It’s the enemy of
creativity, productivity, and, well, sanity. In “The Artist’s Way,” author
Julia Cameron writes: “Perfectionism is a refusal to let yourself move
ahead. It is a loop — an obsessive, debilitating closed system that causes you
to get stuck in the details of what you are writing or painting or making and
to lose sight of the whole.”


It’s the enemy of
creativity, productivity, and, well, sanity. In “The Artist’s Way,” author
Julia Cameron writes: “Perfectionism is a refusal to let yourself move
ahead. It is a loop — an obsessive, debilitating closed system that causes you
to get stuck in the details of what you are writing or painting or making and
to lose sight of the whole.”

But you don’t even have to be creating anything
to be crippled by perfectionism. It can also frustrate your efforts as a mom, a
wife, a friend, and a human being. Because no one and no thing is perfect in
this blemished world of ours.

I tackle this adversary everyday. And although
my inner perfectionist clearly has hold of my brain many days, I do think I am
handcuffed less often by the fear of messing up than I used to be. Here are 10
techniques I use to break out of the prison of perfectionism in order to live
and create as freely as I can in an imperfect world.

Remove yourself from the competition.

Don’t make life any more
difficult than it already is. Most perfectionists are extremely competitive…
because being perfect means being the best at, well,
everything. So choose your friends and your groups wisely. For example, some
professional organizations — writing clubs, publishing groups — can be
extremely supportive. But some can be horribly competitive. And as a
perfectionist, you don’t need folks feeding you the very message you are trying
to forget: “You are nothing without total success. And if you don’t get
there, I will!” Do this: Check your heart rate before one of these
meetings, and just after. If it’s up 10 beats or more, don’t go back!

Make up some rules.

Of course you can’t avoid all competitive
situations. Which is why you need to make some rules. For example, I can now
gauge when I’m going through a period of insecurity — when I feel like I need
to be the best at something in order to feel okay about myself. During these
periods, I don’t check out Beliefnet’s homepage where it lists “most
popular blogs,” “most e-mailed posts,” “most popular
features,” because if I don’t find my name somewhere in there, I mope
around the house with that tight knot of disgust and angst in my stomach. Why
torture myself? So here’s my rule: I can only visit the homepage on the days
when I don’t feel like my popularity as a blogger is the definitive statement
on who I am as a person. The result? I haven’t been to the homepage in months!

Do a reality check.

Unrealistic expectations
are perfectionism’s trophy wife. Think about it. They always show up as a pair.
So I try my best to distinguish realistic expectations from unrealistic ones. I
list them all on a sheet of paper or (on a good day) in my head and then revise
them about 2,035 times during the day. Under “unrealistic expectations”
are cataloged things like this: “penning a New York Times bestseller in
my half-hour of free time in the evening,” “being homeroom mom to 31
kids and chaperoning every field trip,” and “training for a triathlon
with a busted hip.” Under “realistic expectations,” I index
things like: “Do 30 hours of good work in 30 hours of working time,”
“reading to David’s class and having lunch with him once a month instead
of being homeroom mom,” and “skipping the triathlon, but continuing to
work out four times a week to keep the brain and body happy.” Recording
the different possibilities of actions I can take to inch toward my broad goals
(being a good mom, an adequate blogger, and a healthy person) can be extremely

Return to your exodus moment.

Awhile back, a Beliefnet editor
asked some of the bloggers to describe our “exodus moments,”
we were freed from fear and crossed the Red Sea of anxiety into a land of
peace. I’ve had a few such moments. One was during my junior year in college,
the one time I relapsed and got drunk after three years of sobriety. I stood
quietly in the gazebo right outside Our Lady of Loretta Church, where Eric and
I married four years later. I told God to take my addiction, to take it for
good, because I could no longer carry it’s weight. I remember lifting my hands
to the sky as I looked down at the St. Joseph’s river, and I felt totally at

The truth learned in all
exodus moments is this: None of that stuff responsible for spinning us in a
tizzy matters. None of it is important. Just as Henri Nouwen explains:

Somewhere deep in our hearts we already know that success,
fame, influence, power, and money do not give us the inner joy and peace we
crave. Somewhere we can even sense a certain envy of those who have shed all
false ambitions and found a deeper fulfillment in their relationship with God.
Yes, somewhere we can even get a taste of that mysterious joy in the smile of those
who have nothing to lose.

