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The Disease Called Perfection (One Year Later)

It has been a year since I wrote and published The Disease Called Perfection. It is by far the most important post I’ve ever written. To me, anyway.

Today it has been read by nearly 2 million people and shared on Facebook well over a hundred thousand times. A day hasn’t gone by since posting it that I haven’t received at least one email from somebody who has read it, desperate to escape the disease. Most days I receive multiple.

Nearly 5,000 people have commented on that post. Most of those comments are beyond sobering. Many heartbreaking. The majority overwhelming. If you haven’t read it, please do. If you haven’t read it recently, please go read it again. I have no problem asking everybody to read it, and I will again and again. Why? Because I believe in that message. Writing that message freed me. Living that message empowered me. My soul is in that message.

My most powerful writing has come in my efforts to overcome those things which have consumed me the most. And nothing has consumed me more than that hideous disease “Perfection.” It affected me at home. At work. With friends. With family members. It controlled the vast majority of my life and my relationships. It was one of the biggest destroyers of my marriages. It was certainly the biggest destroyer of my ability to find contentment and be happy.

But perhaps worst of all, that ugly disease stopped me from ever overcoming the worst and heaviest burdens that I had been carrying for decades. It hindered any true progression for me. It got in the way of what needed to be done to shed my demons and clean my closet of its skeletons.

Eventually, I couldn’t take it anymore, and I wrote that post. For better or worse. I knew I was opening up a can of worms, but I did it anyway. I was at the point that I didn’t really have a choice.

Was I expecting the traffic I got (and am still getting) from it? Never in a million years.

Was I expecting the extremely positive response that came in from the vast majority of those who did read it? Never in a million years.

Was I expecting it to piss a lot of people off? Kind of. I just didn’t know it would piss a lot of very vocal strangers off. I didn’t know it would lead to me being called a fraud by some, a phony by others. I didn’t know it would cause me to experience some of the most stressful moments of my life. I didn’t know it would cause me to be… hated. Never in a million years.

I’ve gone back to read that post from time to time. Even one year later, I still need the reminder. In some ways the post has been very ironic.

On the one hand, writing that post freed me in my personal life. It opened up an entire world of spiritual exploration for me. It gave me the opportunity I had been seeking for the past 30 years of really deciding for myself what was right or wrong. It permitted me to finally question what I actually believed was morally right or wrong. It has ended some unhealthy relationships and taken the chokehold off of the more beautiful ones. It has brought me better friends, better relationships, and better moments. It has made me a better father. It has made me a better person. On top of all that, it has helped me to truly love others for who they are instead of who I believe they should be. It has stopped me from weighing others against my own insecurities. It has helped me see the real beauty in others.

On the other hand, and due to the nature of the post, it has attracted a great number of readers to Single Dad Laughing who struggle (as I have) with the diseased “Perfection.” Many of these readers struggle with dishing out “Perfection” as much as they struggle to breathe from beneath its crushing thumb. And because overcoming “Perfection” isn’t an overnight thing, the disease has occasionally carried itself into the comments of this blog and into my email inbox. Many harsh judgments and criticisms have come my way, many calling me onto the carpet saying I should be doing things differently, I should be ashamed of  myself for writing something I’ve written, or that I am inconsiderate, rude, or immoral. Because I have written about stepping up my game as a parent and as a human being, and because I have written about taking the higher road, and because of the overall nature of Single Dad Laughing, it comes to the point that many of my readers somehow expect perfection from me. This in turn puts pressure on me to deliver that perfection.

And that is where the irony has really come into play. On the blogging side of my life, I get so burdened by “Perfection” that I often begin to suffocate from it. This in turn makes me occasionally “act out” and write something edgy or less than “perfect” on SDL. And, every time I do this, I get a number of people commenting or messaging me, calling me out again. Several people leave SDL for good. And so it pushes me deeper and deeper into the disease.

And perhaps the greatest irony of all is the uncanny pressure I feel to be perfect in public, especially as a parent. Because of the things I have written, and because of my book The Real Dad Rules, and because people recognize me in public far more often than I ever would expect, I have all but lost the perception of wiggle-room in the parenting department. Because of this, I often feel far more down or lost than I should.

And so, I have made it my goal is to spend the next year learning to free myself from the disease in my work and public life as I have in my personal life since first writing The Disease Called Perfection.

