I’d never thought about myself as trying to be perfect until one day a couple of years ago in my most uptight and angry phase, my Mom who was down visiting said, “You know, you don’t have to be perfect.”
And in the manner that typically plays out between mother and grown daughter I thought, wow is she off the mark. But it sat there and it marinated and I came to have a little deeper insight on it. I realize now that there are two different kinds of perfectionism. I had not recognized that the tune I was dancing to was one of them.
The first kind of perfectionism
The first kind of perfectionism is the kind we all think about. The “keeping up with the Joneses” variety. You do everything you can to have the right clothes, drive the right car, you keep your life immaculate looking from the outside. Appearances and presentation, are very important to you. Not to be held in high esteem in every facet of your life is a fate worse than death. You strive for perfection in every area; the way your children look and behave, your spotlessly clean house, you are miss manners, and above all you strive to make it all look easy, neat, tidy, and stylish.
The second kind of perfectionism
…is my kind of perfectionism. The kind of perfectionism in which you are both the Jones family and the one trying to keep up. By that I mean, you are your own tyrant. You don’t look outside of yourself as much for what you should be or do. You set your own standards, typically just outside of what is attainable, and then you break your neck every day trying to meet your own expectations. And here’s the real bitch. Even if you do meet those expectations? If you are breathless, uptight, grouchy, or feel like bursting into tears, you are still disappointed with yourself. Why can’t you just do this and do it right? Why are you such a mess? But of course you’re probably not a mess. You’re just a person. Doing a good job. Doing a lot. Meeting a lot of demands and stretching yourself to grow every day. No you’re not perfect. You never will be. That’s the point.
Trying to be perfect is a way of punishing yourself. A way to ensure that you get to remind yourself at the end of each day how you didn’t measure up. And most of all, in trying to be perfect we often miss out on the big picture because perfectionism snags on the details, missing the forest for the trees.
Any of this sound familiar?