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  • Writer's pictureKatie Vahey Gaebler

Perfection paralysis 2.0

The first version of this article started over 2 weeks ago. In my typical fashion these days, all the distractions happened, and today getting back to it, my past work no longer sits right. Sigh, because it’s fine writing, it just doesn’t feel as relevant. The goal is to build content. Don’t let the ramble be the bramble. On to version 2.0

To start, a quick google of my phrase.

After various scans:

What is Perfection Paralysis: a mental state caused by stress and anxiety towards the need to be perfect.

Signs of it

  1. Scrapping Work Before It’s Finished

  2. Fear of Judgment

  3. Comparing Yourself to Others

How to overcome it

  1. Prioritize Your Time

  2. Understand That Perfection Isn’t Everything

  3. Learn to Enjoy Living

When I see lists like this, I’m first like, “Is that really me?” My 20s especially were riddled with perfectionism, fear, and comparisons. I think back that I only accomplished anything because of sheer muscle, which created its own muck now for the dealing. Into my 40s today, I’m more apt to say “F*ck that” when such emotion presents. I consider that personal growth, that others opinions and choices don’t hold the same weight anymore. But recently, scraping work has become normal, and I know I don’t prioritize my time. So yeah, even if I only see my today-self in 1-2 of these items, it does reflect me. Therefore my today-self needs to deal with it.

My struggle to post this article to my blog is pennies compared to the costs I see on this effect among the Autism Community. Last week, I held down a booth at the Northern Colorado Autism Resources Fair, and spoke with various families of middle + high school students. When a family needs to collectively make a decision on next steps for education, I see a special complexity. Questions on accessing public school districts, what school has “good-fit” support staff to work with, IEP transferability, and the list continues. Compound that with families who have the new option to move, COVID created remote work-ability, so where should we live to support our student with the best chances for school. Then the neurodiverse-student’s shoulders bear the weight to uphold success because a family’s move made that access possible. If the College Question is in the mix, depending on how a family sees the value of higher education, the set of questions has effectively doubled. Then the question becomes not only how to answer these questions, but what questions to prioritize and act on to make sense of any other questions. Here’s how I see that tangle:

I don’t mean to make light of any student or family’s situation. And the good fortune of being able to have choices is truly a privilege, but that doesn’t negate the fraught. When any or all members of a family are neurodiverse identified, the difficulties in concentrating, emotional outbursts affecting social skills, fidgeting or repetitive behaviors, among so many other characteristics, can impact any group in deciding where to start in this significant decision. Of course this is hard stuff!

In talking with these families on Resource Fair day, my recommendation is to (a) let me help and how I will do that is (b) to understand that landscape of your decisions and then break the options into the smallest pieces possible. If the question is where to go to college to pursue a perspective career, but the student is currently taking gap time before enrolling in college because the family knows accomplishment of a bachelor's degree will be a difficult road ahead, I will not be talking about bachelor degree options. I will not even be talking about community college courses that will transfer toward a bachelor’s degree. The prospect of the application process of a bachelor’s degree, or community college degree, even knowing a family intends for their student to live at or close to home, is going to be so overwhelming it will lead to the ideal storm of perfection paralysis. And in this example, the costs and stakes are so high.

The choices ahead must be modified into the tiniest incremental steps. To make the first steps possible is to have the goal post set at the next smallest step forward. Might informational interviews for possible career options within fields of interest be possible. Do we need to coach on what is an info interview and how to do it. If the goal is to take a class in an area of interest to have the experience of a college-level course, how might something like a MOOC (massive open online course) be a less-$$ and less-pressure way to have the experience over trying a full semester at a flagship university. If next step goals can feel accessible to start and reasonable to complete within a designated timetable, the peace of mind for the neurodiverse student and possibility of improved family dynamics can be worth its weight many times over.

For me, today, to overcome my own perfection paralysis in my goal is to produce more blog content, how can I implement the recommended steps to get out of my own way and get to my goal. Small directed topics, written concisely, posted regularly, shared naturally, are my incremental steps. Creating a list of possible topics and then focusing the write up to 5 bullets. Prioritizing my time by limiting how long I spend on each topic. Having a schedule of posting 1 article at a set time each week. Measuring my goal against an incremental time table (say, x3 posts p/month) to assure I can meet it. Being honest with myself when something hard challenges my ability to write, and also when those hard things are excuses over the thousands of things that can distract me. Eventually that adds up to progress, but it’s not going to happen if I don’t get out of my own damn way.

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