The Tyranny of Perfectionism

The Tyranny of Perfectionism August 4, 2014

The single biggest hindrance to doing anything is the tyranny of perfectionism. Fearing that I’m not Doing it Right or Doing Enough keeps me from doing more than I care to admit. As a parent of young children I am often caught in this web of lies. There’s never enough uninterrupted time. There’s never enough childcare. This web tangles up many areas of my life: spiritual practice, health, parenting, community building, and so on.

By Dedda71, via Wikimedia Commons
By Dedda71, via Wikimedia Commons

The tyranny of perfectionism sometimes also keeps people from sharing their actual practice. In my last post I wrote about where I’m at and what I do in regards to the Ancestors. One friend posted on my Facebook page that working with the Ancestors are the “meat and potatoes” of witchcraft practice. I immediately had a flash of “well, then I’m clearly not practicing witchcraft or I must be doing it wrong” because I don’t ‘work with’ the Ancestors. But I do honor them! I can’t let anyone else’s idea of what a witch is or is not keep me from practicing. If I do that, I’ll be paralyzed into inaction.

This tyranny raises its head in so many places! The voice that says “you can’t save the world, so why try?” keeps me from attempting. “You’re not that great a singer, so just stop trying.” “You really think that 15 minutes of yoga is enough exercise? You’ll never get fit again.” “You think 15 minutes of meditation is enough to reach enlightenment? You’ll never get there.” And so on.

But I’ve learned that yes, 15 minutes is more than effective. With an infant and young children I don’t have the time or space for my pre-kid practice (90 minutes every morning of yoga, meditation, and prayers). But I trust that my 15 minutes here and there, plus longer sessions or evening ritual when energetically possible, means that I’m still flexing those ‘muscles.’ When the kids are older and more time opens up again, I will have the ability to get back to longer practice. I won’t have gotten out of the habit entirely.

When it comes to ‘saving’ the environment, I combat the tyranny of perfectionism by reminding myself that I alone can’t save anything, that communities work together to create change, and that I’m doing my part. I use cloth diapers and other re-useable fabric items (hand towels, handkerchiefs, and mama cloth). We support local agriculture when we can afford it. We don’t use pesticides on our property. Doing one thing and integrating it into family life makes adding on one more environmentally friendly practice easier.

Same thing with exercise, with singing, with everything!

I refuse to accept the tyrannical idea that I must do All the Things at once or not at all, and that I must do those things perfectly. When casting circle with my teachers I always try to take a section so that I can learn. Sometimes I forget words or my energy is inconsistent, but I have to practice if I want to learn to do it well. I have to take small steps regularly so that I can be ready for larger leaps.

When I try to take on more than I’m ready for, I usually end up in a state of doubt. My efforts don’t produce results and I doubt the entire endeavor. Small steps evenly taken – or even irregularly taken – help me produce results and engage in meaningful experience more regularly than trying to take on all of witchcraft at once. Or all of green living. Or all of parenting.

This is a bit like a personal pep talk, but I don’t think I’m alone in needing the occasional encouragment.  I’m guessing more than one reader out there also has had to face someone telling them they’re doing it wrong or they’re not doing enough or they’re moving too slowly. When that happens to me I know that person is trying to fluff themselves up. Allies and teachers will offer encouragement. They’ll say “Have you tried this?” “That’s great, when you’re ready look into that.” And so on. When elders in the Craft acknowledge my efforts and help me along, it helps me to recognize my own work (which can sometimes be hard for me to do) and provides me needed juice to keep going despite of the challenge of trying to be a witch and a mama.

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  • Keechypeach

    I think the internet in particular has opened us up to more and more advice and more and more opinions that can bring us to a total halt if we let them. As a writer and artist, I came to a point where i said to myself, “You know enough. Stop using learning more as an excuse not to actually do the work.” So I now avoid a lot of advice/articles/books on those two things and just make my own mistakes and move forward much better. As a horse-woman, I had all the fun drained out of my horse ownership by so many conflicting ideas and opinions. I did a lot better when it was just me and the horse muddling along. 🙂 Studies have shown that actually the more feedback and advice you give people the worse job they do, even if it is positive! I wasn’t surprised to hear this!

    • >>Stop using learning more as an excuse not to actually do the work.<<

      This!! A thousand times, this! That's a big part of why I quit my PhD program.

  • Sophia Sadek

    I have also noticed the tendency for people to wait until things are perfect before moving forward. The best analogy is that an infant first crawls, then walks, then runs. We cannot expect to run until we have first crawled and walked.