Perfectionism Paralysis :: Confronting the Ways I’ve Sabotaged My Growth

There are three books on my nightstand right now:

Like many women I know, I have a problem. A problem with being paralyzed by fear until everything is perfect before making decisions. The thing is, there is never a time when everything is perfect. This means that I am often stuck in a cycle of worry and doubt that holds me back from meeting what I know is my true potential. 

This problem of mine presents itself in decisions big and small. For even the smallest purchases, I find myself conducting multiple Google searches and reading dozens of reviews before making a choice. I convince myself that if I purchase the wrong bath rug, it will be a major deal. Sometimes the result is being too indecisive to purchase anything at all. Hours are spent wasted worrying about tiny, inconsequential purchases. Don’t even get me started on vacation planning. I must pack the exact right combination of things despite the fact that anything forgotten could easily be purchased during our trip.

The area where this has most impacted my life is in my career. Fear of failure or being seen as a fraud have led me to avoid challenging myself and pursuing new opportunities. The stories in my head are compelling. “You don’t have the experience.” “You’ll make mistakes and look like a fool.” “You’ll hate it, never get another job again and end up on the streets.” “Everyone will know that you don’t know what you’re doing.” I need to feel like I’ve solved every possible roadblock before I feel comfortable taking a leap. This creates an almost obsessive situation where my thoughts are just going in circles, preventing me from moving forward (or eating or sleeping). I am a smart person who did well in school and who works hard and does well at her job. What am I so afraid of????

The thing is, I’ve been to enough counseling sessions and read enough self help books to know what’s going on. I understand that my thoughts are dysfunctional and not a reflection of reality. My “cognitive distortions” are setting up a picnic in my brain, and they’ve got a five course meal to finish before they vacate the premises. And while I’ve been trapped in this cycle for years, it’s finally starting to hit me that all of these things I’m afraid of, couldn’t possibly be worse than my discontent of my status quo. That living in my head 24/7 isn’t really living at all.

I’ll be the first to admit that I have trouble taking my own advice. But here are a few things (many of them from the books above) that are helping me to make progress and break the chains of Perfectionism Paralysis.

  • Read and repeat quotes and affirmations. I’m a true believer in the powers of frequently repeated affirmations and other words of wisdom. “On the other side of my fear is my freedom” and “I am at peace with all that has happened, is happening, and will happen” are a couple that I love.
  • Be more aware of the dysfunctional thoughts. This ancient sage wisdom that I read in Feel the Fear and Do It Anway really stood out to me. “The path is smooth. Why do you throw rocks before you?” I have to look for the rocks in my thoughts and remind myself that they aren’t reality before I throw them in my path. Mindfulness and meditation can be big helps at becoming more aware of the things going on in the brain. I’ve struggled with making them a habit which needs to change.
  • Hang out with brave people and other less brave people. My brave friends show me what can happen if I take a leap. My less brave friends remind me that I’m not alone. But the one thing that both of them have in common is that they can see me from the outside. They remind me that the reality of who I am does not jive with what the stories in my head are telling me.
  • Remind myself that few things are permanent and THERE ARE NO WRONG CHOICES. If I take a left instead of a right and it doesn’t turn out how I’d hoped, it is just part of the journey to get where I’m ultimately going. I just have to keep moving forward and making the best choices based on the information I have. There is no sure fire way to know what the future will bring, so it does me no good to dwell on what might happen if I make a “wrong” turn.  And there is no guarantee that making all of the “right” choices will protect me from pain or disappointment.

Susan Jeffers says “At the bottom of every one of your fears is simply the fear that you can’t handle whatever life may bring you.” That fear has held me back from opportunities and peace for far too long. Because the truth is, I can handle it, and I will handle it.

Ashley grew up in Joplin, Missouri and attended the University of Arkansas where she earned a degree in Finance and Insurance. She met her husband, Jason, in Fayetteville and they have one daughter, Etta Mae. They moved to Baton Rouge in 2013 for Jason's job with the LSU Tigers. Ashley is an extroverted introvert who loves Ted Talks, following politics on Twitter, and figuring out how to get the best deals on everything without paying shipping. If it were up to her, she would get paid to read books and take every college class so that she could learn everything about everything, but instead she pays the bills by working in recruiting for a multinational tech company. Ashley is blessed to have a daughter who is at least as stubborn as she is and a husband who is laid back enough to put up with both of them.

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