“Oh, you’re one of those,” he said as he walked into the kitchen at work.
I was re-loading the dishwasher. Some of my work colleagues seem to crack open the dishwasher just far enough to slide a dish or a coffee mug into the nearest vacant space. Others just leave their dirty cups and cutlery in the sink.
I’m not the kitchen police, but if I’m in the kitchen and there are dirty dishes in the sink I load them in the dishwasher. In the process I end up reorganising the dishes so that everything fits better, and gets washed properly. At least that’s what I tell myself when I’m lining up all the mugs on one side and the glasses on the other, and straightening the plates that have been dumped at an angle in the rack.
My colleague caught me re-organising. He is not one of “those.” In fact he cares so little about where items go in a dishwasher that his wife has banned him from loading anything into the dishwasher at home.
I didn’t want to be labelled as “one of those”, but then I had to acknowledge to myself that I do struggle with being a perfectionist.
You wouldn’t know it from the state of my house or my email Inbox, but being a perfectionist is not about always achieving perfection. It’s about wanting everything to be perfect, and being uncomfortable, uptight, disappointed or upset when things are not perfect, even when reality tells me it’s not possible or even important.
It also means I’m constantly afraid of trying anything that I can’t be confident that I’ll at least do well, even if I can’t do it perfectly. And that rules out trying a lot of new things. It’s no wonder that I have a spectacular capacity for procrastination. I’ve spent most of my life trying to avoid the risk of failure.
I set the benchmark ridiculously high for just about anything I do, and if perfection is the standard I set for myself, then it becomes the standard I set for everyone else. And that makes me critical and judgmental – critical of myself and critical of others.
I’m trying to control my life so that I get the right outcomes. If I don’t get things perfectly right I’m afraid that I won’t be liked, approved or loved. And then where will I be?
But I tell myself that’s not really true. I think I need to be perfect, but then I don’t connect with other people when they seem to have it all perfectly together. They’re intimidating.
I connect with people when they are open and honest about their struggles and their mess. Not in a “woe is me, I can never get it right” kind of way, but in an authentic “this is me and this is where I am on the journey” kind of way.
Perfectionism is like a noose around my neck, like control underwear, like a boa constrictor; it’s squeezing the life out of me.
I want to be free to try new things, to make mistakes and learn from them. I want to be someone who gives and receives grace. I want to become the person I was made to be.
I want to part ways with perfectionism.
I don’t know exactly what that will look like yet, but I want to find out.
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