Wise words about being a perfectionist

My blog buddy Maria wrote a great piece yesterday about abandoning perfectionism. We’re about the same age, and apparently much more alike than I realized. (We haven’t met in real life yet, but I’m always hopeful!) And while most of it sounded familiar, there was one phrase that hit way too close to home:

If I couldn’t do something to my own mind’s version of perfect, in my brain, that meant I had failed and couldn’t do it at all.

I live by a similar tenet. If I can’t do something perfectly, I don’t even try. Which makes it difficult to learn how to do anything. Actually, I’m happy to try something new, as long as no one knows I’m doing it. If I can practice by myself until I master it, I’m fine. But as soon as someone else can see that I’m not doing it perfectly, I’m done.

It keeps me from playing games, because I don’t want to do them wrong (I don’t care if I lose, I just want to play it right the very first time). It keeps me from trying new activities. Heck, it’s probably one of the reasons I haven’t been trying to sell my books. If I get rejected by an agent, OBVIOUSLY it means I did something wrong, so why try again? (Yes, I know that’s nuts.) Or it could be that if I DID sell one, I’d have to take the next step of promoting it – and I could do that wrong. Talk about a miniscule comfort zone!

A friend last night was explaining a business he’s started, and how lucrative it is. And while it would be great to make some decent money, my first thought was, “But I’ve never done that before. What if I do it wrong?” And that’s enough to stop me. Maybe that’s why I’m not a gazillionaire yet – I don’t have the nerve it takes to try, and fail. But if you don’t try, you’ll never succeed, either.

I have let go of a few perfectionist traits. I can leave dishes in the sink overnight, as long as they’re rinsed and neatly stacked. I can pull the down comforter over the wrinkled sheet on the bed, since no one can see it. I only proofread a letter once or twice before sending it.  Thankfully, I was never that person who arranged her spices alphabetically (although my CDs are), so I don’t have to overcome that kind of obsession.

Anyway, it’s interesting to hear someone else talk about the same demons I struggle with. And how she’s dealt with them. I am, and probably always will be, my own worst enemy. I cannot give myself an inch of slack. I think that goes back to yesterday’s post – if I relax for an hour, it’s an hour wasted, so I just push myself harder.

What’s the answer? Well, this afternoon I wandered through Crate and Barrel and bought a couple of glasses (beginning to replace the ones that the movers lost). Granted, it was only for half an hour, and then I dashed home to work. But at least I took that time off. Maybe next time I’ll talk myself into shopping for an entire hour.

But I digress.

Maybe if I can learn to accept that my best is good enough (see earlier post on the same subject), I’ll accomplish more. Relax more. Try new things. Enjoy looking like a fool (hmm, that one’s a stretch). Maybe I’ll finally get back to querying agents – or decide to take another route with my writing.

Whatever, I just have to learn that “perfect” isn’t a laudable goal. Not if it causes such stress. Maybe in my next life, I’ll be that person who can enjoy her surroundings without feeling the need to control them.

With my luck, in my next life I’ll come back as a worm.

Anyway, I hope you don’t carry the perfectionism burden. And if you’ve overcome it, let me know how you did it!

(picture courtesy pollsb.com – I found a lot of info on perfectionism when I Googled it – now I have to fight the urge to read all of the articles and take all of the tests just to confirm that I am, indeed, one.)

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9 Responses to Wise words about being a perfectionist

  1. Liane says:

    Ouch, that hit home. Haven’t figured out how to beat it. And I DO organize my spices alphabetically.

    • Beth says:

      All I can think of is “Sleeping with the Enemy,” where she opens her kitchen cabinet and knows he’s found her, when she sees her spices all arranged…

      If I figure out how to beat the rest, I’ll let you know! 🙂

      • Julie says:

        I arrange my spices by type groupings…. ones used in sugary baking, the set I use on my baked fish dish, the Italian ones, the chicken ones, etc…. 🙂
        But, my old cassette tapes are indeed alphabetically arranged. It beats the Dewey Decimal System to find an artists quickly! 😉

  2. Roxanne says:

    A useful reminder mantra “nobody’s perfect” can be comforting when trying something new. Two others we use in our house are “better than it used to be” and “good enuf for government work “. All three said in supportive humor are comforting. Perfection is exhausting. Even my fridge magnet reminds me that a clean house means a boring life. LOL. So let’s just be clear… when u come over… don’t look at the floor or the dust. Look at the joy in my face that ur visiting & know the health department has never approached me. 🙂

  3. Beth says:

    Well, I don’t include cleaning house in my need to be perfect. Phil occasionally points out the dust, and I point out the Swiffer Duster. 🙂 I visit people, not their houses, so you’re safe!! Will look forward to it…

  4. LoriH says:

    THAT is why you dont play games? You NEVER want to play, ever!! I would say Im a recovering perfectionist, but it is funny how even when the perfectionism IS pretty much in control, it takes a rest with certain aspects in our lives…you with the cleaning, me with the game playing, etc. I guess that would make us imperfect perfectionists? DOOMED!

    • Beth says:

      Or maybe not doomed, but that there’s hope for us yet! If we can conquer part of it, why not all?

      And yep, now you know my secrets. Doomed indeed! 🙂

  5. Marjorie says:

    @Roxanne: My mantra is “perfect is the enemy of good”.
    Perfectionism is closely tied to the inability to be vulnerable, a concept I’ve been exploring lately. Carve out 20 minutes and watch this FABULOUS TED Talk for some inspiration for being more vulnerable, admitting right out in public that you’re not perfect: http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/brene_brown_on_vulnerability.html.

    • Beth says:

      Ooh, that’s interesting, Marjorie. I’ll definitely look at it. Thanks for the link!! And hopefully we both can find answers that work for us.

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