to think I'm homeless."

I'll be the first to admit that I've said all of these things more than once (yes, even the last one), all while blaming this poor decision-making on my so-called "perfectionism". All of my adult life, I've viewed perfectionism as an inborn trait. A personality flaw. It's just something I've got to live with, I'd tell myself. Oh, the woes of being a perfectionist...

Finally, whether by fate or thinning patience, my fiancé Brian told me to wake the hell up (more delicately, of course) and realize that perfectionism isn't a trait or a personality flaw. And it's certainly not something I have to "live with." The reality is that perfectionism is just an excuse.

Ouch, harsh. I instinctively wanted to argue. I wanted to tell him how wrong he was about me. That I'm ambitious, that I'm driven, that I'm all these wonderful and amazing things — it's just this perfectionism that keeps getting in the way of it all...and then it hit me. There it is, I thought. The excuse.

This bout of tough love really got me thinking. What would happen if I changed my perspective on perfectionism? Curiosity got the best of me. I began making a conscious effort to alter my self-made definition of perfectionism, no longer labeling it as a dooming attribute, but as a lazy excuse that was keeping me from trying new things.

This new perspective immediately spun me on my heels. It was like an epiphany. Perfectionism was no longer something that could permeate my decision-making. On the contrary, it was something I had complete and total control over all along. And with that, I began exercising this newfound control with confidence....err, sort of.

I'd yet to realize that the hardest part of this journey wouldn't be recognizing perfectionism as something that could be defeated. That was only half the battle. It was realizing how perfectionism is defeated: by embracing imperfection. I know, seems stupid-obvious. But believe me, this concept sparked quite an internal struggle. Feelings of vulnerability began creeping up on me. Little voices telling me I wasn't good enough. That people would judge me. That I'd fail.

When did failure become this lurking, amorphous being, waiting for us to let our guard down so it can strike? A part of embracing imperfection is letting failure, this unthinkable thing that we've worked so hard to shun, become our friend. As Winston Churchill said: "Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm." 

So, I (finally) asked myself, How should I fail first?

It didn't take me long to think of an answer. I promptly responded with something I'd wanted to do for a very, very long time: start a blog. And that, ladies and gents, is how I finally worked up the bravery to bring this website to life. (Thanks, Brian.)

I plan to treat this as my creative space, where I can try and fail and try again — all while never losing that "enthusiasm." So, if you're along for the ride, you might see a couple slip-ups along the way. But I also hope you'll see someone passionate, openly embracing imperfection, and that maybe you'll be inspired to do the same.