Mental health

Little Ms. Perfect

What is perfect? There are two separate definitions. Using it as an adjective means this, “having all the required or desirable elements, qualities, or characteristics; as good as it is possible to be“. When used as a verb, perfect means “make (something) completely free from faults or defects, or as close to such a condition as possible”. Either way it’s used I have suffered from perfectionism my entire life. In psychology, perfectionism is described as a personality trait characterized by a person’s striving for flawlessness and setting high performance standards, accompanied by critical self-evaluations and concerns regarding others’ evaluations.

My Mom has told me that when I was younger she used to find me obsessively organizing my room. I loved to neatly arrange my books, toys and knick knacks. Cleaning and straightening a room, tidying up things brings me a peacefulness and calm that’s hard to match by other activities. It’s also something that has made me feel strange and weird.

There was a period in my life when I literally couldn’t sit still or overlook a piece of lint on the carpet without having to immediately stop whatever I was doing to pick it up. After the birth of my first son, I found myself in a perpetual state of motion, always wiping a countertop or vacuuming a room that was already spic and span to everybody else’s eyes. I got caught up in routines that kept my in a “loop” for hours. So many routines and rituals had to be achieved compulsively and repetitively. Some days I got so stuck I didn’t even leave my house. Looking back those were dark days.

I’m a shift supervisor at a Starbucks and at 41 this is the first time I accepted a management position. In the past, I had been offered/recommended this role but I always turned it down due to my overwhelming fear of failure. Truth be told my perfectionist ways have plagued me throughout my life. Recently at work my manager challenged me to stop working like a superwoman. She asked me to examine my leadership skills by holding others on my team accountable for certain tasks. At first it felt awkward delegating the things I have been doing alone without help. Lately however I can feel an important shift taking place.

A favorite quote of mine by Maya Angelou is,”Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better. Boy does this sentiment ring true in this regard!

I’ve always been an analytical thinker, wondering why things are the way they are and trying desperately to make sense of the world around me. I had this book as a kid called, “The book of why” and I loved it. I’ve especially been intrigued by my own emotions and the emotions of others. That intense curiosity has sometimes kept me up at night.

A former therapist once told me to disengage myself from the outcome of a certain problem I was having a difficult time finding a reasonable solution for. My perfectionist ways and drive to control a situation can leave me breathlessly spinning my wheels. Despite my efforts I end up feeling exhausted mentally with no end in sight.

When I start to feel my old ways creeping back into my daily choices, I try and recall his words. Letting go of the outcome and maintaining an open mind sounds logical enough but my heart stands stubbornly doubtful.

Establishing a connection within myself has been key to easing off my perfectionist attitude. Grounding myself really quiets my mind and eases my fears. Whether these fears are real or hypercritically blown out of proportion, I can often find myself overwhelmed and grasping for my idea of perfection. I’ve learned I’m only hurting myself when I put this kind of pressure on myself.

For there is no such thing as perfect my dear reader but perfect imperfections throughout life. Try shifting your perspective taking a closer look at yourself. Deepening your own connection within your soul. Becoming your own best friend, saving yourself from yourself. Like Shakespeare said, “to thine own self be true”.

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