Friday, December 6, 2013
Perfect Isn't Always Good Enough
I have struggled with perfectionism from my earliest days. I can remember barring my parents from track meets as a child, so fearful was I that I wouldn't place well and be embarrassed. (My parents couldn't have cared less how I placed, and were likely quite hurt by the fact that I didn't seem to want them at my races.) I remember feigning illness during a scholastic competition at school because I was going to win in all likelihood, but there was a chance that I wouldn't... can remember saying "no" to opportunities for schooling and jobs in my young adulthood because I was fearful of being a small fish in a big pond. I remember being limited by my attitude. Perhaps it's because I'm the first born of my family, or perhaps it's because I come from a long line of perfectionists. The cause really doesn't matter, I suppose. The fact is, I have been given the characteristic of perfectionism in this life, and I need to figure out how to cope with the less than desirable aspects of that trait.
This is what I've been thinking about a lot of late. How this perfectionism- so often the unwitting source of pride for me- as not been serving me well. As the mother of young children (four of them no less) I often have to accept a "good enough" standard for their benefit, so I know I have the capacity to extend grace when necessary, and to overlook the less-than-perfect attempts that children make while on the path to achievement.
I'd like to go on record here by saying that this is extremely, exorbitantly, terrifically difficult for me to do. But I persist because it's the right thing to do as a parent. When I watch little hands wipe down the counters only to push the crumbs to the floor, I praise the job well done. When I come across clothes stuffed into drawers and toys mashed into toy bins, I sing praises and give accolades because the intent is spot-on even if the execution needs work. When I find toothpaste smears all over the sink because some little person tried to clean up their own mess, I forgive and give space because I know a small hand has been hard at work to keep our home clean. (OK, I secretly cringe at the last one but come on- toothpaste all over the sink is SO gross!)
So, why give the credit to my children when I know they've been working hard, but deny myself that same kindness? Why? Because my perfectionism allows me to believe that it's OK to overlook the faults of others- but not my own- as if I'm some superhuman being sent here from Planet Perfect to mingle with the natives and understand their ways...
I rob myself of joy, holding onto this impossible standard. I really do. When I'm in "that place" where nothing seems good enough I take away my ability to enjoy the moment- the process- and the fact that I am human. The best lessons I have learned in my life have come from mistakes, but a perfectionist attidude leaves no room for those same valuable mistakes (it must have been someone else's fault, after all) and therefore no room for growth.
So I am reminding myself to be kind. Not just to my husband, my kids, the people at the store who ran out of the last ingredient to make my grammie's pecan sandies... no, kind to myself. Permissive of my human condition. And grateful for the many, many, many opportunities I have in this life to learn.
How do you tame the perfectionism beast? Do you treat yourself with as much kindness as you treat others?