The first time my therapist mentioned she thought I might struggle with perfectionism I laughed at her. I think my exact words were, “Have you met my husband? I am not the perfectionist in our family.” To me, at the time, perfectionism was not being able to sleep because a picture frame was crooked on the wall across from your bed. Perfectionism was spending hours selecting which shade of white was best suited for that particular wall. Perfectionism was obsession over minute details. And while I like things to be neat and orderly and I despise all things chaotic and inefficient, like Hobby Lobby, my desk at work is a prime example of my lack of perfectionism…as I was defining it back then. If you were to visit me in my place of work these days you would find yourself coming face to face with a bonafide mess. It’s an above ground catacomb of scattered papers, post-it notes with reminders that I can’t actually remember what they are supposed to remind me to do and an orange moleskin that is my lifeline to sanity and, if it were to disappear into the depths, I would most likely walk out the front door never to return.
In short, it’s a hot mess. For this reason and countless others, like my inability to not leave my shoes exactly where I took them off, I laughed at my therapist all those years ago. Then she defined her version of perfectionism and my whole world tilted on its axis.
Perfectionism shows itself in the moments after we realize we have made a mistake. Perfectionism is the inner dialogue you have when you realize you have missed the deadline. Perfectionism keeps you awake at night, not because the picture is crooked, but because even after you have straightened it, you are mortified it ever was crooked to begin with and even more mortified that someone else saw its crookedness before you came out with your level to adjust it. Perfectionism is the complete opposite of grace. Perfectionism is obsession not over the color on the walls, but the shame that emerges when you selected “clouds on a blue sky” rather than “sheep on a mountain”, which was so obviously the wrong white. Perfectionism comes out when we fail.
Perfectionism screams at full volume, on repeat, “You. Are. Lacking.”
You may already know this, about perfectionism, about my ongoing cage match to beat it down. So why bother repeating myself? Because my perfectionism monsters have been hiding out under my bed these days and I have found one of the best ways to remove their power is to drag them out into the light, staring them straight in the face, before showing them to the door.
My mind is a noisy place to live lately. I fear those projects at work that I just can’t seem to move the needle on, are only stuck in neutral because I am the one driving the car. I fear my child, who absolutely adores his summer schedule, is feeling shoved to the side and carted around because I’m working full time over summer for the first time in his life. I hear the ingredients in the fridge I bought to feed my family nutritious and delicious meals, pointing out my laziness every time I reach for a take out menu after work because I am just too worn out to chop, dice and saute. I see my few and far between attempts at picking up a pen to write and hear the hiss in my head of, “See? You aren’t a real writer. A real writer would be far more disciplined than you.”
But here is where the monsters are pulled from under the bed: I am trying my best. When the mantra of “not good enough” begins its steady drumbeat in my head, I follow its rhythm with, “trying my best”. And sometimes my best isn’t as good as I want it to be. Sometimes, I can’t move that project at work right this second….or the next second. Sometimes my to-do list remains unchecked. Sometimes I have to admit I don’t control the entire world. All the time I have to remember that doing my best is all I can do.
I am good enough. I am smart enough. I am disciplined enough. I am a good mom, a loving wife, and a decent friend. Uber Eats exists for the good enough. Summer camps are a heck of a lot more fun than school, and let’s get real, way more fun than me yelling, “Go play in your room!” when I am way summer-ed out. Waking up early to get these thoughts down is the best I can do to remember that hobby called writing I used to like a lot. I am making mistakes along the way. I am flat out failing from time to time, but I am trying to my best all the time. I am good enough.
And that’s how I yank the monsters out from under the bed. That’s how I live to fight another day in my head.