I imagine there are a lot of reasons people are perfectionists. I don’t even pretend to know all of why I am, but I do know that it causes me no end of misery; my constant self-flagellation, my fears of judgment from others, the ever-present buzz of anxiety that frequently spikes and can be debilitating and prevent me from even attempting things for fear of being less than perfect…
IT IS RIDICULOUS. I KNOW.
Last year, I subscribed to emails from The Fly Lady. Marla is a force to be reckoned with, and she has created this system and series of methods and even a line of products to help people like me get out of their own way when it comes to keeping a clean home. While I haven’t once followed every step of her plan for a full day, let alone a week or more, there are certain messages that I have begun to take to heart and apply to life outside of just my housekeeping. At the end of each email is the footer, “You are not behind! I don’t want you to try to catch up; I just want you to jump in where we are. O.K.?”
First, of course I give her mad props for the use of a semicolon. But really, think about that sentiment. How many times in a day do we think about all the ways we are behind? All the things we need to do first to get to that one task? All the excuses we make for not getting shit done are destroyed with this one little idea: just jump in. And she outlines each day’s and week’s and month’s chores in such a way that you really can do just that – it’s okay if you didn’t do whatever was on the list yesterday; it wasn’t a prerequisite, and it’s all a cycle, so you’ll come back around to it later. Simple, brilliant, and, when followed, effective.
The other big premise of FlyLady’s program is shaking off perfectionism. We tell ourselves, “If I haven’t the time to do it right, why bother at all?” So since I don’t have time to move all the furniture around and get down to do the baseboards by hand, I don’t mop the floor. But you know what? I can mop the floor I can get to without moving shit, and that is still progress. I have no real excuse if I just let go of the idea that it has to be all or nothing. Maybe I don’t have enough hangers for all of the clothes I need to put in the closet. Does that mean I shouldn’t hang up as much as I can and then get creative about where to store the rest until I get more hangers? Taking it a step further, if I do that much, I can judge how many more hangers I need, and not buy too many or two few, either saving money or preventing frustration. Silly little things, maybe, but all of them together have a big impact.
In my life outside of being a shoddy homemaker, perfectionism and fear have been a match made in hell for me. My fear of being corrected, of being thought stupid, of being told maybe something besides what I did or think or even feel could be right even if it doesn’t mean that what I did or think or feel is wrong, these all stem from a need for perfectionism, one that I know has been cultivated by many people in my life, but by no one more than myself.
I think I’m done with that, for a couple of reasons.
One, it’s time I started giving other people some credit. They are not all assholes who are going to laugh at me for not knowing an answer or saying the wrong thing or interpreting something differently from how they do. In all actuality, the people in my life are pretty fucking chill, and you know what? They think I’m smart even if I don’t know everything.
And two, which is the harder thing to share because it goes against everything I’ve been told since my childhood about not bragging or making myself out to be better than others or, you know, having any self-esteem: I am pretty fucking smart. I can do a lot of things well. I do have a good chance at excelling at anything I put effort into. Except algebra and history – those will always elude me, and that is okay.
So, it’s okay not to be perfect, because I can be pretty damned good. I can be a good friend and a good sister and a good student and a good employee and a good mom and a good partner and a good writer and a good dancer and the list goes on. I don’t have to get everything just right every time. Because I am blessed with a heart and mind and body that are able to learn from my mistakes, to correct them, and to do better next time. And if I’m not perfect, there’s always room to grow. And growth is the name of the game in 2012.