Striving for Perfection

My name is Thea Jolly and I am a perfectionist.  It’s been 8 minutes since I set my last impossible and unachievable goal.

I’m not one of those really hard working perfectionists that succeed at pretty much everything but still think they are a failure.  I am what I call an idealistic perfectionist, which is probably another way of saying a lazy perfectionist. I have high ideals and goals for myself, but I don’t quite get them achieved – or even started. But somehow I always think I will achieve them, so when I inevitably don’t achieve them I feel like I’ve failed for not reaching my own impossible standards.

An idealistic perfectionist like me spends their days noticing or remembering or creating a long list of jobs, standards, goals that they should do which will make their life perfect.  The chatter in their heads is constant, always judging, analysing, questionning.  We agonise over the best, most perfect, use of our time because we have to achieve the most within the time we have. We are eternally optimistic about what we will get done today and always suprised when we don’t do it. The expectations we have of ourselves are crazy.

But last week, I had a bit of a revelation (if revelations can come in bits?).  I realised that being an idealistic perfectionist wasn’t a very good idea at all.  You see, previously I’d been almost proud of this personality trait.  I knew that it meant I was my harshest critic, and that I set my standards too high, but I also thought that this was better than being otherwise. No one else is going to kick me up the backside to make me a better mum, or a successful businesswoman, so I had to rely on myself to push me along. And improving and learning is what we are here for isn’t it?

One of the causes of my change of heart was seeing my eldest son displaying the same perfectionist attitudes and behaviours. Seeing this in another person, especially one so young – he’s 8 – and who I love so much, showed me how self-destructive, defeating and just plain wrong it all was. So I decided to give it up.  Like an alcoholic who chooses not to drink each day I am now choosing not to set impossible goals and expectations each day.  Unlike an alcoholic who can’t undrink a forbidden glass of wine, I can replace my bad thoughts with more liberating and constructive ones.  Every time I think, “Oh I could finish the ironing tonight” (all 3 baskets of it!) I tell myself, “Hang on a sec, you don’t want to be perfect anymore, so lets just do it for 30 minutes .”  And when the children are arguing and I start to feel like they are spoiling everything, I remind myself, “That’s fine, life isn’t meant to be perfect all the time. It doesn’t matter if my children fight – it’s their job.” And I smile to myself and glide serenely past. Or most probably I don’t, but I’m trying. Either way it doesn’t matter because I’m not striving for perfection any more. I’m allowing myself to be imperfect and it’s incredibly liberating.

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