Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Stealth Perfectionism

I have perfectionist tendencies. This is not news. 

I've written about perfectionism so much that I can't even begin to find all the posts. {I tried. But it would require so many hyper-links that I just gave up and didn't link a single one. Take that, perfectionism!}

Awareness is half the battle and a few weeks ago I would have told you that in recent years, bit by bit, I've kicked my perfectionist ways to the curb.

But lately I've become aware of the subtle sneakiness of perfectionism, how it rears its ugly head even in the mundane.

There's nothing inherently wrong with striving for excellence. If you are my brain surgeon, I hope you're a perfectionist.

But most of our ways and tasks are not life and death. 

I'll give you a few personal examples.

I'm sort of a healthy eater. I feel better and have more energy when I eat good food. My ideal breakfast is a fruit smoothie...with bunches of kale in it. I know, it's uber-healthy and obnoxious. But sometimes the craziness of the morning does not offer ideal conditions to whip up my kale smoothie and I keep thinking I might be able to make one so I wait and get the kids off to school and fold up some laundry real quick and check my e-mail and think about the smoothie and how I really should have that for breakfast instead of a lesser choice and then it's 10:30 and I am seeing stars and about to pass out.

All because I'm holding out for perfect when acceptable would have kept me vertical.

I like to make our family's budget stretch as far as I can. In the past I've used coupons for groceries and toiletries and sometimes I still do. I know when I'm getting something for a great price and when I'm overpaying and the latter just kills me, even when I know it's out of necessity. Too often we'll need something and I'll see it at the store and know that I should pick it up but I can save $1 if I have that coupon from home and maybe I should just wait on these things that I know I could get cheaper and come back tomorrow armed with my money-saving skillz but by the next morning we are using napkins to wipe our hineys and I'm mixing half and half with water to pour over the kids' cereal and everyone hates me.

All because I'm trying to save $3 on toilet paper and milk. 

I procrastinate laundry because I want to get it all done at once which never happens and I wonder why 8 piles are staring me in the face on any given day.

I'd given up on buying plants and flowers because I kill them. {Until the Nester's posts reminded me that every plant will eventually die and a year's worth of beauty from blooms is well worth a few measly dollars.}

I rarely send cards and notes because I feel like I need to send everyone who needs a card the perfect handwritten note and then I don't end up sending any and now? No one knows that I love them.

I could give you more examples but I'd die of shame.  

Oh it is just embarrassing how perfectionism lurks around in the recesses of my mind and taunts me with striving and guilt. It is ridiculous how much time and energy I waste trying to do something perfectly {by my standards} instead of adequately. And it is insane that I fail to acknowledge, time and again, that there is always opportunity cost. Always. Every yes is also a no and this is one of the most important lessons I'm learning.

Rest and sanity? It's worth something. Quite a lot actually.

Food on the table? That's success, no matter what you paid for it. 

Toilet paper in the holder? Pat yourself on the back. 

A note to a friend even if there's 8 thank-you notes you keep forgetting to write? Awesome. You have a friend who knows you love her. 

Confronting my perfectionism forces me to prioritize, to examine what I really value. Priorities may shift from season to season but right now, for me, I have chosen rest and healing and just the bare necessities. 

It means my grocery bill is a little higher. 

It means my kids are in public school instead of being classically-educated at home.

It means my house is messier than I'd like. {Well, that's not really a new theme.}

It means I spend some mornings writing in the quiet instead of matching up socks or scrubbing toilets or mopping my floor.

It means I choose fruitfulness over productivity. 

Daily, I have to preach acceptance, remind my high-strung, high-standards self that it's all okay. It really is okay. 

And there is exhilarating freedom in making friends with okay and telling perfect to move out.

Unless you're a brain surgeon.


  1. i'm thankful for your willingness to share. and your constant reminders that everyday has victories (large or small).

  2. I couldn't possibly LOVE this post more. I so often don't do things because I can't do them the "perfect" {in my mind} way. I so do what you do about the grocery store savings...absolutely waste time because I know I have a coupon at home that could save me 50 cents off that deodorant that I know I am about to need...then I have to find coupon, then I have to go back to the store...It.is.a.curse!! I will have to try to remember that adequate is just fine.

