It’s one of the most subtly brutal words in the English language. It goads us, it mocks us. It can drive us to accomplish amazing things, but the cost is often our happiness. It can also absolutely stymie us into inaction, it is one of procrastinations best friends. Did you guess yet?
Perfectionism in and of itself is, of course, just a word. But, oh, my dear, the trouble we get ourselves into when we try to apply it.
Somewhere along the line, we get some very reasonable ideas all mixed up and, boy howdy, does that make a mess. We conflate doing our best with doing it perfectly. And then we somehow get the idea that our performance determines our value. We either make ourselves nutsy trying to be perfect, or we don’t even try because we can’t be. Perfect, that is.
This one took me awhile to get. Oh, the time I wasted on perfectionism. Scrubbing things with a toothbrush, poking with a toothpick, for days trying to get whatever perfectly clean. Re-writing through so many drafts the piece was horribly over-written. Trying to be perfect in my relationships, trying to be perfect at work. I was exhausted. I was crabby. I was so judgmental.
Or I would look at a project, think about how much it would take to do it perfectly, and I would feel overwhelmed before I even started. The next thing I knew, the project would be just getting more not-done and time would march on. I would get that thrill of danger that goes with procrastinating, which is some sort of weird reward in itself.
I had the idea that you wouldn’t like me, or value me, if I weren’t perfect. At that time, I felt so far from perfect that I could hardly stand to look in the mirror. I expected you to be kind of disgusted, like I was, and certainly not to like me.
It didn’t matter if I was trying to do it perfectly, or procrastinating because I knew I couldn’t, doing stuff got hard. Finishing things got even harder. I worried, I said horrible things to me about my behavior, things that if you’d said them I would never have stayed friends with you.
Not only did it affect me, but it stained my attitude about you, too. My way was the right way, the perfect way, and if you didn’t do it my way, you were bad and wrong, and I was somehow better for rejecting your help. I apologize for that.
As I let go of my old ways, I came to see that most of the tasks in my life didn’t need to be done perfectly, they just needed to be done.
I came to see that there was a big difference inside me between doing something perfectly, and doing it correctly.
I came to see that striving for perfection, while it sounded good, made me so unhappy. I could never be satisfied with my work because I could always find a flaw.
I came to see that, for a lot of what I do, getting it done in a timely fashion, and then making a correction if it were needed, was a much better way to do stuff.
I came to see that there are lots of ways to complete a task, and that your way might just teach me something.
Why am I good enough?
How have I changed from buying into perfectionism to relaxing into doing what I can?
(c) Pam Guthrie 2013 all rights reserved 06302013