perfectionism, editing, and good enough


editing is one of those steps that i used to skip when i wrote things. i never reread what i wrote; what would have been the point? wasn’t it perfect? didn’t my words land on the page in the best possible configuration? how could i possibly improve on the perfection inspiration brings?

it seems like an arrogant position to hold and it is, but the main motivation behind my refusal to revisit my work comes from something else.

i didn’t edit because my convoluted thought processes decided that if you have to edit something, if you have to make changes to something, it means you didn’t do it right. it means that what you produced wasn’t perfect. a lack of perfection means you failed. it makes you a failure. this is a difficult belief system to live with.

perfectionism is a big part of eating disorders; i’m pretty sure that’s where it started for me but it didn’t stay contained. it didn’t confine itself to only the eating disorder behaviours. it spilled out into the other bits and pieces of my life. before long, i needed to be perfect everywhere, in everything, all the time. i don’t need perfection from others nor do i expect it; the rules only apply to myself. to be perfect was everything. to be otherwise was to fail, and to fail meant i was worthless. less than nothing. i was either perfect or rubbish; there was no middle ground.

perfectionism is quite perfectly destructive.

i have discovered over time, however, and to my regret, that i am not perfect. i am not perfect and the things i do are not perfect either. nor are they likely to be. perfection is beyond my grasp. this revelation was something of a shock. “be perfect” has been my mission statement for decades. it was the only result that was deemed acceptable.

i failed quite regularly in my pursuit of perfection vis a vis my eating and my construction of a perfect body. the punishment for that was purging and starvation. perfectionism is a hard master; you do everything right or else. i tried very hard not to fail. i tried for perfection in everything. i tried to be a perfect partner and a perfect parent; a perfect sibling and a perfect daughter. i tried to keep a perfect house and a perfect yard. i had to perform perfectly at work and at rest. everything needed to be executed without any errors, without fail.

criticism, no matter how minor or warranted in any of these life areas was devastating to me. any suggestion that perhaps i wasn’t perfect caused extreme anxiety and distress. if i wasn’t perfect, if there was room for improvement, then i had failed.

with an attitude like that regarding mistakes, it’s not surprising that i never reread anything i wrote. i couldn’t bear the idea that my writing might require some work or that some tweaking might be necessary. i couldn’t stand to believe that i had “failed” in this endeavour too.

so, i never looked. i wrote what i wrote and then let it go; the story or poem would either disappear into the dusty folds of various journals or get posted and abandoned on a blog. in either case, a review was something that didn’t happen. i needed it to be perfect, and so i acted like it was perfect.

i’ve discovered as i work on my mental health that you can’t heal one part of your psyche while leaving the other dysfunctional bits intact. it’s all of a piece. i can’t fix my eating disorder and ignore everything else. i can’t address the negative self-talk about my appearance without addressing the way i talk about myself in other areas. it’s the same with perfectionism; you can’t fight it in only one area; it has to be addressed in every place it manifests.

i’m pretty sure my attempts to compartmentalize my problems are why my previous attempts to heal from my eating disorder have ultimately come to nought. i wanted to stop bingeing and purging. i wanted to be free of my eating disorder but i wasn’t all that interested in dealing with the rest of my issues. i wanted to be left alone with my neuroses intact, minus one. that approach was never going to work.

this time, i gave up. i gave in. i threw all of my issues onto the recovery pile. i decided to work on fixing everything. just rip off the covers and expose it all.

i gave up because suddenly, my choices became very clear; start getting better or start getting ready for death. it turns out that i’m no longer ready to go. so, conversations with therapists have been had. work has been done. i’m starting to realize that to expect perfection guarantees that i’ll never be satisfied. i’m starting to believe that no one is perfect. i’m starting to believe that i’m acceptable even if i make a mistake; that i actually have value as a human being even if i’m not perfect.


if i’m okay even if i’m not perfect, then the things i do are okay even if they aren’t perfect. this is a new belief and it’s a hard one to adopt, but i like it better than the last one. trying your hardest truly is all that anyone can ask of you. it’s all you should ask of yourself. it’s all that i should ask of myself. it’s okay for me to look at my execution of things with softer eyes. it’s okay if things still need work after the first attempt. evaluating and revising my performance does not mean i have failed as a human being.

believing that i don’t have to be perfect means i can bring out my red pen. i can edit. i can read and reread and make changes to the words i choose to scribble down.  i can even review and revise things from past. or not. it’s okay to leave them as they are. having imperfect bits and pieces of myself out in the world doesn’t diminish my value as a person.

interestingly, i’ve been reasonably cool with my “rejection of perfection”. it’s been nice to let it go. some days and moments are harder than others but overall, i’m actually starting to enjoy the ease. i haven’t made my bed in more than a month and that’s okay. shockingly, an unkempt duvet has not turned me into a failure of a human being. it actually doesn’t say anything at all about what kind of person i am. i like spending less time trying to perfect myself and my environment. my life is far from perfect; however, it’s authentic, and i’m finding out that that’s good enough.

“good enough” as a result is as undervalued as perfectionism is overvalued. i’m really starting to embrace it as a philosophy. it’s a much more pleasant way to live.

so, bring on editing. let me spend time reviewing the things i’ve done. let me adjust and finesse my efforts with an eye to achieving good enough. yes, it’s irritating to be faced with my slips and mistakes, and the knowledge that i am not a literary savant rankles, but i enjoy everything more now that i no longer consider my first attempts as something that measures my worthiness as a person.

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