Perfectionism as Fear

If you like to read, especially non-fiction, you start to sense when an author is circling around a particular idea, even before they reveal it. I think it’s beautiful and suspenseful, almost like cinema, and love to underline the “ah-ha” moment when they finally get it down in words.

Today, I read one such line from Elizabeth Gilbert in her book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. The interesting thing about this line was that she wasn’t the only one who was orbiting around this precise idea leading up to its statement. I was, too. I just didn’t know it until I read it.

“I think perfectionism is just a high-end,
haute couture version of fear.”

I was light years away from being able to put this wisdom into words. There’s just been something eating away at me surrounding this concept for the past few weeks, and this is it. It’s an inextricable connection…maybe more than that, maybe not a connection, but a definition, of perfectionism, that it is simply fear. Fancy fear parading as a white-knuckled commitment to high quality and hard work.

Now, certainly there are people who genuinely value high quality and hard work, and I do consider myself one of those people. But perfectionism is a whole other beast to be reckoned with. It’s the voice of “not good enough”, and it has hidden itself so deeply within my psyche that I often overlook its tendrils extending into not so much what I think about my world, but how I think about it. It’s the fear that jumps ahead of me and colors each experience, each conversation, and each attempt at anything with the shades of “success” or “failure” and no chance for anything in between.

Walking forward, it’s not just a lesson about “being okay with failure”, though that is part of it. Rather, it’s about overcoming my obsession with a constant evaluation of myself, my efforts, and my performance. It’s about letting go of the power that I gain from meeting my expectations, and the disappointment I take up when I fall short of them. It’s a struggle to give up the control of my little world and figuring out the “rightness” of it. It’s handing over the question of whether I am “good enough”, trusting that it’s not my job to figure that out, and that I trust the One whose hands that remains in.

I believe that truth like this shines light on the things that scare us, the things that keep us shackled to limitations and shame, and with every unmasking of lies, truth takes deeper root. That’s what I’m going after.



2 thoughts on “Perfectionism as Fear

  1. Stacey says:

    Yes. “Fancy fear parading as a white-knuckled commitment to high quality and hard work…” why are you living my life, Sarah?? 😉 Thankful to read this truth today and even more grateful to be digging into it with you.

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