Pesky Perfection

I’ve never really thought of myself as a perfectionist.

A perfectionist woman, as I see her, has her hair back in a high, sleek ponytail and wears white pressed shirts that do not contain remnants of lunch. Her weight falls right into the healthy range on the BMI chart and she has perfectly manicured nails. Her schedule is chock full of appointments, all which she keeps and arrives to on time, and she can speak expertly on a wide variety of things.

That is not me. I can’t wear white, it’s a miracle when I make it out of the house without forgetting something, and Just today a friend reminded me of a time I slipped on a rock, broke my phone and then nearly drowned in the Atlantic Ocean. I am not at all close to a woman who seeks perfection, or at least what I think perfect is.

Lately, though, perfectionism has been on my mind. As part of a 12-week spiritual course that I am taking, I was listening to a podcast one morning about perfectionism and the need to please. Earlier that morning I was out running and I was getting really worked up about all the things I needed to do. There were the little life things, like switch the electrical bill to my name in my new place and return emails that I should have responded to months ago. But there was bigger stuff, too – I needed to network more in the storytelling community, spend more time with that friend, write so much more than the little I’ve been doing. I was angry that there was too much to do and too many things to occupy my time. I felt so little next to all of these tasks.

But as I listened to the podcast, I started to realize why all these things caused me so much anxiety. I’ve always been the woman who did it all. From high school – a three-sport athlete, honor student and member of several groups – to career – I worked full-time and started my own publication – to Peace Corps – being on three internal committees and starting community projects in addition to teaching. I’ve always been the person who did it all.

When I first moved to Chicago, while readjusting to life beyond Peace Corps, I wanted everything. I wanted a job at a non-profit, I wanted a bustling social life, I wanted to volunteer, I wanted to run marathons, I wanted a boyfriend, I wanted hobbies. I wanted everything and I thought everything was attainable, and it was a painful year as I realized that I couldn’t have it all.

Then, within the last few months, I did. My friendships strengthened, I signed up for the marathon, I moved into an apartment of my own, things clicked at work and I met a really wonderful man. My life was finally becoming that perfect little life.

Yet, I felt like I can’t keep up, that there is too much that I am not doing. When I started to think about perfectionism, I worried that I am disappointing people and that I am not living up to my full potential. And as soon as those ideas became clear to me, I realized that I do seek to obtain perfection. I want to do it all and be it all, because I always have.

First, it sucks admitting you are a perfectionist. Perfectionist are stuck up bitches who have everything you want while you have salad dressing on your pants. But, perfectionism doesn’t sting on the outside, instead it’s that voice telling you that if you don’t do that thing your friend wants you to or if you don’t start making a plan for after your current job that you going to be the world’s biggest loser. That’s perfectionism.

How do you beat it? I don’t know. About 20 minutes ago, I was frazzled because while trying to juggle all that I have going on because I may let someone down, myself included. However, I think forgiveness and realistic expectations are key ingredients. I can’t do it all – I can’t run a marathon, take a storytelling class and work on a book all while having a job and working to not be a hermit. I can’t say yes to every invitation, but I can’t stay home every night of the week. There is a balance somewhere in all of that, which requires prioritizing and letting a few things go along with heaps and heaps of forgiveness.

It’s OK if I can’t do everything and be everything, which is a lesson I am honestly still learning. But that’s OK. I forgive myself for thinking that I needed to be in the first place. I am not perfect and I don’t need to be.

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