I’ve had many opportunities to think about perfectionism lately. Being from a family of overachievers, I struggled with it from toddlerhood. I keep thinking I have it in the bag but … not so true.
I remember mimicking other teenagers when I first immigrated to America. The stress to fit in was so great, I would cry walking home from high school. Maybe if I was perfect, I would get invited to sleepovers. Instead, I got a red nose and pimples from the stress and sleep deprivation.
I remember the time I said to my first husband, Numero Uno perfectionist art director, “I’m not a size 4. I’m a size 8. Get over it. I have.” There was a wonderful freedom in that statement. He wasn’t so sure. “You could eat less,” was his response. Spaghetti Carbonara or perfection? Not a difficult decision. My stranglehold on perfection slipped.
I remember the interview for admissions to an educational program. They asked, “What do you want to get out of the program?” I said, “I want to be a B student.” Their mouths fell open. They looked kind of dumbfounded. I had gone through graduate school with a 4.0 GPA and just didn’t want to waste energy making As in everything. I had a pinkie finger hold on perfectionism.
In my counseling practice, my yoga classes, and teaching positions, I emphasized the thoughtful use of energy. Along the lines of, “You have 100 units of energy in a day, a week, a month, year, or lifetime, and you decide how you allocate your resources.” Most people would look at me with a blank face but some people would get it – start prioritizing what they were doing, how they were using their time and energy.
Then this year, some of my favorite celebrities died. Alan Rickman. David Bowie. Some friends and clients died or developed major health setbacks. An epiphany slapped me in the face. “Damn, this life is finite. I really don’t have time for perfectionism.”
That’s not saying I’m a slacker. Well not most days. I still like taking a day out of each vacation and spending it in my pajamas. I can plop down in front of the SCIFY channel for a good six plus hours with a bag of chips. I am proud of myself for letting myself enjoy those times without judgment. At some point, I get up, stretch, and do something productive. But I’m not exhausted with the continuing judgment of Being The Perfect Whatever (you fill in the blank). Most things in life are not perfect and don’t need to be perfect.
I think I wanted to be perfect because I was afraid. Being me wasn’t enough. If I picked up a new career, friend, lover, hobby, I had to be perfect at it right away. Immigrant, curvy, bad hair, dyslexic me is ImPerfect. Seeing that on the screen makes me cringe. Now I want to be Good Enough.
Last holiday time, I gave a reading from my book and it was awful. Really awful. I stuttered. I stammered. I lost my place. I forgot my own story. When I finished, the packed bazaar was silent. Good bloody grief. Perfectionism triggered flop sweat. I wiped it off and joined the other authors in a dance lesson around the bazaar. It was okay. No one died. I didn’t sell any books but next time …
Life will go on. And life will be easier and more productive if I am not using my energy on the impossible goal of perfectionism.
Do you struggle with perfectionism?