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What a Dumb Game Taught Me About Perfectionism

17 August 2017
 August 17, 2017
Category: Uncategorized

So a couple of weeks ago, we were on our family vacation in Lake Tahoe. I was excited to spend time with my mom and dad, sister, brother, and their kids. First night, the games came out.


One thing you need to know about me is that I hate games. I hate playing them, they make me nervous, and stressed and crazy. They are NOT FUN for me.


However, I decided to try one. In an attempt to change my attitude.


Ever heard of the game “Corn Hole?” Please excuse the sexual innuendo (yes, I know what it means.) This is the official name of this game, which is sort of like horseshoes. Kids at colleges all over the country play and there’s even a national championship  (Yeah, it’s a bunch of old guys dressed in tie dyed t-shirts, but still.)


The game involves simply getting a bean bag into a small round cut out in a slanted board.


My son asked if we could be a team. I geared myself up and took another swig of beer.


I stared at that hole. It was small. I was determined to make it.


I took my shot, throwing underhand to get my first bag in the hole. The bag landed closer than I thought! All right. Not bad…  Second try– off the board completely. Everyone was cheering though, and having fun.


I threw my third bag. In the hole!


As I continued to play, I got some bags in, and some went way off into the trees.


When we finished, laughing, and went into the house, my brother said, “I dare you to write a blog with the words ‘corn hole’ in it.”


I had to take that dare.


I started thinking, and realized, as a perfectionist, I often focus too hard on getting my pages to land inside some imagined perfect target. As if there really is a small zone, where my writing can land, and only then, will it be worthy.


This is why I hate games. I feel the need to get it all right, when really, the whole point is the fun and journey along the way. Often, the gold in my pages comes when I fire a bag that lands in the messy trees and makes me see something valuable that was nowhere near my original “cutout.”


Perfectionism is a survival pattern that you think will keep you safe from rejection and hardship. But what it really does is keep you silent and stuck.


So here’s what a dumb game taught me about perfectionism… 

  1. Give yourself permission to write badly. Every day. Hurl those bags. Even if they go into the rough.
  2. Understand that writing is a process, and that your first draft will be terrible. Don’t expect to master the game on the first try. The more I threw the sandbags, the better feel I got for the distance to the board, and how to modulate my throw.
  3. While you’re writing, look around and enjoy the process. Who’s cheering you on? Are you having a beer, some fun?
  4. Forget about the hole. Aim for it, sure, but even if you land on the edge of the board, that’s awesome.
  5. Forget about “winning” a prize. The goal is to “play” the game as well as you can in that moment.
  6. Get out of your head. Access the swing of your arm, the feelings in your body as you work. Trust your intuition to get you close to the mark. 


As the sage Anne Lamott reminds us…

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.”


Take Action! Pick up a bean bag. Take a throw. Know that sometimes you’ll get it in the hole, and sometimes you won’t. Get out of your head and into your body.  You think it’s your head that’s doing the writing, but really, it’s your heart. Look around at all the people who love you and are cheering on your writing dreams.


Surrender to the fun of the game.


Happy Writing!


xo Pat

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