Is perfectionism undermining your impact?

Welcome, amigo, to my 2nd ever blog post. I'm so happy to have you here!

As the title of the blog suggests, these really are going to be a collection of musings. I'm doing my very best NOT to write like an academic and am instead going full train-of-thought on you. Like most of my musings, this one stems from something deeply personal, yet has a bigger meaning that I really wanted to share - in case you relate, and in case it helps you approach your sustainability journey a little differently. It's a little long, but stick with me!


I never identified as a perfectionist. I did realise a while ago, however, that i'm an All Or Nothing person. If I start a new fitness regime, I either commit 100%, get quite obsessed and focus a lot of energy on it, or I don’t do it at all. Same goes for healthy eating, buying no-new-things month or slow fashion challenges. The implications of this all-or-nothingness have just dawned on me (nobody has ever called me quick or witty, let’s be honest)…


The second I ‘fail’ – the second I eat a piece of cake, miss a workout or buy a new thing -  I give up entirely. What’s the point in continuing? I’ve failed, right? I don’t want to continue and do it badly. I’d rather not do it at all. If something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing properly, right?!


It was literally only a couple of weeks ago that I realised how detrimental this behaviour and mindset, and my use of the word ‘failure’, is to my wellbeing, and perhaps more importantly, to my commitment to walking much more lightly on our beloved planet.


Some of you may recall that at the start of the year I committed to a self-devised slow fashion challenge – I was going to only buy one new piece of clothing a month.  And while this might still seem like a lot to some, to this not-at-all-minimalist, it was a big step in the right direction. Others joined it. It became a thing. And I nailed it for 2 months. In March, I bought 2 things. In April I bought 2 or 3 things. And then I gave up. Well I’ve failed anyway, right? I saw no point in continuing. I was embarrassed.


In the few months I did stick to this challenge, my behaviours changed though. I stopped scrolling Instagram (as much) and opening sale emails from my favourite labels. I unsubscribed from a heap of mailing lists. What was the point? Why push my will-power to breaking point? I looked into clothing rental. I started reading more instead of just scrolling, looking for my next purchase ‘high’. I started assessing what I had and re-wearing some incredible pieces that were lying neglected in my wardrobe. I learnt to layer. I identified that the days when I struggled most to resist a purchase were the days I was feeling flat or down. I learnt about myself, my motivations and my vulnerabilities.


But I still failed, right?


It occurred to me VERY recently that the perfectionist, people-pleasing, high achiever in me is undermining some of my strongest values and most important goals – namely, to reduce my negative impact on the planet by reducing my consumption and waste. Because I can’t do it perfectly I’d rather not do it at all. Who wants to feel mediocre?!


So I got to thinking. What are the end goals of sustainable fashion – what are we REALLY trying to achieve? The following came to mind (although I’m sure you can add more):

  1. To consume the world’s resource at a rate that is environmentally sustainable in the long term; at a rate that the natural world can sustain and handle,
  2. to significantly reduce the amount (and toxicity) of waste we produce, and
  3. to drastically reduce our carbon emissions.


Now, if these are the big picture goals, is ‘failing’ a slow fashion challenge really a failure at all, if we’ve changed our behaviour and reduced our consumption in the process? And if we keep challenging ourselves to be better, we are only going to get closer and closer to achieving these goals, right?


I hate to say this, but it’s time to get comfortable with mediocrity. With not being ‘the best’ (perfection clearly doesn’t exist). Because, let’s be serious, the planet doesn’t care if I’m not perfect – she just cares that I do better than I did yesterday.


(Okay…. maybe the planet is actually saying, “don’t be such a selfish a**hole, just stop consuming stuff, I can’t take it anymore and your shopping-induced-happy-highs and need to ‘treat yo’self’ are less important than my… OUR survival”, and she would be fair to say this…)


Have you seen that meme going around that says something like, “we don’t need 1 person doing zero waste perfectly, but millions doing it imperfectly”..? I have questioned it at times (in my head, mainly) – do we have time for imperfection, for excuses? Does the planet have time? Is convenience or lack of energy a good enough excuse?


But the reality is we are ostracising people - ourselves included - by demanding perfection. As the wonderful blogger and highly inspirational not-influencer Kate Hall (follow her at @ethicallykate) recently mentioned in a low-waste living article, reducing our annual waste to the point where it fits in a jar is not going to be the reality for most people (and is actually not even an accurate reflection of ones’ total waste production anyway). That perfectly zero-waste, perfectly ethical human is, well, a myth.


Clare Press – Sustainability editor for Vogue – has shared a similar message. One of getting real about peoples’ desires and motivations. About shifting how we produce and consume fashion, rather than telling people they can’t consume at all. Renting, creating a circular fashion industry that recycles and resuses fabrics, etc. Local Adelaide business Scribe and Social shared just this morning that perfectionism “is just another hurdle, another roadblock, another excuse to put in front of yourself and stop you from doing whatever it is you want to do”.


For a frazzled, multiple-ball-juggling average human, the thought of being perfectly sustainable, ethical or zero-waste is frankly exhausting. And probably unachievable (in the short term, anyway). Not consuming anything new – while it would be the ideal – is an exhausting (and unhappy) thought to me!


So, give yourself a break. Let your inner perfectionist off the hook. Pay for her one way trip to the Caribbean (No, you can’t go with her. And yes, she can walk, given she is spirit-like anyway, and save on carbon emissions). Embrace mediocrity and embrace SLOW – even slow progress is progress. Just keep swimming. Because it DOES get easier (gotta end on a happy note, right?!). Truthfully, I’ve bought a bit of (ethical) fashion in the last few months, but I’ve also NOT bought a tonne of pieces I would have a year ago, without much of a second thought. I’ve been thinking about this one epic top for 2 months now. I would never previously have thought so long and hard about a purchase, assessed all the things it will and won’t go with, and tried to count the number of occasions I can see myself wearing it too. THIS is progress. This is me living more sustainably than I did yesterday, last week, last year.


So go forth and be mediocre and merry, dear friends. And please share your small (or big) wins with me in the comments below. Share your ‘unfailures’ – your mediocrity. The challenges you didn’t stick to and what you still achieved or learned. And let’s celebrate the fact that we are making progress. In a year, if we’re still all making progress, imagine all of the good we will have done – how much less of the earth’s precious resources we will have consumed, and how much less waste we will have created.


Ps. For getting all the way to the end (legend!), and in case you need a little sustainable fashion top up, I thought I'd drop a little thank you love. Use code 'whatalegend' for 10% off your next purchase.


Cover image by the wonderfully talented Oh Wild Creatives.

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