“Perfectionism” tends to get marked as a flaw that is actually a strength in disguise. People laugh about mentioning it in a job interview, trying to convince the employer that their “flaw” is how hard they work. So it’s a positive trait, then, isn’t it?
I think many perfectionists out there would shake their heads at a blinding speed. Yes, it can be useful in some situations, but for those of us who take it too far, there is hardly anything more insidious and destructive. As a lifelong perfectionist myself, curbing this impulse has always been an issue; it even manages to flare up in my Pagan practices, no matter how much I tell myself to relax.
“Is this offering right?” I muse to myself for the umpteenth time as I sit at my altar, lighting incense for my deities. “Maybe I should give food or a drink instead. Maybe this isn’t good enough, and I have to do better.” Unbidden, my mind latches onto all the perceived inadequacies in my craft: Not sitting at my altar two times a day, as I promised myself I would at the start of the year. Not reading enough books to truly call myself “educated” in my designated path. Not actively working with my guides enough—when was the last time I went on a shamanic journey, anyway?
“I’ll do better,” I think to myself firmly. And sometimes, I do. But oftentimes, by pushing myself forward at maximum speed, always seeking something gleaming in the distance, I stumble. And after stumbling, it can be hard to get up. Drained and exhausted from trying to be a perfectionist, my path switches from something that gives me strength to a soul-sucking force. At these times, the very thought of calling myself a Pagan seems not only ludicrous, but almost insulting to other Pagans. When I am so clearly a “failure”, as I believe in those times, how can I call myself a Pagan amongst those who are so much more put together than myself? They are much more knowledgeable in their path, more certain in their direction, more devoted in their everyday practices. What right do I have to call myself one of their peers, or to attempt writing on Pagan topics?
The silliness of these thoughts is obvious, of course; there isn’t any proof I have truly failed, and I don’t actually know if other Pagans are truly “better” than me, whatever that even means to begin with. It’s nothing but the irritating whispers of anxiety and low self-esteem, fed by my perfectionism. But during these times, the fear can feel very real, and I regret to say it has led to me freezing in the past, where I stay in one place out of fear of moving forward and making my (perceived) situation worse.
At the end of the day, though, it doesn’t matter if I reach the high bar I set for myself, or how I compare to others. All that matters is whether my gods and guides are happy with my progress, and whether that is enough for me. If Ammit tells me she’s happy with my worship, Anuket is telling me to slow down and go with the flow, and Ganesh reminds me I have lessons to learn from these obstacles…maybe, just maybe, it’s time to ratchet down the self-deprecating thoughts and pay attention to what they are saying. After all, they more likely than not have a much better view of the situation than I do. If they think I’m doing just fine and don’t need to be at 110% all the time, then why do I care? What does it matter if I can’t always meet my lofty expectations? All the gods demand of me is that I honor them and keep moving forward, even at a slow pace. One solid step forward is much better than three leaping jumps, followed by stagnancy once the exhaustion sets in.
It can be hard to ignore the pictures of beautiful, expensive altars online, or the recountings of extravagant offerings for patron deities. But whenever I find myself wondering if my bar is too low, if I should set it higher once again, I look at the statues of my deities and remind myself they’re fine with me just as I am.