Wednesday 29 November 2023

Self-Help For Cynics #15: Perfect

It's got to be perfect
It's got to be worth it, yeah
Too many people take second best
But I won't take anything less
It's got to be, yeah

Fairground Attraction - Perfect

I hate dealing with car repairs and mechanics. I always feel like they’re going to be patronising, supercilious and out to rip me off every chance they get. Unfortunately, due to the amount of mileage I do these days, my dealings with car repair “specialists” have increased… and any such encounter I can drive away from without a hole in my pocket or a bigger hole in my ego gives me cause for cheer. Actual turn up the radio, thump the steering wheel, whoop for joy jubilation. Survived another one! Got out with my wallet and my dignity (mostly) intact!  

There were bad times when my tank was running dry
And my machine couldn't shift into its gears
And on cold days it would stall
So I almost junked it all

The Good Rats - Mr. Mechanic

In her book Don’t Feed The Monkey Mind, Jennifer Shannon identifies three “assumptions” which our stressed out amygdala loves to accentuate. Last week I talked about Fear of Uncertainty… this week: Perfectionism.

The Orchids - Striving For The Lazy Perfection

I don’t think of myself as a perfectionist. I'm too lazy. Of Dr. Shannon’s three assumptions, this was the one I'd almost ruled out from the start. Until I read the chapter and realised that perfectionism goes hand in hand with something else which I am extremely familiar with: fear of failure. The expert explains…

While others find motivation from challenge, a higher purpose, a promised prize, or simply the joy of doing the thing itself, if you are a perfectionist, your motivation is fear of failing. Your mantra is: don’t screw it up! Only when you’ve completed the social interaction or task without making any mistakes will you be able to relax.

Skinny - Failure

This explains the whoop of joy I let out on escaping the maw of the mechanic, unscathed.

This also explains why I never asked a girl out in my teens, and only really stumbled into relationships in my 20s when the green light was showing and the welcome mat was thrown at my feet.

Chad & Jeremy - Teenage Failure

As I’ve grown older, I have learned to take more risks, step outside my comfort zone, force myself to flirt with danger if the prize was really worth having. That’s how I managed to get out of my old job… but I had to be backed into a corner by the firing squad to do it.

And this is the place where failure goes
If your dreams won't die
This is where all your hopes survive
If they're not a lie
This is where all the might-have-beens
Triumph and forgive
This is where all the star-crossed loves
Have the chance to live

Rupert Holmes - The Place Where Failure Goes

Dr. Shannon continues…

Perfectionists hedge their bets, only doing things they know they’ll be good at. If you do get saddled with something you aren’t good at, you may just put it off until the last minute, where you’ll have an excuse – not enough time – to be less than perfect.

Sound familiar? Or is it just me again?

Chip Taylor - Fuck All The Perfect People

The argument goes that really successful people achieve their goals because they’re unafraid of failure. They fall off the horse... then they get back on and try again. Eventually they get where they want to be. I’ve often argued that the reason I didn’t make it as a professional writer is that I didn’t push myself enough. Every rejection letter was a kick in the teeth. Many of my contemporaries who did succeed in that field lost all their teeth but just kept growing new ones. I don’t believe they were better writers than me. They were just better at recovering from a kicking, or as Jennifer Shannon puts it…

…relatively few high achievers expect perfectionism from themselves.

Just everyday problems
Find a way of bringin' you down
But if you want it bad enough
Find a way of turning it around
You find a way of turning it around

There's one thing that'll beat failing
That's trying
If anybody tells you different
They gotta be lying

Bobby Womack - There's One Thing That Beats Failing

A former colleague (notably more successful than me in most aspects of her life, but also a major screw-up in certain areas) used to swear by a popular self-help book of the late 80s / early 90s called Feel The Fear & Do It Anyway. She adopted the book’s title as her mantra and it appeared to serve her well. Cynical moi used to pour scorn on the very notion, but the more I read about the way our brain works against us, the more I’m coming to accept the wisdom in that mantra. 

Oh baby, here comes the fear again, oh-oh
The end is near again, oh-oh
A monkey's built a house on your back
You can't get anyone to come in the sack
And here comes another panic attack, oh
Here we go again

Pulp - The Fear

One final word from the good doctor…

When we allow for some risk, we give ourselves more choices and we prepare ourselves for when things go wrong. If we deny ourselves the privilege of being wrong or failing, we’ll be unable to take the risks that are necessary for meeting our personal goals. This is why, in addition to anxiety, perfectionism is associated with depression, procrastination, addiction and low self-esteem.

Failure hurts though. It’s not just a metaphorical kicking, it can feel as painful, as brutal, as any physical assault. I remember when I was applying for my current job. There was a moment when an obstacle was placed in my way which seemed insurmountable. All the hope I’d placed in this one opportunity, this lifeline escape from the mental misery of The Bad Place… and now it looked like it was all a pipe dream. I actually collapsed on the floor like I’d been punched in the stomach. I remember sitting there in abject despair… feeling actual physical pain.

I get knocked down... but I get up again

Chumbawamba - Tubthumping

Somehow though, I managed to pick myself up and try to find a solution. I still don’t know where I found that impetus. It doesn’t come naturally. Maybe for some people, you only get it when you hit rock bottom.

Failure is always the best way to learn,
Retracing your steps until you know,
Have no fear, your wounds will heal.


  1. Patronising car parts people and knockbacks. Sounds pretty familiar!

  2. io99999999999iukkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkk

    1. Are you alright, George? Having a funny turn this morning?

    2. That was Fennel (female cat at the farm)

    3. I hope this series is helping her work through her issues.

    4. Her current problem is an inability to work out how to get down from the roof over the patio here. It's an everyday occurrence.

  3. Brilliant insights, as ever. Perfection is definitely overrated. It's kinda the scourge of society in general now too I think - pressure to have the 'perfect' body, face, house, pets, babies, Instagram account, etc. Aargh.
    I'm so very glad you pushed yourself through things and got that job, reward indeed for enduring the painful parts of the process.

  4. C sent me hard copies of this series when I was in hospital. Been really helpful. Also, ditto what C said above.


    1. Thanks, Alyson. It's great to hear from you again.


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