But all discussion aside of how the post has affected me, I know that the very reality of it is that it has affected others in great and life-changing ways. For that I am thankful. For that I am subdued. Of that I am always aware. I have received hundreds of emails from those who read the post and found the power from it to take significant and new directions in life. There have been those who have left marriages, unhealthy relationships, religions, and friendships.

The weight of this reality has hit me far too many times. I have heard of parents packing up their kids and leaving another parent in the distant settling dust. I have felt eternal responsibility as I have heard of people giving up on the religions they have been raised with their entire lives in order to look for their own truths. I have gritted my teeth as people finally “get the guts” to end relationships with their own parents that they know are damaging and abusive. The weight when I receive emails like that is immense and sometimes overpowering. I sometimes find myself pushed to tears over the responsibility I feel for having written words that would drastically change the lives of those who are taking such big steps. It’s a weight I never would have predicted. A weight I never would have wanted. I believe that this phenomenon alone has taught me more about my responsibility in writing than any other. It is also this phenomenon that has made me want to quit on more than a few occasions.

And finally, I want to talk about what this article has done for many of those in my personal circle. After writing it, I began hearing from some of those I was closest to about their own struggles with the disease. I learned that immediate family members, extended family members, close friends, cousins, neighbors, and many fellow church members were feeling completely trapped or smothered by “Perfection.”I was told in confidence by so many that were so close to me how free they wish they could be from it. Stories of “Perfection” were swapped. Situations discussed. Bonds formed.

And in the end, I also saw just how hard it was and still is for so many of those people to leave “Perfection” behind. Still trapped in lives of the ever-pressing need to appear perfect and stalwart to those they love most. Still living under the notion that it’s better to be unhappy than to ruffle feathers. It’s better to feel enslaved than to have others think less than kindly of them and their choices. One year later,  I still see “Perfection” as rampant as ever, I still see people more desperate than ever, and I still see people as consumed by it as ever.

Which makes me wonder how many read that article and never felt anything more than great desire to be free from this disease “Perfection.” How many read it, immediately knew the actions they themselves must take to be real, and then did… nothing. Out of fear? Yes. And for what other reason than a fear of rejection. After all, it is the fear of rejection that pushes and feeds the disease “Perfection.” It always has been, it always will be. Those who push “Perfection” on others generally fear being rejected and left behind in their own ways of thinking, their own judgments, and their own beliefs. Those who are consumed by the “Perfection” being pushed on them by others generally fear complete rejection from those they love most should they leave their common ideals and beliefs behind. Most of us struggle on both sides of that equation.

And so, I ask you… have you read The Disease Called Perfection? Have you done anything to free yourself from it since first reading it? Has fear gotten in the way? Have you found your freedom? Have you started to witness the miracle of seeing only the true beauty in all others? A miracle that only comes once you’ve shed yourself of the disease?

I have a long journey still in front of me before I am truly free from the disease “Perfection.” It’s a journey more difficult than any other, but one that sees blessings every step of the way. I pray you’ll join me on it. Let’s all be a little more real together.


If you haven’t read The Disease Called Perfection, please do. If you want to help keep its message going, please like it again:

Dan Pearce, Single Dad Laughing

SDL’s Quote of the Day

“The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.” ~Anna Quindlen
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36 comments
SammyKay
SammyKay

I just came across the original Perfection post tonight... and by some sort of fate via browsing came across this follow-up post.  You have such a great way of bringing topics up that are unpleasant and sorting them out in a way that makes sense.  I've been struggling with the perfection thing for as long as I can remember.  It was most apparent throughout one of my mother's suicide attempts when I was... 10... 11... ish.  I was so scared that EVERYONE knew (small town problems) and that everyone thought we were all a mess because of it.  We were. 

Anyhow, it became my biggest goal to have an outward appearance that things couldn't be better.  And that got me through some of the... I don't know what exactly... shame of it, which only fed the perfection beast.  The fear of being judged or found lacking gave it added strength.  If I could only say the right things, make the right jokes, get the right grades and do it all gracefully then one day I could look back at it all and be proud of the person I had become.  Except now, at 30, I have no idea who I really am.  I know how I'm still a pleaser to everyone. 

You're an inspiration.  I WILL push past the fear and be more "real".  I need to.  We all do. 

I continue to applaud you for your honesty even when it is not fun for you to say or admit.  Thank you for saying the things that people need to hear and pushing past your fears.  And remember that the only one who really needs to be satisfied with the words you push out to the internet world is YOU.

