I know many people who would qualify themselves as perfectionists. I count myself among them. Perfectionism is like a badge of honor. Saying you're a perfectionist is like admitting you have a flaw but giving yourself a compliment at the same time. There aren't many flaws like this. When a job interviewer asks what your weaknesses are, it's a pretty safe bet you aren't going to lose any points for saying you're a perfectionist. And yet, perfectionism is a destructive, self-loathing behavior. It is not healthy. It is not productive. And it does not honor the best that lies within us. But it comes with this amazing, heroin-high. The high of doing something perfectly well. Baking a cake that looks like it'd be at home in a magazine. Getting all of your laundry done, everything neatly folded and tucked away just where it belongs. Completing a task at work and doing it so well that everyone is in awe. These things are rushes. The joy of perfection washes over us like a wave.
The longer you live as a perfectionist, the more things you find that you need to do perfectly. And the things that you can't do perfectly? You just stop doing them altogether. Can't exercise like a champ everyday? May as well not exercise at all. Can't stay away from that bag of chips? May as well eat the whole thing. You can only cook when the results will be amazing. You can only invite people over when your house looks perfect. The irony is that everyone thinks you have your shit together. Maybe they're even a little jealous.
There are messy alcoholics and then there are high-functioning alcoholics who manage to not only hold their liquor but do it while walking a tightrope and making the whole room laugh. We are kind of in awe of them. And when and if they decide to stop drinking, we grieve a little over the loss of that charming person. Of course we want them to get better, but we also think secretly that maybe it is okay to go through life being a little beautiful trainwreck.
The drunk of perfection is not that different from the drunk of alcohol. Perfectionists love to please people, and people love to be pleased. And that works so well until it doesn't anymore. Until you get to the point where you're so drunk on perfect that you can't just "do" things without a full-court press. That's when the exterior starts to crack, and you start letting people down, and the snowball keeps getting bigger.
It was easier to write this with pronouns like "you" and "us," but we all know I'm talking about myself here. I am on a journey to stop being a perfectionist. It's one of the hardest things I've ever done. I wish they had a rehab for perfectionists because I would pay the money and take the time to go. To be able to focus solely on the hard work of letting this go would be much more manageable than trying to tackle it on top of everyday work and everyday life. I can see it now, instead of the Betty Ford Clinic it'd be the Martha Stewart Clinic.
One of the things I am learning is how to reframe my thoughts. I want to go swimming at the Y, but I can't possibly take 1-2 hours out of my schedule to go everyday. Is it really so bad to just go once a week? Wouldn't it still be worthwhile?
This is hard work, but I am so determined to do it. There is no going back. I don't want "perfectionist" to be marked on my grave.