I am a perfectionist.
I am a perfectionist, and some days I will defend it with all my heart, hands balled into tight fists as I shout, there's nothing wrong with this! What's wrong with perfectionism, anyway? What's wrong with doing the very best you can possibly do in every possible area of your life? What's wrong with that?
So what if I refold the towels my husband (incorrectly) folds? They fit better on the shelf my way. So what if I have to clean and organize my house top-to-bottom before having company over? Our loved ones deserve it. So what if I spend half my life paralyzed by minor decisions? It's worth it to take the time and be sure before committing to something that might not be quite right otherwise.
But when I look at my life, at myself, at my relationships and anxieties and fears, I can't pretend for long that there's nothing wrong with that.
Perfectionism makes me a poor friend. I want to invite you over. I do. I care about you and enjoy spending time with you but what if I don't have the right food in my house? What if I have nothing to offer you, no homemade cookies to go along with our tea, no guest-worthy food to serve for lunch or dinner? What if I don't find the time to scrub my shower before you arrive? And then I panic because I don't know what to make and I don't have time to go grocery shopping today and the kids create a new mess just as I quickly as I clean another one up and my laundry hamper is never empty and why would you want to come over anyway? I'm probably just imposing, and you'll accept politely because you're kind and generous but I know it's really just another obligation to add to your calendar...and so I don't invite you over.
Perfectionism limits the kindness I extend to others. You just gave birth, you beautiful mother you, and I want to serve you with meals and thoughtful gifts and oh, I would love to help you in any way I can while you recover. But I don't know what to make, don't want to burden you with another casserole to add to the collection in your freezer. Maybe something warm and fresh? Although you probably have something planned already; I could call ahead to be sure but then you'd feel like you had to tidy up and be presentable (or at least I would in that situation, I'd run around like a mad woman just to be sure everything was in order before you arrived with the meal that was intended to bless me with rest). You are incredible and I'm afraid my attempts at kindness will only end up being a burden. And a gift? You probably have more baby clothes than you have closet space, trinkets are just something else to be dusted, I don't know what books you already have and maybe you'll think this outfit is silly or ugly and who'd put their baby in that anyway? I could help, though. I know that most days, having someone else put on a load of laundry would be gift enough times a thousand, but I'd probably come off awkward or creepy or imposing, as if you need me to do your laundry for you anyway. In the end, I offer a generic-but-heartfelt let me know what I can do to help, but I know you won't ask because I never do either.
Perfectionism keeps me from carrying out in body what my heart desires. I want to offer something to those in need but I'm afraid it won't be enough, it'll be wrong somehow, not good enough or helpful enough or offered in the right way. I want to help but I'm afraid my help will be more burden than anything else. I want to send photos of the children to their grandparents but they're just cellphone pictures and they deserve nice bright clear beautiful pictures, and I need to sort them and choose them and edit them and I get behind and it gets overwhelming and so I send nothing. I want to share my thoughts but what do I have to offer anyway? I want to write but what do I have to say that doesn't waste the time of the one who will read it? I want to sew but how do I ever choose just the right fabric for this project? And everything takes so much longer because it must be thorough and checked and rechecked and redone and polished and just so in the end, and even then I'm as likely as not to decide to toss the whole thing out anyway. Not good enough.
Perfectionism heaps shame on my family. I know my husband notices when I quietly refold a wrinkled shirt before slipping it in its drawer. I have to nearly sit on my hands to keep from taking over my son's projects - let him fold his own damn paper airplanes, who cares if they're six-year-old quality instead of perfect? I get angry too quickly, do too much myself, because am I the only own who bothers to do anything right the first time? Look, you just swept the floor and there are huge crumbs under the table! Don't you know we have company coming? They'll think we're disgusting, that we can't even concern ourselves with their comfort enough to remove the bits of Cheerios and toast from under their chairs! Oh forget it, I'll redo it myself, just keep the kids out of here or they'll scatter my dust pile across the floor.
I'm so, so sorry.
And after all that...still those thoughts creep back in. Who wants wrinkled shirts from poorly folded clothing anyway? Why wouldn't you put your best effort into whatever you're doing? Why not do everything as thoroughly and as correctly as you are able?
I can read all the reasons why not and still that voice lingers.
The lie of perfectionism is that the goal will ever be achieved. I am juggling, constantly juggling, and I can't keep all those perfect balls in the air. I get one just so and another one crashes to the ground, then another and another until I give up and let the rest of them fall to my feet as well. If I can't do everything, why bother doing anything?
It sounds just as foolish and self-defeating in writing as it is in reality, but I catch myself clinging to it nonetheless. I tell myself to prioritize. I assure myself that some seasons demand letting some things go. I remind myself that I am the only one - the only person on this entire planet - holding myself to these impossible ideals. No one else expects perfection in every area of my life. It's all on me.
And yet when I dig underneath the noble-sounding ideals of hard work and a job well done and so on and so forth, it all comes down to the same thing - what will they think? They - friends, family, casual acquaintances, complete strangers, they. They will think I'm a mess. They will think I'm foolish or weird. They will think I'm a bad mother, a bad wife, a bad friend, a bad whatever. They will think I can't keep up with basic housework. They will think I'm unintelligent. They will think I've failed them. They will think...
I just want everyone to think well of me. That's what it really comes down to. Just one more unachievable goal. I don't remember a time when I wasn't a people-pleasing perfectionist...but I do think it's time to figure out how to let it go.
I'll start by leaving these imperfect words just as they are.