Not giving a damn leads to self love: Lessons from a recovering perfectionist

Creators, producers, believers, makers, and do-ers are all at risk of being cutthroat perfectionists. Which means pretty much everyone. There’s varying degrees of perfectionism, as well. From the “remake 70 drafts because the detail in the corner is off even though you’re the only one that’ll see it” type to the “now I’m gonna go scream at myself in the backroom for 5 minutes because I dropped and broke something” type, we can all claim some part of this narrative. Unless you’re one of those holy saints that don’t fall somewhere on that two-point spectrum, then well, I guess you just don’t give as much a damn.

Because that has been one of my traits since I was a kid. For once in my life, I wish I could give LESS fucks that I actually do. Now, I’ve gotten better at giving myself grace and embrace self-love a bit more. Understanding that my products don’t coincide with my value helps. Understanding that I actually won’t die after making a mistake helps a lot too.

One time, I was making sourdough bread and set it in a nice towel’d bowl that I rigged up for proofing. I forgot to thoroughly floor the towel and the top of the dough so it ended up being a sticky, shaggy mess-amalgamation of dough and cloth, so I threw the whole thing on the floor and started crying next to it saying “I’m a shit baker and I hate bread.” The next day I scheduled a therapy session with my counselor and he affirmed that “making sourdough is really hard, man. It’s okay.” And later that week I felt a lot better and made the loaf successfully. (obviously more to it, but we’ll get into it later).

The worst part is, I’m way more prone to criticizing myself for a mistake than anyone else is. The really messed up part is that I take my own critique as deserving and justified, where if someone else sees something in me that’s less-than-satisfactory, then I am a no good piece of shit.

THAT being said, it’s taken a long time and a lot of work to recognize my self worth, to reject lies fed to me from my abandonment issues, and to have confidence that my decisions are good. Period.

There’s a blessing and a curse in giving a fuck. For example, I’m passionate, intentional, focused, and vision-driven. I’m hellbent on progress and I always make sure something is seen through in the right way. My projects, my jobs, my relationships – I’ve always been this way. A lot of things are IMPORTANT to me. That quality in itself is important to me. How’s that for meta?

But, that comes with its second edge.

A lot of times, I fall pretty high on the list of “Who’s Responsible?” when things go wrong. I have an impetus to be a pivot point of change and progress. Which means, mixed with control issues, that my passion is an Achilles heel too. I’ve pointed a lotta daggers at myself for things that weren’t anywhere near my responsibility or in my control. But there’s some success that comes from this in the end.

For example, my top three lessons that perfectionism has taught me are:

You’re a selfish dingus and not everything is centered around you.
This is true in 11/10 cases of me feeling like I shouldn’t step foot into performing or producing something. Sometimes it takes another person to tell me that things don’t matter as much as I think they do. Sometimes I want to fight that person, but in the end they’re 100% true. It’s actually so freeing to remember that I can step back and let go of a mistake because I can’t get it back no matter how hard I hate myself for it.

Life keeps moving. And you will too.
Messing up feels more momentous than it ever is in reality. The bigger picture is that – life goes on. Whether things are good or bad, you have to go forward either way. Like watching clouds, they just keep coming and going. I wrote this poem about clouds last year and it helps me remember that the only reason why clouds are so beautiful is that we can watch them from afar, and that they’re only here for a short while.

Float on by,
my cloudy sky.

Float on by, 
rain on these shoulders,
sun undercover,
sky blue sighs. 

Float on by, 
spring delight, summer smile.
My cloudy sky cannot stay – 
when this day and this time will just
float on by.

You are loved. You are worthy. You are valuable. You are enough.
The big one. For me, perfectionism is linked to my abandonment issues of being an adoptee. Like, if I just try hard enough, if I just prove myself enough, then I’ll be worthy of acceptance. This sneaks up on me every once and a while. Our brains/hearts tell us a lot of things, and it’s absurd that we believe some of that shit. The beauty is that, if you mess up or if things are a little ugly, you’re still loved, worthy, beautiful, courageous, and you, which is pretty damn cool.

And that’s the thing too. In the bread story I was so convinced I hate bread, but how could I even believe that? I love bread crumb-pletely and I’m so sorry for the pun. It takes work and oftentimes other voices to remind us that “it’s okay, man.”

This is why I say I’m a recovering perfectionist. Because my relationship with perfectionism is connected to many different things, and the big P has done a number on my confidence and self-esteem at times. You have your own shit to deal with that’s more or less deep than mine, so this is by no means a definitive thing. Further, to be honest, I just needed to write myself out of a little hole. And this ending isn’t at all conclusive or a nice little bow. But I’m not gonna beat myself up for it because I’m exactly what I’m claiming myself to be. On the way recovering.

love love,

Karl.

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