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stripping off the veneer + dismantling walls

October 8, 2012

“At its root, perfectionism isn’t really about a deep love of being meticulous. It’s about fear. Fear of making a mistake. Fear of disappointing others. Fear of failure. Fear of success.”
― Michael Law

In my rare free evening tonight, I began digging through my 600+ item Google Reader list, plowing through entry after entry, mostly recipes and creative whatnots that get my brain a-stirring. So here I am, Pinning this and noting that, craving doughnuts and getting the itch to make a big pot of soup and take photos of it.

And then I see this quote on Not Without Salt and I felt the breath constrict in my chest. How did this person know? How did they call me out? Oh crap, this is true, isn’t it. I’m a fear addict with a zesty and compulsive desire to organize and order things; not a thing perfect about it.

I am a perfectionist.
Let’s start with that.
I am a keep-everything-organized, people-pleasing, fear-stricken, I-can-evolve-past-mistakes perfectionist.

The past few weeks, I’ve felt the fear end of that bargain really, really strongly and have been wrestling with it pretty intentionally. There have been days where I win and days where fear does. It’s a push and pull, a give and take, and I know this will be a lifelong routine for me, hard as that is to accept. This will be a constant battle for the rest of my days. It’s the reality I live in and I am learning to sit in that tension without holding it inside.

Last winter, when I visited England with my dear friend, we spent a day in rainy Winchester, wandering around the cobblestone streets, popping in the cathedral to pay our respects to Jane Austen and going bananas when we found cute Union Jack pillows from a local shop to take home. Along with this, we met our friend Chris and his friend Jim for coffee. Jim heads up an organization in Scotland called Cantle and has an uncanny gift to sense and name people’s personalities within seconds of meeting them. I was a bit skeptical of this, but after two minutes in his company, I felt stripped to the barest bones and wasn’t entirely sure I wasn’t in the Twilight Zone. It actually was a bit spooky, truth be told. Among other things (which I honestly can’t remember it all, I was too in shock), he told me that I’m a perfectionist and always fear asking people for anything, for I’m always afraid it’s too much. He noted that when I am able to move past this fear, I am actually able to access a remarkable level of creativity.

I had no idea what to say to that. Not only was it entirely true, but it was something revolutionary and stunning that I had never really pinpointed before. But since then, those concepts have floated around in my head, challenging me to move forward beyond this barrier of fear and live more fully into the creativity that I feel bouncing around within those walls. It seems that only by making mistakes and allowing disappointment, those walls can be dismantled brick by brick.

This week has been one of mistakes. I forgot to note that we needed to order bread enzymes at work and thanks to my mistake, we had to throw out 32 pans of vegan buns that deflated and came out flat as hockey pucks. I couldn’t stop apologizing and felt like the world’s hugest idiot all week. That empty enzyme container taunted me and I felt like crawling under a rock. This mistake wasn’t just a small one; it was one that cost the business money. It’s one that can’t be apologized away or quickly fixed. It’s a mistake I’ve had to sit in and ask for grace in, both to my boss and co-workers, and to myself. I don’t think any of them were nearly as hard on me as I was on myself. It was an experience that taught in a big way, both in specifics for my job and in the larger life sense.

We let go. We move on and learn and let ourselves feel through what we need to feel. And life continues.

So I’m taking small steps, one at a time, to dismantle these fears, so deceptively glazed over with a more attractive perfectionist veneer. I know that as I do this, my appreciation for order and attention to detail will better flourish in an inner environment that isn’t so constrictive and fearful. I pray that as I can call these things out and name them and speak them out loud, the less power the fear will hold and the more I may grow, being open to being a broken person who will always be so, who can never be entirely fixed, and who might allow people to love me as such, without apology, and only with grace.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Liz V. permalink
    October 8, 2012 10:17 pm

    This is beautiful, Caroline! And, I can relate all too well…. Thanks for the message.

  2. October 8, 2012 11:44 pm

    I love this Caroline. it reminds me of the verse that has followed me around the past three years begging to be heard and understood.

    “be strong in grace.”


  3. Grandma permalink
    October 9, 2012 8:08 pm

    So you made a big mistake? Don’t we all? Call this a “life lesson” and then go on. There is only One who ever beat the perfect life thing and He has already paid for all of our mistakes.

  4. Noelle permalink
    October 10, 2012 10:20 am

    I had a dream last night about your closet, and it was perfectly organized and color coded just like a really nice store. It was very minimal and certainly the work of a perfectionist. I am, as you know, the complete opposite so sometimes I try to channel the Caroline perfectionism. I just wanted you to know that I will take the excess you shed off and use it to be more efficient. I love you, in all your neurotic perfectionism and I think that you are perfect especially when you mess up. ❤ ❤

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