Gabriel Rumbaut's Blog

Confessions of an Earthbound Misfit

How Do You Beat a Perfectionist?

I still find it odd that it took a jumping roundhouse kick to the head to help me realize how terrible my perfectionism is.

Perfectionism is something that affects most writers. Far too many authors have cut their own careers short because of this vile little gnome. Rather than pressing through and recognizing that success only follows hard work, those of us who listen to the imp refuse to even start. After all, if we can’t do something right, what’s the point of doing it at all?

I started practicing Tae Kwon Do in college. I wasn’t the best fighter, but I enjoyed the exercise and camaraderie. Our class was held at my university, and consisted of a group of colored belts and an easily-awed group of white belts who were taking the class for credit. No one but our small group saw our mistakes.

All in all, it was a pretty insular experience…

…Until our master informed us that he wanted every colored belt to fight at a tournament in Princeton University.

Being a green belt at the time, I had no choice but to fight. The thought of going to the tournament terrified me. It wasn’t a fear of fighting that scared me. No. I was terrified of not doing everything right. What would the spectators think if I didn’t do well? How would they see my loss? Would my kicks be well placed? Would my reflexes be up to par?

Everyone but me seemed in good spirits the day of the tournament. I could think of nothing but my fight.

It wasn’t until evening that I was called to the staging area to put on my protective gear. I was totally numb as I was led to the mat to fight. I don’t remember much about my opponent. All I remember is a flurry of kicks performed with more agility than I could ever muster. I did my best to fight back, but I couldn’t keep up.

It was awful. As a final blow, my opponent landed a jumping roundhouse kick to my head. The match was over. He won. When I left the mat, my lip was bleeding and I had some blood on my uniform.

A strange thing happened then.

After failing horribly in front of a packed crowd, I did not die. The earth did not open up to swallow me. My mother had not disowned me in shame. I had gone through with the match…and I lived. All of that worry about not being perfect in my fight was for nothing. Failing was not the end.

I still struggle with perfectionism, particularly in my writing. But I’m learning that in order to get anywhere in this career, we have to be willing to fail–badly.

We get too caught up with comparing ourselves with successful writers that we don’t realize that their work is the result of years of trial and error. In order to get to their level, every single published author out there failed a hundred times before succeeding once.

If you’re battling perfection in your writing–or anywhere else in your life–you have to fight it. Be willing to screw up. Accept the vague descriptions or ghastly metaphors. If the perfect in you continues to scream, don’t stop. Keep on writing, no matter how terrible you think are.

Only in failing do we discover our success.

What about you? Have you ever battled perfectionist tendencies before? If so, how do you stand against it? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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18 thoughts on “How Do You Beat a Perfectionist?

  1. I’m a horrid perfectionist. Which is why my desk is always a wreck. Why organize if I can’t organize completely? Been working to get over that, especially since you can’t have that view when in college, unless you really like low grades.

  2. Yep, me, too. I’m constantly thinking, “I can’t start that project/chore/blog because I’ve only got ## minutes and it will take longer!” Ugh! I hate that part sometimes. I’m getting better, recognizing how much I can get done in 15 minutes when that’s all I have. But it’s still frequently a conscious choice.

  3. I can relate! I think perfectionism and fear of failure often walk hand in hand. I dabble in both, from time to time.
    Love your new blog, Gabriel!

  4. I know the feeling. I’m a perfectionist when it comes to everything. It’s really irritating.

  5. That’s such a tough one! It’s natural to want to be good at something right off the bat, you know? and the whole trial-and-error thing gets glossed over. I sometimes wonder where I’d be if I hadn’t been afraid to make mistakes.
    Thanks for a thought-provoking post.
    Liv

  6. Great reminder that to do great work we must move out of our comfort zone and risk much. 🙂

  7. Yes, I have to admit I’m a recoverying perfectionist. This self imposed bondage affected my writing. It strangled my creativity, openness and energy. I was forever self editing, writing 200 words, striking out half, back peddling…you get the point.Participating in NaNoWriMo helped me significantly. Good post!

  8. This is a beauty of a post. It really hits close to home, and although I’ve realized this not so helpful, and definitely not necessary tendency some time ago, it’s a hard little gremlin to shake.

  9. The first time I tried to write a novel, I spent two years writing chapter one. Then I got so frustrated that I wrote the rest of the book in a weekend. That disaster sits in a box in my basement as a reminder of the stupidity of perfectionism. After that, it took ten years to start another novel. I fight myself everyday. This post really hits the nail on the head (omg, trite metaphor if I ever saw one). Nice job Gabriel.

  10. Yes, I struggle with perfectionism too. My catchcry within my writing group is “it’s not ready yet” at which they shake their heads… Great post!

  11. Tanya Calderon on said:

    I think we all struggle with some form of perfectionism. I know I have but in failing I also have discover how strong I can be and new talents and friends.

  12. There is a quote at my son’s school that says, “It is hard to fail, but is worse never to have tried to succeed”–Theodore Roosevelt

    So true. Failure is terrifying, crippling. Perfection and failure tend to go hand in hand–we let perfection get in the way of possibly succeeding.

    Thanks for the great post. I really appreciated it.

  13. Perfectionist here as well. Sometimes it’s so hard to keep writing with that inner perfectionist yammering in my head but, if I do keep on, I find the flow eventually comes.

  14. I so relate to this struggle. I have three people in my head: The Writer. The Editor. The Whiney-Butt. Whiney-Butt gets so sick of Editor stopping Writer all the time to get everything perfect. It does her no good to complain, however – Editor is relentless. Writer somehow perseveres through the storm of Editor’s constant yammering to make no mistakes either grammatically or strategically, and Whiney-Butt’s resentment and suggestions to stop everything and just go eat cake. Sigh. Still…novels, blogs and articles do get written.

  15. You can’t beat perfectionism, you can only hope to contain it. (ok, so much for the ESPN SportsCenter thing Dan Patrick used to say). But the thought is still the same. It’s better to do something than it is to do nothing and think about it all the time. Great job Gabriel.

  16. After I chew my lip at the nay saying voices in my head, I thrust myself out there-often like a fool. I think with age I have been able to break the hold of that perfectionism and just do it.
    I tell myself, be like a politician, just say it. When it turns out badly, just qualify it, “What I was really trying to say was . . . ” Soon people forget and you can try again and hopefully they won’t remember the failures.

  17. I think we all struggle with perfectionism to some extent. Or is it that we don’t want to fail publicly and make fools of ourselves? That’s something that I deal with frequently. I don’t want to take an exercise class because then everyone will find out I can’t do a pushup. Or go out biking because I haven’t ridden in *years* and I don’t want everyone to see me go splat! that first time out. Or put up a story on Smashwords or KDP or a crit. group in case everyone laughs and points at me.

    Fortunately, most people aren’t as critical of me as I am. 🙂

  18. Thanks for the wonderful word picture. Me thinks I’ll remember this one!! (And definitely need to.)

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