TessaBeers
TessaBeers

First off, I'd like to say that while some people may leave SDL for good... others have come, and are here to stay. Me, for instance. I like real. Especially, here, maybe because it isn't real yet it is. It's the stuff I need to hear, need to see that I cannot stand to face or am unable to see day to day and reading it gives me heart, gives me hope. Yesterday I found the response to your "I'm Christian, unless you're gay" and I couldn't get it to load because of so much traffic, but the page said "try again, it's worth it!" and my usually short attention span locked onto this site, wanting so badly to know what that article held. I cried in Safeway's "cafe corner" eating my lunch. It was exactly what I'd been telling a close friend of mine just days prior. That it was ok, I loved her, and whatever her pastor at church said was wrong, so very wrong, to say "god loves you, but we hate sinners so he must too and what you did is a sin" and that it was all a load of bullshit. I understand that church comforts her, but I tried to convince her how much more comforted I was outside of church. After I found your posts and read both the response and the original, I sent them to her. She gave up the internet for Lent so she cannot read them yet, but I am confident she will love your site as much as I do, and needs it as much as I do. It heartens me to see someone so willing and good at making the changes that need to be changed. Some say you're inconsiderate but that's because what you said offends their "perfection disease" and has nothing to do with you yourself. It's because you're more than what they are able to be.

 

As for feeling responsible for the changes in peoples lives, particularly the drastic ones, you should feel overwhelmingly PROUD. Proud that your words reached these people. They are proof that your message gets through to some at first hit, second for others. I know I wont be able to make changes quickly, but I also know that I want to try. To be more real at work and stop wanting just to "be friends with everyone" and tell them they are wrong in what they do and how to fix it. I am tired of being sat on by perfection. It's ass is too heavy and it smells bad. It's not your FAULT these changes happen. You just helped what needed to happen along. We all make good and bad decisions, with or without the words we read from you or hear from others. Even the bad decisions, drastic or small, shape us. You're just another piece of furniture helping to shape the living room of life these people lead. Reading about abusive relationships with family or loved ones is NEVER easy and you SHOULD cry. The fact that you do makes you human. But the fact that they turned abusive or that the person finally freed themselves isn't your fault in the negative sense. People need change. And you're just the kind of change society needs today. America has gotten so lost in perfection it is scary. I constantly feel pressure to be this or that. My sister every day every single conversation we have makes a jibe at something I've done wrong in the past or that day, it doesn't matter what .If I once didn't fold my laundry correct because I was four and balling it up made more sense and was easier for my tiny hands, it's "not that you fold your laundry correct, anyways" "Not that you ever do dishes" "Not that you cleaned up your mess a million years ago." And I constantly make promises to myself to not slack off, to push harder, to be more every day. But you know what? Maybe I don't WANT to put on makeup today. Why can't I still be beautiful? Who am I not to be? Who are you to tell me I need a little cover up? I swear, I'll spit in your coffee if you do. Also, don't you dare tell my overbearing and loud coworker to "hush, you're just too loud" because IT'S HER JOB TO SAY WHAT SHE IS SAYING LISTEN TO IT. There is no need to be rude, she is just doing her job. Your job? Order your coffee and get out of here and go to your job. Gods do I wish I wouldn't get fired for saying something like that. I'm going to go spread your perfection disease post all over, now. Because I want everyone I know to read it. Facebook friends and more. I know some people it has potential to move to greater things, if they read it.

 

Thank you. Time to go back to the first late assignment I have ever done. It was due tomorrow. You're the only one I've told that other than a spare few who I instantly kicked myself after blurting it out to. But right now, I wont be ashamed. I made a mistake. So what? Time to go fix it. Thanks for being exactly what I needed this week, if also a distraction from actually accomplishing my goals for the evening =]

me392ya
me392ya

I just read the article and our blog for the first time- the post drove me to tears. My "perfection" that held me captive was an abusive marriage. I was so afraid to show the world that I couldn't cure my husband from his demons, that I even married such a person. Even when he had a gun to my head, telling me he wished I was dead, someone else could raise our kids, my "perfection" kept me there. It took so long before someone could convince me to leave, and even longer to realize that "perfection" was what held me captive. Thank you for your "real" words. You pretty well summed it all up, and I'll check back and keep reading!

