Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Curse of Perfectionism

Now, I know that I've touched on the topic of perfectionism before but I really think it deserves its own moment in the spotlight. No matter how you spell it, perfectionism is a curse. Yes, for some of us it has accompanied career success. It has meant thorough preparation and research, meticulous attention to detail, lengthy planning, and near-flawless execution.

But, perfectionism comes at a high price. For one thing, it often takes away from enjoying what we're doing. We become so fixated on the end product and whether we're meeting our own high, sometimes unrealistic, standards that we fail to experience the task itself.

Also, perfectionism means never having room to make mistakes. And when we do make mistakes, it means berating ourselves for being the flawed human beings that we truly are. How can we teach our children that it's okay to mess up sometimes, that we don't expect them to get everything right the first time, that the process of learning is just as important as the end product, if we don't live that way ourselves?

Sometimes perfectionism makes it impossible for us to move forward. We get stuck on making something perfect, doing something "just so," or making the ultimate "right" decision. We spend so much time researching and analyzing that we become paralyzed and miss opportunities or our decision ends up being by default.

Perfectionism is often maintained by comparison and misperception. No one is perfect, despite how they may appear. Even the seemingly perfect Mom who appears to get her kids places unhurriedly and on time, who makes all of the treats she sends in to school, and who is a lifetime member of the PTO makes mistakes and wishes at times that she could be more efficient, more creative, more empathic.

Escaping from the clutches of perfectionism requires viewing our faults, our errors, and our foibles in proper perspective. Most of the time our mistakes don't have dire consequences for ourselves or for our loved ones. My son's teacher is not going to shun me and he is not going to be branded a trouble-maker just because I misplaced a form that was due the other day.

Letting go of perfectionism means less need for things to be just so, less self-flaggelation, and more self-appreciation. It means doing your best much of the time, and sometimes doing just enough, and realizing that things will still be okay. Most likely, your house won't fall apart and your children won't be irreparably damaged.

Freedom from perfectionism means learning to give yourself a break in a self-caring way and to practice what you preach when you tell your children that "it's okay, nobody's perfect."