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Will COVID-19 Kill Perfectionism? I Hope So!

About ten days ago I co-hosted a Zoom meeting with a friend and client. It was my first time being in the role of presenter rather than audience, when I occasionally disable the video so that I can retain some privacy and not get distracted by how I look on screen. For this Zoom meeting, I tried to appear “professional”. I wore a favorite, brightly colored top and even applied a bit of make up, something I rarely do anymore. My client, in a self-imposed quarantine with his family, spoke from his bedroom as that space was the most removed from the rest of his household. He reminded everyone on the call that now was not the time to be perfect, or to even try.

I exhaled.

It didn’t matter that I had some lipstick on. The lighting where I can get a strong enough Internet connection is terrible, ditto for the background (for some reason my laptop won’t support Zoom’s fun virtual background feature). I had to remind myself that the point of my appearance on this call was not my physical appearance. I wasn’t there to project an image but to share something I cared about and which I hoped others would find valuable. Based on the comments and feedback, the call was a success. Sitting and looking at my less-than-optimal image on screen as my inner perfectionist freaked out proved to be liberating. Indeed, my hands trembled a bit and I didn’t try to squelch the movement, as if it were “unprofessional”, awkward or something I needed to hide. I like to think of it as excitement that traveled through me because, for once, I was not paying attention to my extremely loud and persistent inner critic.

The New York Times recently published an article, “How to Look Your Best on a Webcam“, alongside alarming pieces about the growing calamity we are facing. Perhaps presenting one’s best face forward is a way of feeling that one is in control during a crisis, or creating some semblance of normalcy in a world that has been turned upside down. Yet, none of us are in control of what happens around us. The perfectionist shouldn’t be in control of what happens within us, either!  The perfectionist has reared its perfectly coiffed yet ugly head again because, when I began drafting this post, I had been preparing to lead my own series on Zoom. It’s trying to hijack my attention so I’ll concentrate on looking good on screen. I’d rather spend more time focusing on the content than on how I will come across. 

Yesterday, before logging into Zoom to host my first call, I remembered some sage advice from Moshe Feldenkrais: Do not “try” to do well. What a relief. After several minutes had elapsed, I realized I had forgotten to press the record button, and I had promised recordings to anyone who’d signed up, even if they couldn’t attend. Yet I had banned the perfectionist so, rather than feel upset or ashamed, I told the participants what happened and pressed the record button. I calmly reviewed some of the information for the benefit of those who’d watch later. The virus is, for many, truly a life or death matter. The perfectionist wants me to believe that *everything* I do (or don’t do) is a life or death matter, which can often keep me paralyzed. In the face of so much suffering and turmoil, and lives turned upside down and inside out (or outside in!), it’s high time to “social distance” myself from perfectionism and starve it out of existence. My hope is others will come to a similar conclusion, and that the virus will, like a raging river, alter the cultural landscape, leaving more people feeling humbled by nature and aware of our interdependence, rather than trying to look good when life as we know it can change in an instant.

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