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  • Writer's pictureKadiatou Tubman

Perfectionism is the Enemy of Progress

I used to be one of those people who bragged about being a perfectionist: "What's your greatest strength?" "Oh, I'm basically a perfectionist!" (Pro-tip: Don't use that reply in an interview!)

That was before I learned that "perfect" is the enemy of progress. I thought I'd mastered performing "perfect" with my hair, my makeup, my body, my work, my words. But performing is both physically & emotionally exhausting and simply self-destructive.

Perfectionism steals joy, encourages dishonesty, and cultivates shame. It denies compassion for others and ourselves. It also maintains systemic oppression & distracts us from the critical work needed to heal & liberate all people from tyranny and suffering. If we're all pretending we/things are "perfect", we shield & deny the ways that things aren't. We accept & cause harm to ourselves and others instead of connecting & learning in meaningful, honest ways.

Perfectionism and compassion can't coexist. Instead of perfect, how about we practice compassion, set boundaries, believe in our worthiness despite mistakes, and be vulnerable with ourselves & each other when we're afraid or insecure?

I can't pinpoint how I learned perfectionism but I know it's a defense mechanism for pain. I was raised being praised for my achievements & performance, which made me believe that "I am what I accomplish & how well I accomplish it". Since I tied my worth to perfectionism, any mistake meant I wasn't good enough. Growing up as a poor, dark-skinned Black girl, I thought being perfect could protect me from disposability (racism, capitalism, sexism & poverty make us disposable). It's human, but perfectionism didn't make my life any less painful or safe.

So, if you're also a recovering perfectionist, I encourage you to 1) Show compassion: We're all worthy of life & love even when we make mistakes. 2) Release shame: Trade "What will they think?" for "How can I use this experience to improve/build resilience?" 3) Be vulnerable: Recognize when shame and unworthiness are triggered for you. Pay attention to your body & the words you use: "I messed up" not "I'm a mess".

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