Does this sound familiar to you?
It’s time to get things done. You’re well-rested, you ate a good breakfast, and it’s go-time. There’s nothing stopping you from moving forward — except you and your brain. You are overwhelmed by the sheer volume of things that are insisting they need to be done RIGHT NOW.
This scenario accurately represents my entire last week. On repeat in my mind: Must. Do. All. The. Things.
Rumor has it, it is possible to choose one task and stick to it until it is finished. This is a skill I do not possess. As such, I have been flittering around working on this, that, and then something over there.
One trigger that sets off my butterfly-brain behavior is having too many choices. I have difficulty discerning which choice is the best choice. It has to be the best choice. A “good enough” choice is not even an option in my mind.
What dastardly super-villain placed a ban on choices that should be, by definition, good enough?
Enter perfectionism and its side-kick, anxiety.
Before you fit me into your image of a perfectionist, consider this: For most of my life, I was unaware that I was a perfectionist. My idea of a perfectionist was a high-achieving person, and I never felt that applied to me.
This definition of perfectionism from Merriam-Webster.com reveals that it’s not about what you achieve; rather, it is about how you judge your achievements.
per·fec·tion·ism | \ pər-ˈfek-shə-ˌni-zəm \
A disposition to regard anything short of perfection as unacceptable
Thus, my inability to achieve perfection did not mean I wasn’t a perfectionist! Instead, it meant I was unacceptable.
In a cruel twist of warped logic, I was SO unacceptable, I wasn’t even a perfect perfectionist. A “perfect” perfectionist was a high-achiever: A.K.A. not me.
If you look for perfection, you’ll never be content.Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina
In my quest to Do All The Things, I started working on one task — until something reminded me of another urgent task. I flew from flower to flower, attempting to select THE task that would lead me to acceptability. Which one was it? What task was the (singular) Very Most Important Thing?
My choices at that time were the same as that of many Americans. Do the laundry. Work in the garden. Deal with the filing. Open that bank account. Clean the garage. Patch the sunroom wall. De-clutter the ENTIRE house. In my corner of the world, my home, my life, there are more choices than I can even list here.
In my heart, I knew that one of them was the most important. Perhaps there would be no clean socks left if I didn’t choose to do the laundry just then. Maybe, if I didn’t work out in the garage, I would lose all my momentum in there and it would NEVER be organized!
I was not deciding the fate of the world, here, people. Nevertheless, I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders.
If I made the wrong choice, I feared far more devastating consequences than dirty socks or a disorganized garage. I feared I would be UNACCEPTABLE.
Clearly, I managed to break free of perfectionism’s seemingly relentless grasp, or I would not be writing right now. I would still be running back and forth between the above-listed options.
I would love to say I managed this by picking a task and working on it until it was done, but hahahahaha no. Instead, I was irritable, short-tempered, and generally miserable.
In fact, I was so wrapped around the metaphorical axle that I found myself unable to make the most basic of decisions (should I shred the chicken and then freeze it, or freeze the chicken and shred it later?).
It took an absolute failure to move in any direction for me to retreat from my frantic quest.
That’s when I had an epiphany. (Cue the heavenly choir, and also the light-from-above picture.)
I don’t even know whose rules I’ve been trying to follow.
One of my good friends often talks me out of my perfectionist tree by reminding me that no one is going to die if I make a mistake. This is a really good point, and it has broken me free from crushing anxiety more than once. However, while it gives me some perspective on the gravity of my choices, it doesn’t address one key issue.
Reminding myself that my decisions aren’t earth-shattering is a temporary reset. It grounds me for the moment, but it won’t protect me from needing reset after reset. Instead, I need to massively re-evaluate what matters to me.
Honestly, I couldn’t care less if the socks get washed today or tomorrow. While having a better-organized garage will make life easier, a day or a week more or less will make me neither happier nor more miserable.
It’s not the specific choices that matter to me. What really matters is feeling like I even deserve to exist.
That sounds melodramatic, but I have felt like a waste of oxygen more times than I care to remember. I have pinned my value as a human being to my ability to attain perfection, and I don’t even know who set the bar.
The time has come to set the bar for myself. From here forward, when making a decision, I shall ask myself the following questions:
- Do I care deeply about my choices, or am I attempting to choose the (singular) Very Most Important Thing?
- What option feels better? Will I be happier or unhappier with a specific choice? (If not, it really doesn’t matter!)
- When I look back on my day/week/etc. will feel I have done something that matters to me?
Perfection is not merely unattainable; it is actually poisonous. When I get twisted up in its pursuit, I am not my best self. Neither my increasing inability to make choices nor my feelings of worthlessness bring value to me, my family, or the world.
I am not here in this world to perfect someone else’s idea of how a person ought to be. Neither are you. We are here in this world to be our own selves, in our own ways.
But her story isn’t finished, and for once she’s picked up a pen.Kelsey Sutton, Some Quiet Place
I’m off to spend some time discovering what really matters — not what matters to an old teacher, to an algorithm, nor even to who I was yesterday.
If anyone is still wondering about my perfectionism, I’m kicking it to the curb. I advise you to do the same.
Brightest blessings, Sunny
Let’s keep in touch!