The Crippling Pursuit of Perfection

I had another entire post written, telling a story I thought would beat around the bush and get to the same point.

It’s a funny story, but not the story that needs to be told here.

This one is one that makes the shame rise up a bit more than I’d like to admit. A story that makes me pause with caution.

But there’s no beating around the bush on this one. It basically just nukes the bush to smithereens.

Before I quit my job, almost two years ago, to see if I could hang my proverbial marketing shingle, personally I was in the early stages of what I’d now call recovery.

I didn’t call it that then.

I was too busy hanging on for dear life as it felt like my life kept hitting bottom, only to feel that bottom fall out and crash down another dark level.

My life was unsettled, my marriage was shaky, my faith was up for grabs.

The few months before I quit, I spent a lot of time sitting on the counselor’s couch. I tried to maintain my focus when I was at work, or at home or wherever, but I felt more like a zombie than a model man.

Heavy, foggy, uncertain.

I’d like to think I did a good job of pretending my way through when I had to perform for a meeting, but a couple colleagues who knew me well, knew something was up.

I didn’t fling the door wide open, but I cracked it enough with one guy to let him in on a bit of the story.

My life was a blur, so there’s no way this was his exact quote but it’s what I remember:

“Man, I’m really glad you’d share. I always knew you were a little too perfect to be real. I knew there was more to the story…”

I’d built this squeaky-clean image that, frankly, people bought, myself included. It’s not that it was entirely untrue, just not fully true. Of course parts were real. Many of those same parts of me still exist.

But the parts I didn’t want to show? Or at times, didn’t even know how to show?

Yeah, pull the rug over those dead spots. Hide them in the closet before the neighbors come over for dinner.

It was taking place at such a subconscious level, this gerbil wheel act of maintaining the image and reputation that had been such a deep part of me, that to start seeing it with the lights flipped all the way on, was sickening at times.

And incredibly freeing at others.

The problem with the wheel I was spinning subconsciously, is that with each trip around, it picked up a little more speed.

A little more was on the line. A little more responsibility piled up. A little more money was at stake. A little bigger title was on the business card.

Before long, my gerbil legs couldn’t keep up and like the hilarious YouTube videos of people falling off a moving treadmill, I got tossed from the wheel.

And, though it’s been incredibly hard, it was the best thing to happen to me.

I’m not sure where you live, but I imagine if you’re like me at all, you live in a place where performance is praised. Where upholding certain expectations is rewarded. Where perfection is pursued.

In and of themselves, not bad things.

But when identity gets merged into perfection and performance, look out. The fall isn’t very fun.

Whether it’s business, marriage, parenting, health or anything else under the sun, perfect is a mirage. It looks amazing for a bit but eventually it’s revealed for what it really is.

A story we do desperately want to believe but one that will never come true.

The problem with perfect is that it fools us to think in blacks and whites, ins and outs, all the things or none of them.

Oh man, their life must be amazing because of all the vacation pictures they post, my life sucks…

Yet no one sees their huge fights behind the closed doors of their beautiful vacation home.

Geez, if only I could have the business that guy has, my business is barely making it…

If you could only see the anxiety medicine he has to pop each morning to even make it through the day because he’s worried about payroll.

That dude is ripped, I’m sure he feels so self-confident, I’m such a loser…

But he’s an insecure mess.

Their kids are so well-behaved, why are ours always fighting and disrespectful, I’m a horrible parent…

The yes ma’ams are a big cover up for how dad threatens them if they don’t look the part.

The list is endless. The examples plentiful.

But if you’re anything like me, you’ve seen the version of people they’ve perfectly crafted for you to see, and bought pieces of the story.

Not untrue parts of them necessarily, just not all of them.

This whole recovery journey has made me realize that I’m a mess most of the time. I complicate things more than I conquer them. I have more questions than answers. I’m disheveled more than I’m put-together.

Maybe I’m making up for lost time, when I thought I had to be perfect to be praised, loved and accepted. No one ever told me that, it’s just the way I learned to get by in the world.

But it turns out, the imperfect parts of me, of which there are plenty, receive love too. And in order for them to grow, they can’t be shoved in the closet any more.

Because they’ll come out at some point, whether you want them to or not, most likely when the neighbors are over for dinner and you can’t hide them anymore.

So go ahead…open the closet…just a bit…it’s ok…it’s safe to show those imperfect parts too…we all have them…

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