And I’m a recovering perfectionist.
For me, perfectionism is a nagging voice in my head that often sounds like my own, only meaner, refusing to accept anything less than the very best, the most successful, the highest of standards in certain (or all) areas of my life.
I’m not sure when this voice decided to move into my mind without asking and dump her baggage all over my living floor. But she’s been here for a while now—sleeping on my couch, voicing her disdain for the paint color on the walls, and demanding Mickey Mouse for breakfast. And she sounds nasally, which we all can agree just makes everything worse.
There’s nothing wrong with striving for excellence—with working to “do well” or achieve “success” (whatever that means). But when your mind spends more time focusing on avoiding failure than it does on reaching your goals—when your heart is sweating with the fear of making mistakes rather than pulsating with an excitement for the opportunities in front of you—you may, like me, be a self-imposed perfectionist.
My new role as a mom became another area of life that I felt needed to live up to a particular standard, and the threat of failure hovered over my first few months of motherhood like that one teacher in elementary school who was always leaning over your desk, making sure your letters were drawn in-between the lines.
Babies are messy, unpredictable, and don’t care a bit about how tidy your life looks, which should’ve been the cure-all for my perfectionism. Olivia has this mysteriously magical power that can transform any public outing into a performance: me and my ability to properly “mother” my child take center stage while the audience I didn’t ask for silently judges my every move.
[The next time I leave Target with Olivia crying in my arms, I plan to buy myself my own floral bouquet and then bow as I head out the door.]
Perfectionism is, in many ways, a fear of messes: a fear of making messes, of having to clean up messes, of potentially revealing your messes to the neighbors. But messes are also proof of life. Proof that the house has a heartbeat. Serves a purpose. Is more than four walls and the Pantone paint color of the year.
So I’m working on acknowledging my messes—confronting them rather than drawing the window curtains and shoving them in a back room.
We all know that none of us are perfect—that perfection is not only unattainable but, in many ways, incredibly boring—but we’ll still race around our homes in a panic trying to hide our metaphorical messes before the doorbell rings.
Nothing heals perfectionism better than letting people see our messes. I remember feeling a tidal wave of relief after I first shared my struggles and frustrations as a new mom. I decided to pull back the curtains and let some light shine onto the mess I was too tired to hide away. And what do ya know, I discovered that other moms had some of the same piles of laundry they had hidden away.
So we acknowledged our shared messes. And then we helped each other fold. We even discovered a few treasures that had been lost within the pile, tucked inside the pocket of an old pair of jeans.
My hope, if you’re also a recovering perfectionist, is that you’re able to replace your fear of failure with faith in yourself. That you’ll find someone who can help massage the cramp of your perfectionism that is straining your movements.
It’s ok to be a work-in-progress. That means there’s room for growth. For energy. For life. How dreary and limiting it would be to have it all together.
So. We can do this. Day by day.