Perfection Spells Paralysis by Pamela Mytroen

I’ve always had a difficult time making decisions. Once when I couldn’t decide which shoes to buy, I bought every pair I tried on for fear of missing out on the colour of one pair, the price of another, and the style of the other two. They were all great quality, and all four pair would have been appropriate for my needs, but I just couldn’t commit to one pair for FOMO, Fear of Missing Out.  When I worked in a restaurant, we always were stunned when a petite lady stopped in because she would always order two full meals and two desserts. She would start out with several in mind but could never narrow her choice to just one meal.

Some people can’t make up their mind because they are afraid of letting something good get away! I can empathize with them as I face the same struggle. However, vacillating can affect our wallet, our health, and our relationships (renovations are a nightmare, ask my husband how many times I changed my mind about the placement and style of our back deck). And, it can also affect our writing. Thankfully I have learned a little about making a commitment that is not based on perfection, and the following true story may have helped me learn that lesson:

I was in college and had gone to the library to study for the evening. I breezed in happy to be surrounded by friends and books, but my stomach dropped as soon as I stepped foot inside. Two of the guys I was dating were also there. Like I said, I had a hard time making my mind up about pretty much everything. I know I shouldn’t have been dating two guys at once, but the story gets worse. Believe me. They each sat at a different table. As soon as I noticed them, I nearly walked out. That would’ve been the smart thing to do, come to think of it, but no, I was too proud to admit my fear and figured I could handle this tricky situation.

I knew I couldn’t sit with either of them or it would reveal my embarrassing secret. So, instead, I decided to play it safe and sit at my own table, while pretending I hadn’t seen my two boyfriends. I no sooner set my books down than the first guy meandered over, winked at me, and sat beside me. Then the other guy followed promptly, clearing his throat as he sat down on my other side. I swallowed hard and stared at the clock. I got myself stuck in this dilemma because I had a commitment issue!

Now I would have to divide my time equally between the two guys so as not to arouse suspicion. But then my third boyfriend (I’m sorry! I told you it would get worse!) wandered into the library and happily sat down across from me, whispering as if I was the only one at the table. I’ve always been pretty good at keeping a straight face, but at this point, my knees were knocking beneath the study table and my face was warm.

I tried to pretend I was studying while not looking at any one guy in particular … when a real predicament arose. One of my boyfriends – I am still too traumatized to remember which one it was – offered to walk me back to my dorm. I knew I was in trouble. I had to refuse or the secret would spill and a scuffle might ensue! And I would have to admit the truth that I was not two- but three-timing.

This was back in the age of chivalry, when guys protected girls, but I suddenly didn’t need protecting. I quickly stood, closed my books, and spontaneously decided that I should join the exercise class in the gym, for which I’d never had any interest or coordination.

“That’s really kind of you,” I said, “but I need to get to aerobics in the gym. It’s starting in two minutes.” I stepped away from the table and noticed the two wet handprints I left behind! I hoped the guys wouldn’t notice, but more desperately hoped they would discuss the fact that I had a dress and heels on and no gym bag with me as I made my hasty escape rather than talking amongst themselves and finding out that they were in an elite club of my making, the Fear Of Missing Out Club.

You see, all my life I struggled with making up my mind for fear that I would make a mistake and make the wrong choice. If I choose chocolate mint ice cream, then I’ll miss out on a new flavour that I might love. But if I choose a new flavour, I might not like it! If I choose this good-looking guy, I might miss out on that guy with a sense of humour or that other well-respected guy! And so it went with every decision from ice cream to shopping for clothes … to deciding on a life partner.

I can say that I learned my lesson, thankfully, and continued to date just one guy after that close call! Admittedly, I struggled making a marriage commitment because I had a couple of career options lined up, and the FOMO was looming large over my love life. If I marry, will I ever get to be a teacher? A missionary? I broke up with my boyfriend (now my husband) because I just couldn’t choose between career or marriage, but thankfully, Kel, my husband, helped me make that decision by capturing my love and devotion. The chocolate and flowers helped.

Of course, this trait has affected my writing too. At any given time, I flirt with seven or eight different writing courses, hovering over the Pay Now button but then stopping because I might miss out on what the other course has to offer.  What if I choose the wrong one? Thankfully, like my husband, who helped me,  some external impetus comes along (like the course promotion ending), and I have my mind made up for me. Decision by indecision, like my Grade 9 teacher used to say.

