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Perfectionism Will Keep You Cramped And Insane Your Whole Life

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life…

…I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.”

—Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird


This paragraph hit me between the eyes. I’ve now read it about ten times in the past 24 hours. Ms Lamott was talking about the first draft of a manuscript. Just get it down on paper, willy-nilly, free lance, she said. Let loose and enjoy yourself she goes on to advise.

But these words spoke to me about so many other things in life.

The blog: How could you ever hit the ‘publish’ button if you were encumbered by hitting every stone just right, or, if you worried that others were better at the craft? There’s no way.

The bike: How would you ever pin a number on for a race if, for happiness, you needed the snappiest legs, the clearest lungs and the perfect lines. A truism about cycling is this: someone is always better, just because they were born to faster parents.

At work: My shoulder surgery was a major reconstruction. I had researched it extensively, traveled out of town for a couple opinions and finally decided on a well-known local surgeon. I knew the repair was a little sketchy, and like AF-ablation, might also fail the first time. Surely I would be one of the 80 percent, I had thought.

But I am a doctor, and we all know that doctors and nurses suffer more complications—this would be folklore, like: “eat when you can, sleep when you can, and never mess with the pancreas.”

I will never forget the look on my surgeon’s face when he saw that swollen and obviously failed repair. If despondent, disappointed and sh** had a face, then it would have been his. My wife, Staci hugged him; she hugs a lot.

But he had to go back to work. He had to run that stone path again, trying to hit every one just right. As the patient, I needed him to worry not that others might run the path more nimbly.

It’s funny how Ms Lamott’s beautiful words about perfectionism ring true about life as a doctor, or a bike racer, or a “blawger.” Or…I imagine a lot of other things.

The irony is that running that stone path mindfully, however imperfectly, makes us better—not perfect, never perfect, just better.

Now I am hitting the publish button.

Oops, I just twisted my ankle.


*This blog post was originally published at Dr John M*

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One Response to “Perfectionism Will Keep You Cramped And Insane Your Whole Life”

  1. Ann Becker-Schutte, Ph.D. says:

    Plus, if you did things perfectly, where would you get material for the funny stories later in life? I love internet synchronicity–I just blogged about the value of an “epic fail” last week (and in the way high reaches of the blogosphere, Seth Godin wrote about the “gift” inherent in our ability to fail). Thanks for a much-needed post!

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