A quick scan of the titles that came up when I did an online search on being perfect, as preparation for writing this piece, came up with these:
Perfection is Overrated – Be Happy Instead
I Don’t Believe in Perfect
Perfectionists Make Themselves Miserable
On the bulletin boards for our premium program, My Year Without Clothes Shopping, we talk a lot about perfectionism. I tell the courageous women who do our program that perfection isn’t possible. It isn’t necessary. And it isn’t desirable.
Oh, how I talk.
It’s so easy to be wise about perfectionism when it isn’t you that’s the subject of that sentiment.
Sure, you shouldn’t try to be perfect. But it’s perfectly okay if I go for it, right?
I have been brought face to face with how ridiculous that idea is, and how buried it has been within me, since I started reflecting on something that happened early last year.
I had a fairly significant falling off the wagon moment 15 months ago
I purchased 3 pair of high heel shoes. Expensive high heel shoes. In one store. In one shopping expedition. With money I didn’t have set aside for the purchase. Without identifying them as legitimate wardrobe gaps.
It was a classic unconscious shopping moment. All the elements that signify, for me, shopping asleep at the wheel were there for me.
- I was in an exceptionally buoyant mood. This has always been my pattern, the conditions under which I have shopped too much. I didn’t and don’t shop when I’m down or upset or angry or lonely. I’ve shopped when I’m celebrating, when I am feeling especially optimistic, when I’m buoyed by my life circumstances. It’s been a way of celebrating and a form of positive acknowledgement for me. I had just come from a very positive corporate client meeting and was as sure as I could be that I’d land a lucrative contract starting in the next few weeks.
- I didn’t invoke the power pause – my absolute #1 most effective break-the-compulsive-shopping-pattern strategy. Or any other smart shopping strategy. I went from “Aren’t they FAABulous!” to “I’ll take them all!” No stopping to pass go, no giving myself time to consider, no letting the sequins settle, no nothin’.
- I bought more than one pair of a similar shoe. Well, one pair is quite a different colour to the other two (turquoise). But two pair bear a remarkable similarity to one another. This is called buying duplicates or multiples. It’s a bit of a red flag that your shopping isn’t quite under full control.
Here are the shoes I purchased that day.
I still have them. Every time I look at them, I feel awful.
Not only were they ludicrously expensive and I didn’t need them but they aren’t that comfortable and I’ve had to do all kinds of things to make them wearable (interior accessories like heel grips and arch supports). And I didn’t end up winning that corporate contract which would have covered the expense.
So I was down and out on every possible level as a result of this purchase. Excepting that they are rather gorgeous to look at.
What failure feels like
I felt so wretched about this purchasing event not just because I fell off the wagon so resoundly.
I felt so wretched because I’m now supposed to be this fabulous conscious consumer. I’ve supposed to have slain my shopping dragon. I’ve even talked about being triggered before and how I’ve made smarter choices, kinder choices, that didn’t involve shopping (here’s that post).
So falling off the wagon felt like a huge betrayal, like I was a liar, a fake. It felt like a more than normal size failure.
Here I’d built an entire business, a website, an audience, of people who I held myself up to as an example of how you can heal from an overshopping problem.
To say that my “self talk was negative” was a massive under-statement. I will spare you a full rendering of all the awful names I called myself, all the horrible things I said about myself, to myself. Repeatedly. This is a family website after all.
And things stayed that way for, oh, about a year. I couldn’t talk about that purchase, those shoes, that experience, without this cloying thick guilt and
embarrassment shame creeping up over me.
When the (re)healing began
That brings us to early this year.
I finally started to look at that event, that experience. Which was a step forward in and of itself – just to acknowledge it. To see it. To look at it as it happened.
And then I started to recognise the violence of my reaction to it. How utterly judgemental and ruthless I’d been in my treatment of myself over this experience.
How lacking in understanding, in kindness, I’d been.
How unavailable I’d been to recognise the mistake for what it was – a mistake – then take whatever useful learnings there were from the experience, and draw a line under it.
How incapable I’d been to give myself a break, to be my own best coach, or even my own mediocre friend.
If I’d treated anybody else that way, I’d have expected them to walk away from me and never come back. If someone else had treated me that way, well, I probably would have thought I deserved it to start with. But soon after, I’d have wondered where their humanity was.
After all, this was one mistake. One.
Sure, an expensive one (each pair was about $280 – that’s in the interests of full disclosure people).
But it was still just one mistake, done once.
I didn’t go out and buy another $1000 worth of stuff I didn’t need. I haven’t set about duplicating all other aspects, or even any other aspect, of my wardrobe. In no other way since then has my shopping behaviour been cause for such intense emotion.
However you count it, the number to put on this mistake remains one.
Awareness precedes choice, and being able to acknowledge this situation gave me the opportunity to move on.
And part of my healing from that relapse, from that mistake, was to tell the truth about it.
The truth about being perfect
And I truly began to understand, really get it, that perfection is not necessary, not required and not desirable – for me as much as for anyone. Perfection is not required or necessary or desirable for me.
If I am to be an example of healing from overshopping, then I need to allow myself to be fully human. I need to be kind to myself when I’m not perfect, when I make mistakes.
I need to be as kind to myself as I am to you, and to those courageous women who do my programs and who journey toward being more conscious, better shoppers.
Every mistake is an opportunity to be more compassionate. Every mistake is an opportunity to start over.