5. Show your weakness.

This is
counter-intuitive for most perfectionists. But I can guarantee that you’ll get
good results if you try it.Because every time I have, with
great reservation, flashed my imperfections and become vulnerable
my Beyond Blue readers — crying, whining, screaming
either in a post or on a video — the response is amazing. “Phew!”
some say to me, “You are real. You feel that way too! So I guess I
shouldn’t beat myself up for similar emotions.” Whenever I follow the
advice of my wise editor, Holly — to write from where I am, not from where I
want to be — my readers don’t recoil in disgust. They come closer.

Celebrate your mistakes.

Alright, celebrate is
an awfully strong word. Start, then, with accept your mistakes. But I do think
each big blunder deserves a round of toasts. Because almost all of them teach
us precious, rare lessons that can’t be acquired by success. Nope, the
embarrassment, humiliation, self-disgust — all those are tools with which to
unearth the gold. Just like Leonard Cohen writes in his song, “Anthem”
that a friend of mine tapes to his computer as a reminder to ignore the
perfectionist in him:
the bells that still can ring,
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything,
That’s how the light gets in.

Add some color.

Perfectionists are colorblind. They see the
world in black and white. Example: Either I am the best blogger in the entire
blogosphere or I should throw my iMac into the Chesapeake Bay and become a
water taxi driver (they do have a pretty cool job). Either I am the most
involved mom in David’s school or I am a slacker parent who should let a more
capable mom adopt her son. Does this kind of thinking sound familiar? In order
to get a pair of glasses on our inner perfectionist, then, we have to add a few
hues to every relationship, event, and goal: we have to become a tad more
tolerant of life’s messiness, unresolved issues, and complicated situations
that can’t be neatly boxed up. Seeing in color is realizing that even though a
certain solution to a problem worked well yesterday, it might not be right for

Break the job down.

Procrastination is a
symptom of perfectionism. Because many of us are so petrified of bloopers that
we can’t begin the project. For a year or so I procrastinated writing my memoir.
In fact, I procrastinated by reading Dr. David Burn’s chapter on
procrastination in his “Ten Days to Self
 I couldn’t write a bloody word until he set me
straight. Burns explains: “One of the secrets of people who are highly
productive is that they rarely try to tackle a difficult job all at once.
Instead, they break the task down into its smallest component parts and do one
small step a day.”

As an exercise in that chapter, Dr. Burns
suggests you list a few steps. For example, my first chore didn’t involve
sitting down at my computer. I first had to find and organize all the post-its
regarding this project that I had stashed away in drawers and coat pockets.
Then he advises you to commit to a specific time that you will get started on
the job. Third, he prompts you to record the problems that you anticipate at
that time. I wrote: “getting overwhelmed, hearing the negative voices in
my head that say I can’t do it, brain farts, and cognitive fatigue.”
Finally, Burns encourages you to arrive at some solutions to the potential
distractions. I wrote: “do it despite what the voices say.”

Be yourself.

In her book “Being Perfect,” Anna
Quindlen explains that being perfect is cheap and easy: “Because all it
really requires of you, mainly, is to read the zeitgeist of wherever and
whenever you happen to be and to assume the masks necessary to be the best at
whatever the zeitgeist dictates or requires.”

The much more challenging task, she asserts, is
becoming yourself. Because “nothing important, or meaningful, or
beautiful, or interesting, or great, ever came out of imitations.” I
concur. As a writer who used to shirk penning anything original, compiling book
after book of other authors’ works, I can attest to the exhilaration and
satisfaction of writing my own words.

Believe in redemption.

Redemption is an odd thing. Because identifying
the broken places in your heart and in your life can be one of the scariest
exercises you ever do, and yet only then can you recognize the grace that comes
buried with every hole. If the journey to the Black Hole of despair and back
has taught me anything, it’s this: Everything is made whole in time. If you can
just hang on to the faith, hope, and love in the people and places around you
long enough to see the sun rise yourself. Absolutely nothing is forsaken, not
even those relationships and memories and persons that you think are lost
forever. All things are made right in time. So you don’t always have to get it
right on the first try.

This article was originally published on Beliefnet.