We probably all know somebody who is a self proclaimed perfectionist and takes everything way too seriously and shows everyone up at everything from mini golf to making dishes for potlucks. This person has to show everyone how perfect they are, yet come across all effortless. You know who I mean?
Well, actually, I don't personally know anyone like that, but it is the stereotype that comes to mind when I think perfectionist, and because this is my image of a perfectionist, I've never considered myself one. I don't care if I win or lose at mini golf and I only care about bringing palatable dishes to potlucks. Except, I'm having this horrifying memory of a potluck in college in which me and another girl were charged with bringing cookies. I just made some oatmeal cookies, but she brought these beautifully sculpted cookies shaped like leaves and covered with immaculate fondant. My cookies were, palatable, but I was horribly embarrassed and no one, of course, ate my cookies. I didn't even grab them on my way home, I just hoped that no one noticed I brought them in, then no one would know that such shameful cookies were mine!
That girl, with the gorgeous cookies, was probably a perfectionist. She was the type of person I held up as a standard of perfection, too, and I couldn't see myself on that same level, but recently I've been coming to realize that I am a perfectionist and the very thought that I think I'm not is very telling that I am. I tell myself I'm not a perfectionist because I never do anything perfect. Well, how very like a perfectionist to think that nothing they do is perfect!
I think there are two different types of perfectionists: those who try and try and try for perfection and wear themselves out and those that are so afraid of not being perfect that they don't even try at all. More often than not, I am the latter. And, that's pretty much how I approach all challenges in life, by ignoring them. It's a trait I've had ever since I was a child and one I've only recently started to begrudge and seek
The biggest area of my life that gets eaten up by perfectionism is social. This is the area where I go "wow, I really can't stand not being perfect." If I have a conversation with someone and I say something out of turn, or I say something embarrassing, or I say too much about myself, I gnaw on that forever afterwards. I think to myself how much more perfect the conversation could have gone. I think how I am so NOT perfect. If I get embarrassed by something, maybe I drop something in front of a lot of people or I make a joke that no one laughs at, I go on to blame myself and tell myself I'm stupid and why do I even bother and I'll just never try with people again! If I'm not what I deem to be perfect in my interactions with others, then I just think it's time to give up. Be the true hermit already. Hide away in my house cave and never return to the world.
There is one area where I don't have this social perfectionism. When I interact with my students who I tutor. I can do the most embarrassing things and be 100% myself and have kids make fun of me and still walk out of work feeling great. The thing about kids is, while they are curious and observant and honest, I don't think they are judging me, not like adults. When I interact with adults, I always wonder what they think about me, but with my students I don't have that worry. I figure either they like me or they don't, but at the end of the day I'm providing them with a warm, welcoming atmosphere to learn. I can sing to my students and be silly with my students and make lame jokes that they sigh at and not have one care in the world about it. I can even continue to be myself when I tutor and other adults are around, but if I'm interacting with just adults, I become like a plank of wood or something. (This is with the exception of really close friends, sometimes my family, and always my husband).
The other area that this perfectionism seeps into is my writing. Blog writing or short stories or poems don't suffer as much because they're short and more manageable, but when I'm working on long-form I turn toward the perfectionism that tells me to just give up because it will never be perfect anyway. An idea will form, I'll get super excited and start writing, then the idea will morph and veer of the perfect track I thought I had for it and I'll get discouraged, but I'll just keep writing with anxiety bursting out of my fingertips until I have such a big mess that it makes me even more anxious! I am working on this area constantly, though, because 1. I'm getting my Master's in Creative Writing so I kind of have to and 2. I believe that all the areas of perfectionism are related, so if I work on one then the other ones will see improvement. And 3. I truly want to be a writer, or at least a person who writes things, so I can't just run away from this challenge as easily as I've run away from others because it's tethered to my dream that I've invested my time and money in.
I may not be what I see as the stereotypical perfectionist, but my fear of NOT being perfect tells me that this is an area in which I need to grow. I don't believe perfectionists can really ever be happy; they might give off the illusion of happiness, like that girl who made the freaking beautiful cookies. She sure looked happy that night showing off her skills, but I wonder how many times she failed in the making of those cookies. I wonder how difficult it would have been for her to make cookies that did not meet her expectations of perfection. I would much rather be the type of person who is willing to try and fail, and then know when it's time to stop, then be paralyzed by my own fears of not being perfect.
I will continue to challenge myself in social interactions because I value having friends. I also value treating myself kindly, and beating myself up over an awkward social interaction with adults doesn't feel kind, and only pushes me further into my house cave. I will also continue to challenge myself with my writing because I value stories, and I value my dream.