Pushing Past Perfectionism


The first time I decided to make an apron, I sat in my car in front of JOANN Fabrics for twenty minutes building up courage to go into the store. I wanted so badly to learn how to sew. A few days earlier, I’d bought a sewing machine off Amazon. I’d spent four hours watching YouTube videos, teaching myself how to thread the needle and insert the bobbin. I knew if I spent enough time practicing, I could teach myself how to make cute aprons and would probably fall in love with this new hobby. But there was this incredibly persuasive voice in my head, urging me to stay in my car.

The voice sounded something like this:

You are not a seamstress. You have no idea what you're doing. You don’t know what fabric to get.  You’re wasting your time; there are so many more productive things you could be doing today. This is going to be a disaster. You’re going to embarrass yourself.

We all have this voice, and for some, it's louder than it is for others. This is our perfectionistic voice, the voice of our inner critic. It tells us what it believes we’re capable of, what we should and shouldn’t do. This voice believes its protecting us—but in reality, it limits us. It keeps us  sitting in our car instead of venturing into the store and embarking on a new hobby.

It keeps us small. 

So what do you do with this voice? How do you leap into new hobbies and out of your comfort zone when this voice can at times become deafening with its judgment and incessant demands?

Realize it is There to Help you, and Know Where it Comes From

Although listening to that voice will keep you small, I believe it’s actually well-meaning and wants to protect you.  Maybe there was a time when you dove head first into something as a kid and fell flat on your face. The voice believes its job is to keep you away from future "failures" and to keep your ego intact. And, for a time, this voice probably did its job really, really well. That voice protected you from embarrassment and from veering too far into potentially dangerous situations.

But once we become adults, we often become way too compliant to its demands. We don’t realize that we have to ability to decipher what is best for us, and this voice may no longer serves us. To figure out if this voice is limiting you and keeping you from what you truly want, it helps to—

Visualize a Life without Perfectionism

One of the things that can really help us is to imagine that there are no expectations, no personal or external barriers holding us back. To do this, I like to do something I call the desert island trick:

I imagine I’m living on a desert island where only the things I truly want exist. On the island there’s no concept of time, money or expectations. You can look however, act however and do whatever  you want. Once you've arrived at this island in your mind, ask yourself how you'd spend your days. Whatever answer pops up, promise yourself that you'll do whatever it takes to incorporate a little bit of that into your life. And—

Realize that the Perfectionistic Voice is not Your Identity

When you grow up as a perfectionist, that voice can become part of your identity. You may start to believe that you are that voice. But that voice is a just part of you, it isn’t you. Ultimately YOU are the one who has the power to decide what's best for you, and the more you forge ahead in the direction of what you truly want (into JOANN Fabric, in my case), the softer the voice will become. It will still pop up from time to time, but jumping into the activity despite its protests will show that voice that you are truly the one who is in control. And you do this by—


Strengthening your Resolve

I think of strengthening my resolve like I'm stacking blocks on top of one another. Each time I do something that I want to do that is outside of my comfort zone, I imagine I’m adding another block to the pile of new experiences. And, every time I do something that pushes against my perfectionistic voice, I add another block. By trying new things—and showing yourself that even if you fall flat on your face you will be okay—I’ve noticed that the perfectionist voice doesn’t come up as often. And when it does, it isn’t nearly as loud.

Finally, it’s important to accept that—

That Voice is Always Going to be There

While the volume of the voice can go down at times, it is still going to be there—at some moments it will be louder than others. And that’s okay. At times—particularly when you’re about to embark on something that has the potential to make you incredibly vulnerable—that voice may become like an angry toddler who is fighting sleep with everything she’s got. She’s going to kick and scream and then scream some more until she eventually succumbs to her exhaustion and drifts off to Dreamland. That perfectionist voice is going to scream and protest, pushing against you, until it realizes that it is truly powerless when it comes to your ability to forge ahead into vulnerability despite its protests. 

It's vital to remember that you are the parent in this situation. You know what's best for you, and you get to decide what you do with your life. You are the only who gets to choose whether or not you venture into that new hobby or not. The perfectionist inside of you does not get to be in control—unless you let it.

I did eventually leave my car that day. With every step I took, the voice became louder—but I continued walking. I bought the fabric. I made the apron. And, I opened up a door to a new hobby that brings me such joy and delight. There are days when whatever I’m trying to sew ends up being a complete disaster, and that voice pops up again. When it does, I acknowledge it, and I continue sewing anyway.

The more you train yourself to tiptoe, then walk and then eventually leap out of your comfort zone, the weaker that voice will become, and the more full and enjoyable your life will become.  And remember: you will always be there to pick yourself up if you fall down. The discomfort that you feel when you step into the unknown is always temporary. But the only way to truly believe this is to force yourself to rebel against that voice and to choose to give yourself what you truly want and what you truly deserve. And, in some cases, rebelling against this voice may even result in the creation of a cute apron :)