If you are like me, the holidays are usually just another factor that contributes to my perfectionism. I have to make the best cookies and they have to be beautiful, and the gifts have to be well thought out and extravagant. This way I can make sure that I am checking all the right boxes and doing all the right things, and one more time that impossible hamster wheel keeps spinning and I try to match my insides to your outsides.
But this year was different.
I’ve learned this year that when I feel vulnerable, ashamed, fearful, or lonely I use perfectionism in its many forms as an attempt to feel good enough and to gain love and acceptance.
The cruel paradox of that, I am learning, is that perfectionism is what stands in the way of true connection, authenticity, and fulfilling relationships (enter Brené Brown). At the recommendation of my sponsor I’ve started to dig in and do some work on authenticity and vulnerability and do some perfectionism smashing, and lucky for me this all coincided with the holidays.
What a great time to get to practice!
What I have learned this holiday season is that once you open the Pandora’s box of vulnerability, it’s tough to put the lid back on and un-see all the ways that you are striving. The work started simple enough; I forced myself to do little things throughout the week that would irk my perfectionism like doing yoga (which I am terrible at) and only meditating for 16 of the 27- minute guided meditation. I thought I was hitting this thing out of the park, you know, doing imperfection, perfectly.
Then the real test came.
I started dating a fantastic man a few months before Christmas, and of course, I was putting the pressure on myself to be delightful and charming. So, I decided that I would make gingerbread cookies while we decorated the Christmas tree. It’s also important to note that I was diagnosed with food allergies a few months prior, so these were not just any cookies, these were gluten-free cookies that I had never made.
I made the batter, which looked suspicious at best, and put it in the oven and prayed; what came out was a perfectionist’s nightmare. What I had were not a dozen beautiful gingerbread cookies, what I had was a thin gingerbread loaf that had spread all over the pan and had strange white dots all over it. I was mortified - my first instinct was to throw them, and the rest of the shame inducing batter in the trash.
Thankfully, the fantastic man said to me, “they are perfect and they are my favorite cookies.” He would not let me pout or throw the rest of the batter away. Instead,I doctored up the batter and tried again, this time they were beautiful! I was so excited to see those round delights come out of the oven. My first instinct was the take a picture and post it on Instagram.
Just kidding, I didn’t add those hashtags, but I did post the picture of the perfect cookies, and for the first time, maybe ever. I realized that I was contributing to the big lie. Now I’m not a stupid girl; I get that people put their best foot (or 50th selfie) forward, but at that moment I saw that I had measured myself by this unrealistic measuring stick for too long. I saw that my second try cookies were the mask I like everyone to see, but that the real me is the thin gingerbread loaf with white spots.
And true connection happens not when someone loves the perfect cookies; true connection happens when someone sees the thin loaf, smiles and says,
“I think it's perfect. Please don’t throw it away”.