  3. I too have learned to let a lot go. In the homeschool arena (and maybe elsewhere) there is this ideal to do it all like grind your own wheat/bake your bread, grow as much of your food as possible, create all of your lesson plans, use only cloth diapers (using your homemade soap and hanging them out to dry!) It makes my head spin now, but I did most of these things when I had 7 little kids, but I was strung out. It was not worth it thinking I had to be Ms. Perfect superwoman. None of my kids will remember their bums being swaddled in cloth or what kind of wheat we ate. Thanks for the reminder.

  4. Great post! You're right, I want my brain surgeon to be perfect. And one more . . . my barista!


  5. Scooper,

    This is my favorite part of your post.

    "Confronting my perfectionism forces me to prioritize, to examine what I really value. Priorities may shift from season to season but right now, for me, I have chosen rest and healing and just the bare necessities."

    Amen, sister. That's right where I'm at. In fact, I just posted today about recharging (resting) and my the basis of my blog is intended to be about simplifying our lives to "the bare necessities". We'll see where that goes, once I find my "voice" in my blog.

    I admire your insight.

    Since we review our school choice a year at a time (or month by month depending on the year), I understand your decision to put your kids in school. I did the same last year. It all comes down to what works for each family, doesn't it?



  6. A wonderful post, Scooper. Not that this is unusual, but but I just had to say it.

    Your stealthy self and my stealthy self could be good friends. BFF's, seriously. Maybe we should let them get together and move to a tropical island? Where there's no telephone or mail service, and certainly no internet. They could keep one another company and bask in their self-sufficiency.

    Meanwhile, you and I could be friends without their interference. How would that be?

    I love the way your writing pricks right at my heart. Right there in those hard-to-reach places. Thank you. Bless you.

  7. Once again, thank you for another great post. I was a stay at home mom until all of my children started school. I then worked part time in the school system and I am now teaching elementary school (same town my children attend school). As a perfectionist, I've had to let go of certain things and it's something I still struggle with. My work situation is "do-able"...my schedule is the same as my children's...same days off, etc. but my priority list has changed. Instead of a spotless home, I now opt for time with my kids. Don't get me wrong, toilets are cleaned (usually), everyone has clean underwear (though it's usually stacked in the laundry room)but I've had to release my "ideals" of how life "should" look. And though I would love to believe that my home should look like the cover of a magazine, it's just not where I'm at right now. But as a recovering perfectionist, letting go of the "should be's" and the "oughta be's" is a constant struggle.

    Too many words for a comment post, I know. Thank you...AGAIN...for normalizing those things I feel every day!

  8. Wow, do you live inside my brain?! Ha! The part about waiting to buy things you really need until you have your coupons ready hit home and made me think about how absurd my "perfectionistic tendencies" can become. Great insight. Hope you continue to rest and hel in the world of "good enough."

  9. My favorite part was the picture and my second favorite was the comment about using napkins to wipe hineys....I am dead serious when I think you should link all your post just on perfectionism and opportunity cost, etc and put it all into one document and submit it...it would make the best, real-life struggle, awesomest book! You totally should!

    amy z smith

  10. Did you climb into my head before writing this???

  11. I really enjoyed this post - it was so encouraging. I can identify with so many of your examples! I never thought I was a perfectionist until someone pointed out to me a few of my quirks. And I asked, "How can I be a perfectionist when my house looks like this?" And this person said, "Why haven't you painted like you want to?" Well, I was afraid I'd pick the wrong color. I can't do something unless I know it will end up perfect because why would you do something only to redo it. And I will say that reading the Nester has helped realize that things are always in transition and can be tweaked. I didn't clean out our mud porch for 5 months because I had to have time to accomplish perfect results. After I read Nester for a few weeks, I just did it and figured if it wasn't right I could change it. I shifted my perfectionist paradigm to realize that perfection is not something that can be accomplished without trial and error and experimentation. I still think to myself sometimes, I'm no perfectionist and then I realize I get really aggravated when the cereal was not put back exactly in the spot it came from - which is the perfect arrangement of cereal boxes. I need so much help!:) SO MUCH. But at least realizing this has helped me deal with a child who might just be a perfectionist, too. And speaking of economic jargon, well, a friend of Nate's and I explained the idea of diminishing returns - because I really needed to throw away the ketchup bottle but Nate needed to get every single drop out of it. I am excited to be able to add more economics theory to my repertoire. :)

  12. I can sooo relate to this post! Thanks for sharing.


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