Do you struggle with FOMO? Steph Beth Nickel introduced me to this term and it answered a question I didn’t even know I had, “Why can’t I move forward with my writing?” I finally realized I had to learn to let go of perfection. I’m still learning that there is no perfect writing course, no perfect ice cream, and – spoiler alert – no perfect husband.

I don’t purchase as many shoes anymore. Rather, I’m learning to take a risk and just commit to one pair, or one of the writing courses, knowing that I just need to get started. I’m learning that, if I can’t decide, I’ll never get walking! Now I tell myself, “Buy those shoes and get walking! Put your pen on paper and start writing!”

Holding back in fear while waiting for the best course or just the right words to say does not perfect our writing skills but rather, paralyzes them. If I go forward and make a mistake, at least I can learn from it and build on it. But if I keep pondering which decision might be best, and never take the leap, I’ll never get any writing done at all. Looking back I see that I’ve written some poor quality manuscripts that make me blush, but I also look back on ones that I’m proud of. I have improved in some ways. However, I never would’ve learned a thing if I hadn’t been willing to take a risk and get started.

And now it’s time to hit the gym for those aerobics. Finally! I never did exercise that night many years ago. I had too many shoes and couldn’t make up my mind which pair to wear!

P.S. Do you struggle with “getting started” in writing? Are you worried about perfection? How do you push past paralysis and get walking in your writing? I’d like to know.  

Pam Mytroen still rolls out and decorates sugar cookies with her grandkids these days, often over Zoom which is surprisingly just as sticky. Her kids and English students still bring her much joy and a reason to get up every morning. She continues to write for her paper, hoping to give a voice to those who have no voice. Her husband still brings her chocolate too. Good thing … because she can never decide between Godiva, Jersey Milk, or Lindt.

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  1. Tracy Krauss says:

    This was so engaging – and quite funny except for the fact that it was true! It could easily be the scene from a movie! In fact, maybe you should write one… Kidding. Great piece.

    1. Pam says:

      ? embarrassing!

  2. Gloria says:

    ? too funny Pam. I love the realness and honesty of it. Yes you wouldn’t soon forget that situation. God does have a sense of humour. Lots of good advice in here that I need to keep in mind. Perfectionism or not making a choice has stifled my writing plenty.

    1. Pam says:

      I’m still learning to commit and not wait for the best thing to fall from Heaven. ?

  3. Spot on and funny too, Pam! I loved this post. I also struggle with indecision and fear of giving something up by not choosing well. I am part of a world-wide mentorship program for artists and instead of helping me identify and focus on the “one thing” I should be doing out of writing, music, photography, and other visual arts, I have been feeling more confused, overwhelmed, and paralyzed than ever. A couple of days ago, I felt a Holy Spirit nudge to go back to what God was speaking to me at the very beginning of the course and saw that my “one thing” wasn’t a vocation per se, but an overarching purpose: to create works of art (music, words, and visual images) that inspire, encourage, and uplift other Christians whose gifting is in the arts. This has been huge for me because it has helped me narrow down the SUBJECT/PURPOSE of my art while giving me the flexibility to continue to play and grow in all the art forms I love as the Lord leads. As for the rest of my life, I am always worried that I pick the wrong thing–the wrong piece to enter a contest, the wrong choice of course (yup, me too)–or worse, that indecision will result in me missing something good that will take me to where I want to go. So I have binged on courses, groups, memberships, etc. etc. Thankfully with God’s direction I have two things that I use as a baseline now to help me keep on track: 1) only take something on if it meets an immediate need IN THIS SEASON (i.e. not for “someday”) and 2) only if it fits with my overall plan/goal/vision/dreams. Well done with this post, Pam, you managed to incorporate humour and a timely and relevant message.

  4. Janet Seever says:

    I enjoyed this immensely! It brought to mind long, long ago when I was dating two men at the same time and got into an embarrassing situation as well. I later married one of them. Yes, some times it is difficult for me to make up my mind.

  5. Deb Elkink says:

    What a great article, Pam! Yes, FOMO is a real dragon and has breathed its hot flames on me at times. I hadn’t considered the role of perfectionism in it. You’ve given me pause . . .

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