13 April 2011

Money, Health & Environment: Perfectionism

Something I heard growing up was the old saying, "Don't bother to do it if you're just going to do it half-assed!" I'm sure most of us have heard something similar, as I'm sure we all struggle with the perfectionism that it suggests. Perfectionism is paralyzing - creating layers of excuses as to why we can't do something we profess to desire.

I first really noticed my perfectionism when I started to practice yoga. I delayed taking my first class because I wanted to make sure I had all the "right" stuff: the best yoga mat, the cutest clothes, the most unique bag and all the other goodies: straps, blocks and blankets. Then I spent hours reading about different styles of yoga, the history of the practice and the philosophy. I told myself that I was being smart by being so well-prepared; in reality, I was just stalling. Then it became an issue of having enough money; I wanted to take the beginner's track at the Yoga Journal conference in San Francisco (which, as wonderful as it is, it is very pricey) - another stall on the path. I had convinced myself that everything had to be "perfect" before I could practice - amazingly, I finally did begin.

I soon realized that this perfectionism spilled over into many other areas of my life. If I couldn't pay off a debt in one fell swoop, I would give up, thinking that it was no use trying since I couldn't do it "perfectly". If I tried a new hobby or wanted to learn a new skill, I would quickly stop my efforts if once again, I failed to have miraculous and prodigious talent.

Recently, I've been seeing several reviews for a book titled Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin. The premise of the book, and several other recent titles, is that really successful people are not child prodigies or natural talents. Rather, successful people committed to practice regularly - hours and hours of practice over several years - to become extraordinary experts. Even in the face of adversity and rejection, their commitment to practice has made them triumphant.

Today, I've accepted that maybe I'll never be able to lift my body into urdhva dhanurasana, but I don't need to wait for the perfect yoga mat or to be able to afford unlimited classes with the "best' teachers. I only need my commitment to continue daily practice and seek the wisdom of my Self.

I still struggle with my perfectionism, which is really a fear of failure taken to extreme denial - but I find I recognize it sooner and can battle it better. Some questions I ask myself: How is your ego being challenged? Why do you fear failure? Do you think other people will laugh at you if you fail? Will they lose respect for you? We use perfectionism as a way to never do anything or take risks. I have found that most people are too wrapped up in their own experience to even notice that you are taking personal risks and courting failure. The truth is, you will fail. Probably many times. It's not the end of the world and is essential to our learning process. Why is failure so scary to you? What is really at stake if you should fail? What does it cost you if you never try?

Are you a perfectionist? What are you putting off until the conditions are "perfect"? What have you denied yourself in the name of being better prepared, ready for or well-researched?

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