Pervasive Perfectionism

I’ve been called a perfectionist many a time (I’ve had five therapists after all) but I have always laughed it off as preposterous.  In my mind a perfectionist is someone who well, is almost perfect.  I look around at my surroundings and my life and think there is no way in hell I’m even close to being a perfectionist.  After many many years of shoving this idea aside, my friend Sara said something to me that finally made it sink in.  LOL!  “sink in” was not intentional, but she and I were talking about washing dishes at the time.  (damn it I love puns)  My dear, long-time, forever friend came over to help me out of my state of overwhelm.  Her priceless contribution?  My kitchen.  She cleaned the whole damn thing.  I kept marveling at her progress.  When she finished the horrendous mound of dishes I exclaimed that it would have taken me THREE HOURS to do it myself.  She mentioned that she knew someone else who was like that.  She said the dishes wouldn’t be perfect but they’d be good enough.  Something switched in my head at that moment.  Wait, you mean I don’t have to get the dishes perfectly clean?  Isn’t that the whole point?  Yes and no.  Obviously the goal is to be able to eat off of them again, but the other goal is to get them DONE.  For some reason the way I do dishes takes me an insane amount of time.  Since this epiphany with Sara, I have tried to approach them differently.  When I get scared of the sink I tell myself to just do them quickly – not perfectly – just get them done.  Also I am giving myself permission to use the less than perfect dishwasher.  I stopped using it because there were often several things I had to rewash and it felt wasteful to me.   The dishwasher does not get to have a perfectionist complex too.

It is still shocking to me that the idea of perfectionism keeps me in a state of complete disarray.  It makes no sense whatsoever that I choose to have two sinkfuls of dishes rather than wash them imperfectly.  I think that’s a sign of insanity.

I have been using this new lens to look at other areas of my life.  It’s fucking everywhere.  I want to be the perfect girl before I go on a date… I don’t meditate on my own because I don’t know if I’m doing it “right”.   I hate my job because I can never ever be perfect at it.

It’s the last one that is killing me slowly.  I am currently in the position of middle management where I am supervising 19 people.  There is absolutely no way in hell to make all 19 people happy at the same time.  Impossible.  Even tougher when you consider I also have upper management and administration to make happy, and of course – the public.  That’s a heavy fucking load.  Any of these on their own is a lot of pressure for a girl like me, but putting them all together makes me feel like I am drowning.  I literally stop breathing momentarily when I start to think about work.  My supervisor has also tried to tell me this -that I can’t do it perfectly.  I still try.  I don’t know any other way.  To me the best I can means as close to perfectly as possible.  I think I have started to be able to let some things go a bit, but I’m still struggling.  The only thing I know is that something has to give.  Currently it’s me – giving and giving – and it’s affecting my health.  My body just can’t take it.  It’s affecting my social life – I’ve no energy left to give to others.  Today I’ve spent most of my day off in bed.  I’m so tired I went to bed last night at 7:30 and had no problem falling asleep.   This is no way to live.  I can look for another job, sure.  But aside from the fact that jobs are extremely hard to come by, and I have no idea what I want to do, I also think I need to learn this lesson before I move on.  I quit teaching and therapy because I didn’t think I could do it.  I wanted to be the perfect teacher and the perfect therapist, and guess what?  There is no such thing.  You can be a good teacher and a good therapist to some people, but not everyone.  I couldn’t handle that.  Being a supervisor is no different.  I will never do this job perfectly.  It isn’t possible.  I make mistakes constantly, and they are pointed out to me all day long.  Not maliciously, but each one kills something inside me.  Maybe it’s killing the perfectionist too?  Maybe this work hell is kinda like Chemo.  It kills cancer cells and good cells but hopefully you kill off all the bad cells and your good ones can fix themselves and regenerate.  Maybe that’s what this job is doing for me.  It’s killing off all my old beliefs – some good some bad, but maybe there’ll be room for new ones eventually?  Or maybe I won’t survive it.

The good news is that it isn’t cancer.  I’m not trying to make light of that, nor am I planning to pass out ribbons and bracelets for my cause.  My situation is of my own creation.  How I respond to it is up to me.  Clearing out old patterns of thinking isn’t easy, but it’s not terminal, at least it doesn’t have to be.

Who knew washing dishes could be so profound?

I’ve made one other discovery that has also changed my life:  The Single Lady Cupcake.  It forever solves my binging on baked goods problem.  I can make one cupcake.  ONE.  It’s…  dare I say? Perfect.  :)

2 Responses to “Pervasive Perfectionism”

  1. First I want to say Yippie for dishes and their teaching potential! And then I want to say Brava for sharing such difficult things with us! And finally – yes – I think the single lady cupcake may be, in fact, perfect. <3

  2. I also have this problem– I am so afraid of failing that that I won’t even try. It sucks. I read something a year or 2 ago that I try to remember in these moments– “sometimes, DONE is enough.” so, yeah. the world won’t come to and end if I don’t do everything absolutely perfectly. weird, huh? good luck to you, my friend :)

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