I think it started at conception because I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t pushed around by a perfectionist bully and it screaming in my ears, “You gotta be perfect to be loved and accepted in this world. Nobody likes a failure!”
Nobody told me that it was okay to make mistakes, that they’re all part of growing up and learning and discovering who I am. Nobody told me that not everyone performs at the same level; that we all enter this world wrapped with our own special talents and skills.
So it was really tough for me in school; especially when it came to Math. How I hated Math! Made no sense to me whatsoever. And how painfully vivid I remember sitting at my desk in the third grade, the sweetest teacher I ever had trying her darndest to help me understand the stupid problem glaring at me from the page. But what she didn’t understand was how hard I was trying and how utterly embarrassed and angry and frustrated I felt until I plopped my head on my desk and cried. Exasperated, she shook her head and walked away leaving me crying and feeling like the dumbest kid in the class.
And to make up for my failure in becoming a mathematician, I dared not ever turn in my homework with eraser marks all over it. No, sir! I kept redoing it, over and over, wasting time, energy, and paper till I got it right; no eraser marks, no wrinkles, tears or smudges. One hundred percent perfection.
I could go on and on about the wreckage perfectionism caused throughout my life, but this short post would become a thousand page novel. Instead, I want to share how I’m gradually accepting the cruel hard fact that I am not and never will be perfect.
It started with my sweet daughter-in-law. No, she hasn’t bribed me and doesn’t even know I’m writing this post. She is the most well-rounded, self-confident person I know with a bubbly, joyous attitude that brightens any room she enters.
And besides being a faithful, dedicated, top-notch nurse, wife, mother and grandmother, she’s not overly bothered with crooked pictures hanging on the wall, dirty laundry, and dishes in the sink; unlike her perfectionist mother-in-law. She spends her time and energy enjoying life instead of agonizing whether or not every hair is in place before sticking her head out the door.
So do positive, non-perfectionist people really have an effect on others? Well, let’s see: I’ve got dirty dishes in the sink, an unmade bed, and dirty laundry. The screen on my back porch is torn, the deck is green from algae, and my carpets are pee-stained in every room. Oh, and the toilets are yelling, “CLEAN ME!”
And I have to say that, although I’m still a perfectionist-junky, I am gradually kicking the habit. That doesn’t mean that I don’t want to jump up, wash those dirty dishes, stick a load of clothes in the washer, and make up the bed. And it surely doesn’t mean that I’m jumping up and down with joy that things are old and falling apart that we can’t afford to fix right now. What I am saying is that I’m learning to live in peace with it.
So what does perfectionism do for you? Well, if you enjoy being tied in knots every day of your life; feeling like a total failure; afraid to do anything for fear of not doing it perfectly; comparing yourself to others; tossing and turning all night because you did or said something wrong; working yourself to death, getting ulcers, and making others miserable, then it goes above and beyond tearing your life apart.
I thank God that He has put all the right people in my life that have taught me to love myself, defects and all, and to stop being so hard on myself. I’m thankful that I no longer feel like I’m being scrutinized under a microscope when I enter a room full of people. And I’m thankful that, although my childhood was miles from being perfect, God gave me the parents He wanted me to have, that one day, in His own perfect timing, He would reveal His perfect love and forgiveness to me.
Okay, I just couldn’t stand it anymore. It’s 11:34 pm and I just got back from tossing the dishes in the dishwasher and wiping the stove, and countertops. But, I didn’t scrub the kitchen sinks till my fingers bled, and all the other chores are still waiting in line, so I’d say I’ve made some progress today. Not bad since I used to scrub and clean every single day and still feel my house wasn’t clean enough. I can honestly say those days are far behind me, except for an occasional relapse. But hey, nobody’s perfect!