I am a perfectionist. Hunched over my laptop, my body tenses up. I am searching my mind’s deep labyrinths for the perfect word.
The problem: the perfect word doesn’t exist. And my frenzied search is more exhausting than empowering.
As perfectionists, we strive for the perfect word, perfect relationship, and perfect life. But our quest for perfection is inexorable. Crumpling under the weight of our internal expectations, perfectionism can degenerate into sputtering relationships and self-flagellation.
I have witnessed this in my own life. Growing up, I would sprint home from school. Why? So I could confess to Mom that I received a B+ on a paper. In college, I would spent hours searching for the perfect study spot. In law school, I would try to memorize every case detail.
As a self-admitted — and recovering — perfectionist, there was a comforting rigidity to my relentless perfectionism. I may be disheveled and defeated but, hey, at least I read every last word of the Williams case.
Among our closet perfectionists, is there a faint smile creasing your lips? You know exactly what I am talking about.
Life feels like a monotonous slog. You grind to the Friday finish line. And the payoff for your inexorable trudge? Obsessing about your imperfect weekend plans.
Perfectionism robs you of that burst of spontaneity, that incurable zest for life. Joylessness is your Monday morning and, sadly, Saturday afternoon.
And, really, who wants to live like that? Count me out.
Here are strategies to manage your perfectionist tendencies:
The world is imperfect. Accidents happen. We make mistakes. As perfectionists, we want the world to bend to our indomitable will. And when it doesn’t, our reaction can range from counter-productive to downright harmful.
Try pretty good. Nothing in life is perfect. Your car? It is a couple years old. Your job? The boss is condescending. But let’s take a more measured approach. Sure your car is a couple years old but Big Blue does beat a trusty bus pass. Your boss? Sure she can be demeaning but she did support you when you asked to switch division. In the perfectionist playbook, black and white thinking predominates. The problem: life is 50 shades of grey.
Focus on what you do have. In life, we are constantly obsessing about what we don’t have — the lofty title, the corner office, the beatific spouse. For those caught in perfectionism’s throes, the wants outnumber the needs. We crave more; hungrily asking what’s next. Next represents the starry future; the possibility for perfection.
But as the perfectionist lusts after next, it is a struggle to remain present in the moment. I know I struggle — ruminating about past slights and future goals. Perfectionism is unattainable; there will always be a next. My credo: enjoy the moment and everything you do — and don’t — have.
Perfectionism is an endless chase. As you are sprinting to next — the next title, next career, next obligation, you are, in reality, running in place.