Sam Rees-Jones
Sam Rees-Jones

I read it today...just what I needed to make me see things a bit clearer, thank-you

Stephanie Schiess
Stephanie Schiess

There is no way it has been a year... Has it??? Wow, times flies!

KimberlyStoker
KimberlyStoker

This was not the first post I read of yours, but it was the post that turned me from a casual observer into a loyal fan. I can't say that my own journey will ever be over, but you helped make it more REAL. Changing my perspective has really opened my eyes to a few things in my life. I think everyone can gain something by reading this and then reading it again so they don't forget!

tipton.michelle
tipton.michelle

I just read The Disease Called Perfection for the first time. It was...amazing. So true. I still feel too in awe to actually write anything I think... You are amazing, Dan.

Linda Spencer-Blackledge
Linda Spencer-Blackledge

I shared it on fb today. I don't read your column all the time. I do enjoy most of what I read. I hadn't read this message before. I did think about many things as I read it. I agree with almost every word. I think it's very good and a lot of people need to read and hopefully internalize at least some of it. Thanks for writing it.

Rhonda Hare
Rhonda Hare

~ That is the post that lead me to you. One of my friends shared it, and I've followed your page closely ever since. ( I'm not even a Mom. <3 )
Anyway, it was truly beautiful. I'll read it again later tonight, when I'm more prepared to cry.
I can imagine the backlash you've received (and now especially now, after being more known), but the voices and thought processes you've awakened have been amazing!

NaYNaY-RoXaLoT
NaYNaY-RoXaLoT

That is the post that lead me to you. One of my friends shared it, and I've followed your page closely ever since. ( I'm not even a Mom. <3 ) Anyway, it was truly beautiful. I'll read it again later tonight, when I'm more prepared to cry. I can imagine the backlash you've received (and now especially now, after being more known), but the voices and thought processes you've awakened have been amazing!

Ana A. Alcaraz
Ana A. Alcaraz

That means I've been reading your blog for exactly one year since this is the first post that came to my attention. Great job this past year!

Patricia Mahan
Patricia Mahan

I am just like Megan. It was an amazing post and I shared it with all my fb friends.

Megan Vardiman
Megan Vardiman

This was the first post I ever read when a friend shared it on facebook and I've been following SDL ever since. I do miss these real and grittier posts. Don't let the naysayers get you down you must speak your truth :-)

Norma Lawrence
Norma Lawrence

This is an article that was the anthem my husband and I were singing but weren't quite able to hear ourselves due to the Overcasting of those around us that were trying way to hard to be society's "Perfect".

It made us dig our heels in and really be grateful for what we have, not what we think we need to keep up with the ever-unsatisfied "Jones".

I have followed your blog ever since. Love your outlook on Life and Parenting. Thanks Dan!

Hangin' Out and Hangin' In
Hangin' Out and Hangin' In

Thank you for this. I gave up the perfection disease years ago, but I have so many people in my life that just can't let go of that image they need to personify. Life is messy, but I'll fight my way through it and show my 7 kids that no matter what we look like to the world, there is never any doubt that when the chips are down, we have each other - wonderful imperfections and all. God bless you, Dan. Your posts always speak to me.

Single mom being real
Single mom being real

I am disabled & on a limmited income. I come from a family where it has been instealed soildly that u are a worthless human being if u don't work. I was born disabled. Never found out until I was 50 yrs old.... after experiencing faliure after failure @ attempting to become gainfully employed.... and after I fell deeply in-love with this very successful lawyer...... i never feel good enough 2 b REAL around him. I don't feel good enough 4 him because i am not gainfully employed.......

Vicki Seabury
Vicki Seabury

I read this whole thing @ I am being very real when I say I wish I had written it I agree w/every word of it ... Thanks 4 being so REAL. :-)

Danielle Cameron
Danielle Cameron

This hits so very close to home! Very well written. ..thank you for posting!

Sandy Slone Heywood
Sandy Slone Heywood

I truly hope I can instill this in my son. I second guess myself almost daily as a parent. Am I spending enough time with him? Am I helping him learn enough, should I do this, that or the other?? I have to remind myself that I AM doing a good job and give myself a break because I am far from perfect and that's ok! I pray that my 21 month old son is learning compassion, kindness and how to be a decent loving person. I want him to know he can do anything and be anyone and we will love him through it all! You are truly one of the "good ones" and lucky for me so is my husband!

