When I was in school, I was an average student. B’s and C’s showed up on my transcript more often than the increasingly-elusive A. I rarely cared about my grade point average. I knew my grades didn’t reflect my actual intelligence and I knew enough about the great minds of history to know that my academic performance didn’t necessarily translate to personal success.
Anyone who knew me as a student would probably chuckle if I suggested I’m a bit of a perfectionist. “You?” they would scoff, “A perfectionist? That test you just took has a backside, genius.”
Except my repetitive thought patterns and ability to over-analyze my life result in a perfectionist-like personality. It’s pretty buried. My perfectionism rarely is allowed to frolic in the sunlight with the other neighborhood kids. But it’s there, festering in the basement like pods of mold. And just like mold, it silently sneaks into whatever free space it can.
I rarely feel satisfied with a piece of my own writing. I rarely feel proud of a job I’ve completed. And I am constantly, and exhaustively, convinced I could be doing a better job in my romantic relationship. Hours are wasted trying to poke holes in our ability to function.
I worry everything I’m doing isn’t good enough. I worry I’m not good enough as a partner. I worry our relationship isn’t growing enough. I worry my partner isn’t happy enough.
Once, I tried to explain this to my partner. I told him if our relationship was a construction project, like a bridge or a building, then I want to test it’s strength and integrity every step of the way. Just because the blueprint looks nice at the beginning doesn’t mean it will go exactly as we hope. I want to test the metal and the engineering. If there is a weakness in the design, I want to know now so we can try to fix it. In order for the structure to stand tall we need to constantly be willing to adjust how its built.
I think it made sense to him.
While I still believe it’s important to acknowledge shortcomings and adjust accordingly, I’ve also come to realize how much my buried-perfectionism can rob me of living in the moment. Often my anxiety clouds my ability to be present and to find joywhat’s that? A beautiful sunset, you say? Thanks but I’m too busy thinking about the work I want to get done tonight before going to sleep.
Perfectionism, triggered by anxiety or fear (often triggered from a fear of being vulnerable aka someone seeing you as imperfect) can come in all forms. Some people want to be physically perfect and adapt their diet and exercise regime to reflect this. Some people want to be intellectually perfect and stay up all night studying for every exam. Some people clean their homes so visitors will admire their ability to maintain tidiness.
Whatever the form, try to remain self-aware. If you find yourself feeling inadequate and worrying other people might take note, work to adjust your thinking. Try to be present and grateful in the moment. In the same way I used to deeply understand that getting straight A’s wouldn’t result in a perfectly happy and fulfilling future, I need to start trusting that a non-perfect relationship can still, in its own way, be perfect.