Confessions of a Recovering Perfectionist
Posted on March 4, 2013
I was having a conversation with a friend a while back about hosting parties and get-togethers and she told me that she doesn’t do it very often because she likes things to be perfect, which makes it too stressful.
“It’s bad, I know,” she said as she lowered her eyes and took a sip of her drink.
I nodded my head and took a sip of my own drink, unsure of how to respond. It all sounded so familiar. I know what it’s like to obsess over small details that no one will notice, whether it’s the perfect decorations, a well-placed word, or (god forbid) a spelling error. I know because I’m a recovering perfectionist.
It took a very big, very expensive party to clue me into the fact that perfectionism, which I had previously viewed as “high expectations,” was running roughshod over everything I loved.
My wedding was one of the most amazing days of my life. I was euphoric as I walked down the aisle towards Grant, over the moon that so many people I loved traveled to Vancouver to be a part of our union. We had the most fabulous ten piece New Orleans style brass band–thinking about them still brings a ridiculous smile to my face. On that day, nothing could go wrong, my happiness was invincible. It was only after the fact that I felt the need to do an autopsy and uncover the imperfections.
When photos revealed that all of the place-cards had blown over in the wind, my heart sank. Instead of saying, “Whatever, shit happens. So many things went well,” I started to look for the other things that went awry: the bow on the back of my dress that wasn’t supposed to be there, the guest tree that was signed with an illegible, too light pen, the exact number of guests I forgot to hug. I started to nit-pick my (fantastic, love-filled) wedding.
And that was my wake up call. If I could take the most amazing day of my life and strip away the beauty of it by focusing on the small, inconsequential details, what was I doing to the rest of my life?
Perfectionism takes all of your good intentions, skill and potential and aims it in the wrong direction.
It tricks you into thinking you’re just aiming high. People compliment you on your skills. They congratulate you for hitting it out of the park. But you can’t fully enjoy the fruits of your labor because you’re too busy obsessing over that one misplaced word. Or the place cards, I repeat, the place cards at your gorgeous wedding.
As Julia Cameron says, “Perfectionism doesn’t believe in practice shots. It doesn’t believe in improvement…Perfectionism measures our beginner’s work against the finished work of masters.”
You don’t have to be a full-on perfectionist to understand this feeling. Many of us go through periods where we compare ourselves and our work to others, where we feel not quite ‘good enough,’ not as brilliant as the next.
Blogging, if we let it, can be a futile and painful exercise in comparison. It can also be a great way to let go of expectations and put ourselves out there for better or for worse. That is one of the main reasons I started a blog–to let go of the need to be perfect.
While my wedding was the wake up call in my own battle with perfectionism, the moment when I was finally able to see the beauty in imperfection came a bit later.
One gorgeous afternoon last summer, Grant and I were driving through Stanley Park, listening to the new Leonard Cohen CD. As the sun shone through the surrounding pines, the song “Anthem” started to play. I listened to the words and held my breath.
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
That’s how the light gets in.
And there it was, both the root and cure, in one simple refrain.
Perfectionism is a closing off, a way of controlling things. It may look pretty and whole on the outside but in reality it is cold, isolated. Dark.
In the past, I wasn’t willing to ask for help. I felt like I had to go it alone.
The perfect daughter, spouse, friend, student, entertainer, gift giver, wedding planner, writer, decorator, listener, idea generator: I tried to be all of these things and more.
Now I focus on progress instead of perfection. I try and I
sometimes often fail. But I finally get it: mistakes make things more interesting. (Except for spelling mistakes. Obviously ;)
The cracks let the light in.
Have you given yourself permission to be imperfect?
Oh, Happy (Wedding) Day
You’re Not Doing It Right