• Mark J. Keenan

Go Ahead, Make a Mistake


“Nobody’s perfect.”

Isn’t it what we are told? Isn’t it true? Nobody is perfect. But can you hear the unsaid words like I do; “you did your best, but you could do better”; in fact, “you should have done better”.

Don’t just do your best, be perfect.

And when you’re not perfect, when you make a mistake or don’t achieve what you wanted to, be hard on yourself. Go over, and over, and over, what went wrong. Feel the disappointment. Embrace the self-hate. Beat yourself up. Go on, you deserve it!

What a load of shit! That’s what you’re thinking. And I agree but, for as long as I can remember, this is exactly what I have been doing to myself.

I see traces of it in my school reports. Recall the shadows of it in my memory. I observe the clear evidence in my behaviours.

And the gap, the difference between what is, and what I think it should be, that’s where the real problems arise.

Because when I fall into that space, it can take a while to climb out. First, I’ll be disappointed at myself for there being a gap in the first place. For not noticing it and working harder to fill it in. Meanwhile others will be telling me it’s okay - “it’s not a big gap”, “nobody’s perfect”, “you can only do your best”. And I will get angry with them. Because that’s not my yardstick. I should be perfect. I’ll push them away, tell them they are wrong. Then I’ll get ashamed and feel sad. Finally I’ll become mad at myself, creating another gap, a bigger one, even harder to fill.

You see the problem here? I know I do. If I was perfect, none of this would happen!

Honestly, that’s the first thing that used to come into my head.


Early this year, I did a cognitive styles test. On a scale of 100, I scored 93 for perfectionistic style. Nearly, but not quite, perfect perfectionism.

“Your high score indicates that you tend to have perfectionistic expectations of yourself.”

Yes, I do.

“Perfectionists often have high expectations of other as well.”

Correct.

“Perfectionism is not being perfect, it is the belief that you should be perfect and the inability to accept any failure.” Okay, makes sense.

“This style causes you to be excessively stressed by the demands you place on yourself.” Oh.

“You are also likely to be overly-critical of yourself which affects your self-esteem.” Uh.

“You can feel good about yourself when you are successful, but failure or mistakes leads to negative self-evaluation and avoidance. Right.

Of course, I’d labelled myself a perfectionist long before this test. Others had too. It seemed like a good thing, so I was proud and wore it like a badge of honour - “look at me, I strive to be perfect, and you should too.”

Apparently…not!

Turns out a significant amount of stress and anxiety is born of this belief in perfection. And I’d be better off if I had a healthier one. But it isn’t easy to untangle decades of reinforced behaviours around perfection, especially when, you know, you kind of want to untangle it, you know, perfectly.

But, in the past few weeks, I’ve challenged myself to do just that. Embrace imperfection. Look for opportunities to not be perfect - plan to be late for something, make intentional errors in an essay, don’t do something I promised - and then live with the anxious feeling that comes with it.

It’s weird, I know, but I reckon it’s working. When I’ve made genuine errors, or not achieved something to my exacting internal standards, I’ve been able to let go. Not immediately, because that would be some sort of miracle, but, eventually. And I’ve been able to sit with the feelings it creates.

And you know what, I’m think I’m getting better at it; improving in imperfection. If only I can become perfect at imperfection…now, that would be something.

And so, the journey continues!


[feel free to look for spelling mistakes in this post - of course, I’ve already checked, but hey, I’m not perfect] Picture:

The photo was taken by me at Download Festival, 2019 in Sydney.

Converge are a hardcore band from Salem, Massachusetts.

I was going to quote two lines from one of their songs but "perfectionist me" went on a Google and determined that would breach copyright. I'd link to the actual song but they are a hardcore band, so you probably wouldn't hear the lyric anyway.


© Mark J. Keenan