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For us Perfectionists (Melody Beattie Blog)

(I highlighted things that stood out to me)

By Melody Beattie

I stared at the picture of the overweight man, thinking “I bet he eats too much because it’s the only good feelings he gets from doing something bad.”

I realized though, that I wasn’t looking at him.  I was looking in the mirror – at me.

I’m not talking about just acting out – doing something we’re not supposed to do (although that’s important too).  We’ve done an excellent job in our quest for mental health of taking most of the fun out of life.  Can’t do this.  Don’t do that.  Must not ever…

Barf.  I’m sick of that – all the rules, the dos and don’ts.  The fantastic sixties began as an experiment and a revolution.  But like my ex brother-in-law Chuck Beattie said, every revolution becomes an institution, thereby creating the need for another revolution.

The world moves in circles and cycles and it’s almost revolution time again.  Maybe, just maybe, it’s okay if we do something bad, something teensy weensy that we’re not supposed to do, every now and again.  You know – let it all hang out.  Now, I’m not referring to having a slip if we’re a recovering alcoholic.  No, no, no, no, no.  But can’t we find some ways to throw away the rules and put some fun back into life?  We’ve done with Life what Musak did to music.  We took the life out of it.

So there’s that.

But what I’m talking about is the need many of us have to let ourselves not be perfect, to do things poorly or badly, in the beginning and then again, each time we begin something new.  Here’s an example of what I mean.  I’ve finally cleared the decks, pre-paid my estimated taxes, and stopped signing contracts for self-help books to make time for a goal I’ve had since I began writing – writing movies.  I want to tell stories for the screen, whether it’s for television or film.  I’ve written 18 nonfiction books now.  I want to write some stories.

Over the years, my writing has progressed more and more from didactic teaching to story-telling, even in my nonfiction writing.  For instance, Stop Being Mean to Yourself is a book I wrote in 1999 that’s really about terrorism, about the lurking dangers, and about its impact and affect on so many countries – and what they’re doing about it.  I even included a dream sequence entitled “911.”  But my contract was to write self-help books, so instead of writing the story I really wanted to write, I needed to shift its focus.  Oh, I included the terrorism stuff, but I made it a book about loving ourselves hoping some people would understand.  I had to do it that way because writing self-help was writing into my contract.

Now I’m ready to really tell stories.  I want to use a lifetime of experiences and emotions to tell stories that help people understand their Life and the world.  But it’s a different form of writing than articles, anecdotes, books, and journalism.  It’s a craft unto its own.  I’ve been taking classes for five years.

Now it’s time to actually do it.  While I groaned and moaned about the outline I created last night, my friend Chip asked what the matter was.  I told him my work sucked, and that I was used to being able to write well.

“It’s okay to write badly,” he said.

He had a point.  I need to remember it every time I start a book.  The first draft is always horrible.  Often the second one is too, bearing little resemblance to the final product.  But I have to start somewhere.  Like an editor once told me, “You can’t edit your work until you write something to edit.”

Whenever I begin a new project, or whenever I learn to do something new, I need to give myself permission to do it badly.  I can’t get better unless I do. It’s not that I’m a perfectionist, although I may be.  I strive for excellence.  I want to do and be the best I can at what I do.  That’s a worthwhile aspiration.  But I can’t do my best until I’m willing to do it badly.

About ten years ago, I met with two friends.  We talked about our dreams, what we really wanted to do, and what was stopping us from doing that.  We each had a dream and the same thing stopped each of us:  fear.  We put our hands together on the table at Appleby’s and made a pact:  we would go after our dreams.  We’d walk right through the fear, the way I do each time I jump out of a plane.  We’d do whatever it takes.

Even if that means doing it badly.

Do you have a dream?  Something you’d like to do, be, or achieve?  What’s stopping you?  Maybe we need a new group.  That’s it.  We can call it B.A.  Bad Anonymous.  Or BBA — Being Bad Anonymously.

Nobody has to know but me and you.  Let’s make a pact too, and let’s make it today, to go after our dreams and look fear in its face.  We’ll get better, soon.  But not until we do it badly.

Melody Beattie

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