Friday, October 4, 2013

Day 4: Perfectionism. A Dirty Word?

Hi. My name is Alana and I am a perfectionist.

In truth, I am a recovering perfectionist. I started my recovery about a dozen years ago or so--the first time I found Flylady. She was the first to make the connection between my tendency to want and expect perfection--and the reality of the chaos around me. Back then, under the influence of full-blown perfectionism, my house was a complete catastrophe and I was utterly miserable.

I based my expectations for housekeeping on my hardworking grandmother. I lived with her for many summers and once for half a year. She kept a garden, she washed her dishes by hand several times a day, she did laundry every day, she vacuumed every day (sometimes more than once, especially if I'd made a mess). She also had about three part time jobs-- one as church secretary, one with a government office, and one as an assistant to my grandfather at his part-time job as a process server for county court. (He also worked full time). You get the picture. She never sat down-- and her house was always company ready. (And she had company--couples came over to play cards every Friday night.)

But what I missed was that when I stayed with my grandmother, she had only one child still at home--and she was ten years older than me. I never saw her run her house with small children and all their toys underfoot. She didn't drive. She never ferried her children all over the city to various activities. When I lived with her, I rode my bike to the town swimming pool every day in the summer. I had a paper route and choir practice--and I was expected to walk, no matter what the weather.

In short, our lives were totally different: yet I expected myself to be just like her. It has taken me a long time to figure all this out. In the beginning, all I knew was a tremendous pressure to be different, to be better.

Grandma didn't have an Expedit, either.


Symptoms of Perfectionism:

1. All or nothing thinking.

I have long suffered from this. In psychology they call it "catastrophizing." You know, that one thing goes missing and you say to yourself, "I'll never find it. I'm always losing things."  Either something is perfect--or it is terrible. Either I am a good housekeeper--or a failure. Projects aren't worth starting unless you can start and finish them all in one go. That's impossible with long complicated projects, like switching out the summer for the winter clothes, painting a room, or cleaning the fridge--so they don't get done. If I can't see my clear to the end of a complicated project--if I don't know some of the steps to take--I tend to put it off. I still do this.

2. Procrastination.

Not all procrastination is caused by perfectionism, but some of it is. Most telling, I always tend to leave that last 10% of a project incomplete. Once it is done, you see, it can be critiqued and judged--and I already know it is not perfect.

3. Difficulty with delegating.

A perfectionist finds it difficult to delegate--though I am working on that one! I have young teenagers and they need to learn to do things for themselves, so I am doing my best to let them do things (and bite my tongue). Nothing is quite done to my satisfaction--but I have decided to learn to live with it.

4. Fear of making a mistake.

Fortunately, my grandmother always laughed at herself when she made a mistake. Making mistakes was just a part of life, so I was fortunate to escape this symptom. It can paralyse you when you're decluttering and making decisions about what to get rid of. The remedy for this is to ask yourself: "what's the worst that could happen if I got rid of this?" and listen to the answer.

Perfectionism isn't all bad. It has its place. My ability to pay attention to detail means that I can plan an entire series like this, catch patches on a wall that need further sanding before we paint, and help my Mom organize her entire house, room by room.

Over the next few days, I am going to talk about how I have managed to deal with perfectionism when it gets in the way of being organized.

Are you a perfectionist?

ETA: You can catch all the posts in the series here.    


Carol-Anne said...

I never cease to be amazed at your level of introspection and honesty. Also by your continued efforts to work on yourself! You're an inspiration!

Rita@thissortaoldlife said...

I also refer to myself as a perfectionist in recovery. I've come a long way. Having twins 15 years ago was a life-changer in this area for me. After having them, I could not come close to my previous standards in any part of my life. It was the beginning of a process that continues today. I'm guessing I'll always be one, and always be fighting my tendency to feel things have to be perfect.

Alana in Canada said...

Hi Carol-Anne! Great to "see" you again!

Rita--I read something recently about how "perfect" tends to live in the same place as "done" and "finished" and how, over the course of life, those are truly arbitrary points. Giving up perfect helps us go with the "flow" as it were--and unless we give up "perfect" we can't go with the flow.

Having twins is a rather rude way to learn all that, though! Yikes.

onshore said...

I assume you know by now that I'm no perfectionist, I tend to start things without knowing how I will finish them. I do get a lot done that way but also some projects never finish, either because I do not know how to continue or I loose interest in it or because I have made the start wrong because I have not seen the big picture like a perfectionist would have. so sometimes not being a perfectionist has its disadvantages.

Alana in Canada said...

Is it always a bad thing not to finish a project? Losing interest in it seems like a good reason to me not to finish (unless you still wanted the thing you would have had at the end.)

onshore said...

Well usually I lose interest because I start another thing :)
I do finish those things also but it just takes some time. If it's a craft project then it is not that important to finish, but if it's a cleaning or organizing project then it's better to finish.

Linda said...

Oh. My. Goodness. You caught me! Guilty on all 4 counts! Your explanation is right on the money. I've never heard anyone explain it so clearly. I'm going to print this one out and re-read it from time to time.

Alana in Canada said...

Hi Linda! Thanks for your comment. I hope you can find a way to make that perfectionism work for you--and not against you.

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