I think it would be fair to say I am something of a perfectionist. I may not seem like it to look at, but I like things to be perfect. As the song says “Too many people take second best, but I won’t take anything less. It’s got to be-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e, perfect!” (Incidentally, one of my favourite songs of all time.)
If I’m doing a job, I want it done to the very best of my ability. If I’m involved in a project, I want it to run as smoothly as possible. If I’m taking part in a competition, I want to win.
There’s just one teeny, weeny, miniscule problem.
I’m not perfect.
Not even a little bit. Not even close. In fact, I’m so far from perfect that perfect is just a dot to me. (Extra points if you get the reference.)
There is a reason this blog is called A Mess In A Dress and it isn’t even vaguely ironic. I am a bit of a shambles. And I’ve started to notice it’s causing a few problems…
Being an Imperfect Perfectionist has it’s own unique set of challenges. I’ve written before about the fact that my perfectionism can be stifling. You’d expect a perfectionist to be an over-achiever who’s constantly working themselves to the bone, but it can actually have the opposite affect. For some of us, the knowledge that we’ll never reach the perfection we strive for, why should we even bother trying?
I get this a lot when dealing with housework. I want to be able to blitz the whole house in one go and get it looking immaculate, but if I know that won’t happen I can’t find the motivation to even wash the pots.
I also find myself very difficult to live with. My expectations are often far too high and my projects and ideas are much too grand. I set my standards miles above what I can actually achieve.
It’s like I’m actually setting myself up to fail. I give myself unrealistic targets that I don’t have a hope in hell of meeting and then I beat myself up about it afterwards. I’m definitely my own worst critic and I definitely don’t cut myself any slack.
When I do inevitably fail to hit the mark, it can be really quite upsetting. I’ve never been very good at taking criticism, mainly because I am excruciatingly aware of my flaws and if you happen to point them out, you’re not telling me anything I don’t already know.
So, when I see one of my plans starting to go wrong, all I can see is how flawed and incompetent I am. If I’d been more organised, more disciplined, just…better, then everything would have gone smoothly. As it becomes more and more clear that things aren’t going to work out the way I had hoped, I get more and more stressed and upset. On really severe occasions I have even had panic attacks as I start to feel suffocated by all of the things that I didn’t get done, or didn’t turn out the way I’d planned.
Unfortunately, it’s not just me who suffers. As my mood spirals downwards, my family can get caught up in the blast radius. Before our recent holiday, for example, I was a complete monster. I’d had plans to get the house all neat and tidy before we went away (as we always did when I was a child) so that we’d come back to this immaculate home.
Anybody who knows me and my house-keeping skills knows this was absolutely never going to happen, but that didn’t stop me working myself into a frenzy trying to get everything just so. As the start of the holiday crept closer and closer, I got grumpier and more frazzled. I can’t imagine I was particularly pleasant to live with.
Ultimately the situation ended with me having a very minor breakdown, before being a little sulky and then finally coming to the logical conclusion that it really didn’t matter if every thing was perfect as long as we still got to go on our holiday. And we had a fantastic holiday, so it just proves I really didn’t need to worry.
I’ve decided I need to come up with a plan of action to help me manage these kind of situations. The obvious solution would be for me to lower my standards. If I acknowledge my limitations and aim a bit lower, then surely I won’t be setting myself up for quite so much disappointment.
The problem is, I just don’t think that’s in my nature and I’m not really sure I want it to be. I like to dream big. I like being aspirational. It’s just who I am and I don’t really want that part of me to change. It’s the part of me that is also pushing to do better and I like that side of my personality.
I’ve come to the conclusion that while it’s absolutely fine for me to set myself ambitious goals, I also need to set them with a heavy dose of realism. I’m not always going to get everything exactly the way I’d planned it. I can plan for the best possible scenario, but then I need to acknowledge that we might end up quite a way below that. And that’s not something to punish myself for endlessly. And just because I can’t do something perfectly doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try at all.
With Christmas and all of it’s pressures coming up, I’m really hoping I can put my new philosophy into practice and have an enjoyable Christmas without demanding too much from myself.