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Escaping the “Perfect” Trap: How to Find Freedom and Fulfillment




Escaping the “Perfect” Trap: How to Find Freedom and Fulfillment

The perfect fall.

“If I’m perfect, no one can ever criticize me.”

That is not true; we will still hear things we don’t want to hear.

And when we hear things we don’t want to hear, it’s because we haven’t done something well enough.

We have to try harder.

Deeper and deeper into the prison of perfectionism we go.

We become terrified of being seen and heard and hide behind the facade we think will protect us. We dare not be seen as anything ‘less than’.

We are terrified of putting anything into the world, leaving projects undone, or staying in a perpetual state of working because they aren’t quite there yet.

We live a life that is not our own; it is part of the beliefs of what it should be, and we watch helplessly as our world and our place in it shrink.

We hide in the open air.

But we redouble our efforts because it has to work; Striving for perfection is a good thing, right?

No one can blame us for not completing projects because we are pursuing a “valuable” goal.

We live half an existence, pretending it is whole and suffering from inequality.

I use “we,” but this was actually my experience with perfectionism, something I still struggle with, and I know I’m not alone.

“Perfectionism is a twenty-ton shield that we carry around thinking it will protect us, when in reality it keeps us from running.” – Brene Brown

I had been trapped by perfectionism since I was six or seven.

If I didn’t score 100 on every test, I wasn’t good enough or worthy. Thus began my journey into the prison of perfectionism.

I was lucky; going to federal prison and essentially losing everything shattered the illusion of perfectionism and taught me about freedom.

The facade I had worked so hard to build was decimated and I had to start all over again.

I didn’t want to recreate what I had destroyed, even though the comfort of the familiar called to me.

I longed to be free, not only from the physical confines of prison, but also from my mental prisons, one of which was perfectionism.

An offshoot of unworthiness, the belief that I wasn’t enough, and my fear of being seen and heard for who I am.

Honestly, I don’t know how I would have gotten rid of perfectionism without going to prison.

I don’t know if I would have had the consciousness and courage to leave the comfort of the cell.

But I do know this: we don’t have to destroy our lives to break free, and I’m not suggesting we do.

Looking back on the decade of rebuilding and reinventing my life, it took tumblers to open the combination lock of my self-imposed prison cell.

I share them here in the hope that they will help someone get out of their perfectionist prison cell.


I had an overwhelming desire to make meaning of the suffering my choices caused, and one of the ways I could do that was by sharing my story.

My goal in sharing my story was to help one person. That’s all I wanted, and it’s been my fuel for the last ten years.

A person in pain doesn’t care if a sentence is phrased perfectly; they just don’t want to be in pain anymore.

Perfection doesn’t help them; honesty, rawness and vulnerability are.

And the road to get there is paved with sharing mistakes and terrible choices, the antithesis of perfection.

Fulfilling a mission higher than myself meant embracing mistakes.

It also turned into a desire to make more mistakes; if I didn’t make mistakes, I didn’t go far enough.

To end self-torture/punishment:

I consistently denied myself small acts of joy (e.g. watching TV in prison).

Both because I believed I was not worthy of them, and because I did not meet my personal expectations of perfection – often unattainable expectations.

Which creates an evil cycle.

The moment I gave myself permission to enjoy small actions like watching TV in prison, I showed great compassion for myself, compassion given in place of perfectionism.

It was granted merely because I was myself; I didn’t have to be perfect to feel good.

Expansion over contraction:

We cannot fully understand something until we experience its opposite.

Prison allowed me to understand freedom.

I always believed that perfectionism would give me freedom – no one can touch me if I am perfect.

I would be free from any negative judgment.

All the choices I made to create the freedom I sought were based on fear.

Fear is a double-edged sword.

If I avoid the sharp edge, I shrink my world.

When I go to the edge, I expand my world.

I still avoid the edge, capitulate, and make fear-based choices because I’m human.

But if I degrade myself because of it, I’m still a prisoner of perfectionism.

I choose expansion.

Perfectionism is an insidious belief that will slowly shrink and decimate our lives. The first key to unlock the cell door is hidden in plain sight.

Our desire and need for perfection is a belief, not the truth.

When we let go of faith and act from our truth, we change the course of our lives.