Todd Cory
Todd Cory

many of the men in my men's group (including me) suffer from this and I appreciate your addressing this in your essays.

Cheryl Ann Wood
Cheryl Ann Wood

This was the first blog of yours I ever read too....i am now a faithful follower. I really REALLY like your brain. And you have a cute kid too.

Lynn 1
Lynn 1

After my original read of "Perfection" I made a conscious decision to stop torturing myself. No more agonizing over preparing a bunch of "meh" food in advance for the week and sweating weekly weigh-ins for ounces of loss, and pounds of gain, and going up and down, up and down, never making any real progress that made me FEEL GOOD. NO MORE deathly-boring and lonely gym visits, and hating myself for not going.

Once I stopped that madness, then I was able to CHOOSE something I FEEL LIKE doing every day, and that is yoga. It is good for my mind and my body and I feel results EVERY time. It will make me age well. And once I stopped worrying about what to eat and how many points it was, I could choose the better thing for myself MOST of the time, and only give in to eating naughty stuff occasionally. I will never be thin again, but I can hold steady and be happy. The inner pressure is what kills me.

If I see some "perfect" chick, I KNOW that one day, she too will struggle over weight, and time will march across her face. Life is not perfect, and neither am I, nor is "she". I had my days of swiveling men's heads. There IS more to life than that. I just had to find it and be happy with me the way I am and the way I'm not. I had to take a stand that being truly happy and sane was more important to my health than something in or on a magazine. Or turning the head of some guy I don't know, and who doesn't give a damn about me OR the chicks he's swiveling heads at.

Patty Anderson Mason
Patty Anderson Mason

My daughter sent me the article when she found it. It's the first one of SDL I ever read and it is still right on the mark. Thanks for writing it, Dan!

Teri Newland Zeman
Teri Newland Zeman

Like my mom always said, "Nothing and no one is perfect in this world. Why do you think they make erasers on pencils?"

Erin Larochelle
Erin Larochelle

You know why you are great? It's not just because of your willingness to tackle difficult subjects. It's that you don't just write about it and forget it. You follow through. You push people to give it new thought. Your mission is to not just bring awareness, but to lead us all on a path toward enlightenment, to walk with us as we try to embrace issues together. You stand by us, walk beside us and gently guide. We stumble but so do you. You are just as human, just as clueless, as we are and you never make us feel bad about falling short. Rather, you help us up, dust us off and give us another nudge. Thank you for revisiting this.

Amanda Neffield Vermilion
Amanda Neffield Vermilion

One of the most moving posts I have ever read. Still refer to it even a year later. Most definitely stuck in my mind and have shared it many times with others too.

smilingbird
smilingbird

"perfect" = "unapproachable" Is that what anyone really wants? To be the guy (or gal) on the pedestal that everyone looks up to, but no one feels comfortable hanging with?

We are all perfect in our imperfections. They are how we learn, grow, develop. They teach us about tolerance and acceptance, about making choices. When we can look at them, clear-eyed, and say, "I love myself anyway" - despite the extra 25 pounds, or lack of belief in established ways of thinking and believing, despite the sexual orientation or "loser" status at school.

We are all so beautiful in our own, unique, perfectly imperfect ways, that it breaks my heart when people can't embrace that for themselves and about others.

There's a song called How Could Anyone - the lyrics go:

How could anyone ever tell you

You were anything less than beautiful?

How could anyone ever tell you

You were less than whole?

How could anyone fail to notice

That your loving is a miracle?

How deeply you're connected to my soul.

(words and music by Libby Roderick, c 1988)

Go look it up on YouTube. When you can sing it -- and believe it of yourself - without crying, you'll know you're starting to accept yourself.

Shelli Ray Gibbons
Shelli Ray Gibbons

This was the first thing I ever read that you had written. Loved it!

zedseverywhere
zedseverywhere

I just read it and I must say it deserves all the attention it got. An excellent piece.

brandidouglass
brandidouglass

I came across the post just the other day, and found it so moving I had to write about it myself over the weekend. Since then, my inbox has been flooded with hundreds of people--mostly complete strangers who just happen to read my blog--telling me their "imperfections" that they're hiding. I didn't expect that. It's overwhelming and sobering and heartbreaking.

Thank you for writing it. Really. Thank you. I think we all knew it in the back of our minds, but for some reason, reading it all laid out in black and white gave us all permission to be real.

~Brandi