I told my husband a couple of weeks ago that I am working hard at not being “perfect.” It’s an important time not to be this way, as we are living in transition. There are boxes and piles pretty much everywhere right now due to our move. And, once we get to the cabin, there’ll be boxes and piles there too. I am trying to take it one day at a time as I clean out and pack. Luckily, organization comes easily to me but I have to watch that it doesn’t get out of hand. So far, so good.
Perfectionism has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. And, I don’t “hate” that I’m a perfectionist or type “A” personality. In fact, I credit this attribute to my ability to achieve the goals I set for myself. But, I’d rather not be a perfectionist and work hard to accept my weaknesses.
People do not understand the perfectionist personality for the most part, unless of course, they also have this trait. They look at you as odd and in fact, we are. But, striving to be excellent at whatever you do is not an imperfection, it’s a quirk. It’s usually a person who is driven, passionate, hardworking, and purposeful. Those aren’t bad things, are they?
Perfectionists learn that “being perfect” isn’t possible. Nor, is it desirable. We all have strengths and weaknesses. Learning to “get better” at what one is weak at is admirable, not a fault. But, as I matured, I learned that if one is perfect, one has nowhere to grow! And, there are always people eager to point out that you are not perfect, even when you think you are or even might be close.
I think my perfectionism is closely tied with my intensity. I am intense. Whatever I happened to be engaged in, I want to do it to the best of my ability. So, I try hard. I think and I overthink. I plan and then revise my plan. I learn I research, and I apply what information I gather to my life. At times, it can be too much. I’ve learned to recognize when it’s become too much for me or for those around me. This is an important step to embracing my imperfections.
I am so glad that we sold our house to the first people that looked at it because I would never have stopped cleaning it. Even when they came to look at it before we were “market-ready” I kept wiping and picking up and dusting all on repeat until it was time for me to leave with the dog. I would have kept wiping and cleaning and doing….until the very last people came through! I know. I used to clean for two days before I had a girlfriend and her son over for a playdate twenty-five years ago. I think both of us would not require that now, as long as we could see each other.
Being a perfectionist has helped me to achieve, certainly. I am accomplished in many areas. But, it also makes me doubt myself. When I read my poems last Friday at a public event, one of my closest friends told me I looked relaxed. But, inside I was a bundle of nerves. She said you couldn’t see it. I didn’t believe her until I watched the video recordings. I am still self-critical but I could see what she meant…I did appear relaxed and able to share my story, and I got better as the reading progressed!
I do have to admit to enjoying the sense of not being judged or graded or evaluated in a formal sense. Perhaps this is why I’ve not worked formally for long periods during my life. No one is more critical of me, than well, me! I think that self-criticism makes me even better at what I do – whatever that might be!
Over the course of years, I’ve read books on perfectionism and intensity. They’ve helped to some extent. But, whether it is perfectionism or not, I put a lot of effort into the things I do and the products I make (jewelry, photography, and now – indie books). I think the effort counts for something. Even if what I make or do is not perfect, it comes from a place of wanting it to be the best that I can do. And, I’ve learned that if it falls short in others’ eyes, so be it. All that matters is that I’m happy with my effort whether it’s perfect or not. Most times, it’s not. And, that’s okay.
Resources on dealing with perfectionism:
Too Perfect: When Being in Control Gets Out of Control (1993)
Living with Intensity: Understanding the Sensitivity, Excitability, and the Emotional Development of Gifted Children, Adolescents, and Adults (2008)
I’ve also learned, and this is wisdom from aging I think, that I need to stay away from those who judge me too quickly. This includes friends, family, and coworkers. As I am very self-critical, it harmful to me to be around those that feed my self-doubt. If someone is always questioning me, that makes me defensive and also makes me question myself. If the person doing that has legitimate authority to question – like my husband, or a boss, or even one of my children who are now adults, so be it. But, if it is someone who just likes to question or suggest alternatives without being asked, like a friend or a coworker, it is harmful to me to spend a great deal of time with that person. Does that make sense?
Lastly, I think my perfectionism has made me a great volunteer for a number of organizations. I take it seriously and do the best I can do in whatever role I play, whether it is a paid position or not. I think that’s called passion – not perfectionism – don’t you?! It’s also being a responsible community member. If I say I am going to do something, I do it and try to do it well. Never, have I not “shown” up either physically or mentally. That is just not my way.
I think, over time, I’ve become a healthier perfectionist. You can read about what that means in this article by the National Association for Gifted Children. At least I seem to realize when enough is enough. After all, there are some things beyond my ability. I’m wise enough to know.