Recently, I wrote my first query letter ever. Straight up: it took me an hour and a half. I wanted it to be perfect. My quest for perfection was so tight that my backspace and delete button started to pant halfway through the letter-writing process. Brain matter may or may not have started to squeeze out of my ears.
This is one measly query letter, folks. That I will likely not even receive a response to. But it was my first attempt at trying to get published, and I wanted it to ooze literary perfection.
It got me thinking more about perfectionism and how it winds its slithery, octopus tentacles around us. Elizabeth Gilbert says perfectionism “is just fear in really good shoes.” I want to take this quote and put it on a blinking marquis above my bathroom mirror. Or scream it at myself from a megaphone in certain weak moments. It’s that good.
In my case, this is how perfectionism generally chokes the life out of me. First, I have an idea. It’s a brilliant idea! But I have some deep-seated doubts that I can make it come to fruition. I’m not that smart really, and God knows, I don’t want anyone to find out about my limited brain power. I start to execute said idea and the details become overwhelming. I want to make all those details line up perfectly so that no one will find out the Ugly Truth: I’m a closet dum-dum.
Anxiety starts to build, clouding my thoughts and cluttering my resolve. I’m paralyzed by my own fear and insecurities. The panties are definitely in a wad at this point. From here, I generally have two possible end-games: 1) I do nothing rather than risk the unpleasant un-closeting of my true self; or 2) I exhaust myself to the point of drooling to make everything shine like the top of the Chrysler building.
Like “really good shoes,” perfectionism glitters and glistens on the outside but underneath the shine is a little girl huddled in the corner biting her nails. It masquerades as having everything together and mightily “doing it all,” but it’s a carefully-crafted mirage.
That desire for everything to be perfect is just fear steadily biting and nipping our heels. Fear that we’re not enough: not smart enough, not pretty enough, not successful enough.
Make it look perfect, and no one will notice that you’re actually cowering in the corner, chugging wine to take the edge off. Nothing to see here, folks. I’m perfect!
When I feel the tentacles of perfectionism start to slither around my neck, I remind myself that coming from a place of fear is a weak springboard. I identify those base fears of not-enough-ness and give myself a gentle talking-to (complete with wagging finger).
To all the paralyzed perfectionists: Keep moving. Take a risk. Jump and have faith that your wings will catch you. Imagine yourself above the clouds. Don’t worry about what the rest of the world is thinking. Follow your bliss. Keep writing or creating or cooking or base-jumping or knitting or whatever it is that you love with all of your soul. This love will carry you.
It doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to be. Take a deep breath, let go, and imagine all the divinely-flawed possibilities.
Wow, Emily – that’s a great read for so many of us… me, in particular. A wise friend once told me not to let perfect get in the way of good. It’s hard to remember sometimes. My in-laws are on their way over; perhaps your thoughts are just the excuse I was looking for to quit feverishly cleaning to make my house look “perfect?!” 😉 Thanks for sharing!
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I soooooo do this. Everytime I have out of town guests, I clean, cook, and bake to the point of total exhaustion and then I can’t even enjoy them because I’m worn out. Ridiculous! Hope the visit went well.
Lifting you up to keep on writing! 👍