Tuesday, March 8, 2011


In times of stress, my perfectionism, which I've beat down and tried to murder many times in the past, tends to stand up and beg to be noticed like an overeager puppy (not that I would ever murder a puppy and I apologize for the crossed metaphors). Being a perfectionist is similar to walking around in a straitjacket every day. You want to break out and experience the freedom of swinging your arms, but you are terrified to make a mistake, and so you stay bound up in your own mess and then wonder why you aren't getting anywhere.

I know that I became a perfectionist early in life as a way to control chaos. I thought if I was really good at everything, I could minimize the strain of what felt scary and unpredictable in the world. I was right in some ways, and my hyper-attention to detail and fear of failure did help me sharpen my skills in certain areas, but these things also paralyzed me from trying anything new in case I didn't succeed.

I'm now thirty-eight years old, and I'm only beginning to understand how long it takes to become truly expert at anything, and pretending to be great at something is not the same as actually being good at it from the inside out. This perfectionistic streak stopped me from improving my writing much earlier in life, because I intended to be the best at what I was doing, and I certainly wasn't planning to work toward that. I wanted to jot down a few words and have them be genius, blowing people away and winning me accolades without once breaking a sweat.

Life doesn't work this way. I get it now, and wish I had understood this before, but my successes and failures were tied so closely to who I was that I simply could not separate the two. Now I get that they are different. I am me, intrinsically valuable for who I am, and what I do starts out as crap, and eventually gets better. It's about learning a skill, and recognizing that while I'm doing the learning, failing teaches me as much, if not more, than succeeding does.

It's hard to change these long-held ideas and beliefs, even if they are completely ludicrous and hindering us from moving forward. It should be easy, but it's not, for you have to take apart your faulty ideology, brick by brick, and re-build with something healthier and more beneficial in the long run. I continue to come up against my perfectionism where I least expect to find it, and have to confront my fears all over again, and either defeat them or be defeated by them.

Rewriting my screenplay with a couple of contest deadlines looming has brought these tendencies to the forefront yet again, and forced me to confront them. I am not the best screenplay writer who has ever walked this planet. I am learning this craft, and must be allowed to make mistakes and find places to grow and improve without that critical voice telling me that I'm no good and I'll never get anywhere with this. It's easy to be intimidated, but I'm sick of shooting myself in the foot. I don't even wait for negative feedback from outside sources since I'm happy to provide it myself.

Perfectionism is deadly, and must be confronted. Like any bully, it blusters by on menacing bravado which is actually masking hideous insecurity, and if you stand up to it, you'll discover there is no actual substance there. I am stronger than my perfectionism, and I no longer need it to get by each day in my life. I have better skills now, and I can fail as I learn something new without failing as a person. Who I am is not the same as what I learn, and if I make mistakes, it means I'm getting better all of time, and improving means I'm inching closer to my goals.


  1. "I am stronger than my perfectionism" - love it!

  2. Wow. Yeah on perfectionism. And often it disguises itself-you think you can't possibly be a perfectionist because look at how messy this or that is. It's _because_ you are a perfectionist it sometimes feels impossible to fix it--so you don't. Great post, Julianne and good luck with those contests!

  3. Thanks, ladies, for reading and for your supportive and encouraging comments. I appreciate you!