Perfectionism

I was chatting with a friend a few weeks ago about stuff. The conversation encompassed a variety of topics: Life, Death, Family, Work, Goals, Frustrations, and Gratitudes. Needless to say, it was a not a short conversation. But during this marathon-gab-fest, she casually mentioned that part of “our" problem is due to the fact that we are perfectionists. 

Isn’t that a term of Artists? Florists? Musicians? Accountants? Not moi.

First of all, we are totally different people. My friend is extremely methodical. She takes her time on everything. She likes everything to be perfect. She needs to process everything (even a text or email response) to make sure she gets it right. By her own admission, she often doesn’t finish her own creative projects because her perfectionism prevents her from ever being “finished.”

This does not apply to me. I have never thought of myself as a perfectionist because I never thought I was capable of perfection.

The way I look at it. I can either do something… or I can’t. There is no in-between. So, I tackle everything that I CAN do... immediately. And I mean everything: A text. An email. An opinion. A dirty dish. Or anything out of place.

When confronted with this label of perfectionism, I defended myself to my core. I am NOT a perfectionist because I like everything done fast. Nothing can ever be perfect if it is done quickly. But somewhere in my reptilian brain, I equate fast with getting extra credit. If I am the first to respond or the first to complete the task, I am illustrating my only superpower. I am Johnny-on-the-spot. Debbie-do-gooder. The Go-to-girl. So I am perceived as always paying attention. Reliable. Responsible. Always available. 

Exhausting.

But until this conversation with my friend, the “other end of the spectrum” perfectionist, I didn’t realize I was over-compensating for the same disorder.

Since I don’t believe I am capable of being perfect, being organized and being fast hopefully makes me valuable.

The additional benefit is that “stuff” is off my plate. So, if something were to happen, like an illness or an unforeseen crisis, I won’t feel overwhelmed rendering me incapable of completing the task. 

My friend says this is exactly why she DOES procrastinate until the last possible second. She works better under pressure and then she has a built-in excuse too! She says her go to response is: "I had to rush this at the last minute because I was busy with so many other things." In her mind, she believes she will get extra credit for doing a great job at the very last second. Cramming yes. But possibly still doing “A” quality work. If she doesn’t have excellent results, she can always say: “Well, it was good enough for pulling an all-nighter.” 

Unfortunately, she suffers from always being in a constant state of overwhelm. Her projects are always looming largely over her. A never-ending-To-Do list. 

I wish I could I say that my methodology prevented me from stress or angst. But, unfortunately, I feel the same way. I always want to be ahead of everything before anyone needs it or asks for it. So I have the same never-ending-To-Do list. I just start worrying about my future To-Dos long before I need to.

Hmmm. Same disorder. Different manifestations. Both exhausting and self-generated. We agreed that these are patterns probably developed in childhood… most likely as coping mechanisms. But that’s a therapy session for another day.

After this epiphany, we decided to be mindful of these patterns and try to find balance somewhere in the middle. We believe that if she sped up a bit and I slowed down a little, and we both let go of perfectionism, we might both feel more content on a daily basis. 

Since this conversation, I have tried consciously not to answer every email or text the moment I read it. She, in turn, is working on responding a little faster. 

Years ago, my oldest daughter starting referring to me as the “Ninja Mom” because I would often clean the dishes before everyone was finished eating. I think I have made progress since then. Although today, my husband was annoyed with me when his coffee cup was rinsed and in the dishwasher before he was done drinking it. 

But that said, I also brought the trash can down the driveway, got the morning paper, called the Gas company to refill the tank, took my daughter to school, fed the dog and did two loads of laundry before 8am. 

So, Rome was not built in a day… thank goodness I wasn’t in charge.

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