Perfectionism, Identity, and the Optics of Worthiness

0
109

My husband taught me something about flowers recently. Geranium, he told me, is a fault in wine. We were discussing the floral scent and had agreed that we both liked it. It’s lovely—it’s sweet and punchy and smells like a sun-drenched field pierced with bright crimson petals. But it signifies an unwanted reaction during the winemaking process. In other words, when you get a taste of geranium, you know something didn’t work the way it was supposed to.

Perfectionism is a geranium. Its optics are gorgeous, illuminated by a halo of grit, strength, and flawlessness. But perfectionism can be a fault. It cheats us from the art that so many people would have created, and indeed could have created, but didn’t because it wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t so-called perfect. Perfectionism often prevents those who bear its weight from starting something new, from even trying.

Perfectionism is a geranium. Its optics are gorgeous, illuminated by a halo of grit, strength, and flawlessness. But perfectionism can be a fault. . . . Perfectionism often prevents those who bear its weight from starting something new, from even trying.

A badge of honor so many wear as if it were a requirement to worthiness, perfectionism is all around us. How often do you hear people slip into a conversation that they are a perfectionist? I hear and read it often, and every single time I do, I wait for that accomplished feeling of being able to tell another person that I, too, strive for perfection and nothing short of it. But it never, ever comes. And every time, I feel less than the person who just posited their perfectionism.

I bring this up because when it comes to perfectionism, I have always had an identity crisis. I’ve thought that in order to succeed in this world full of them, that I, too, needed to be a perfectionist. But it’s never come naturally to me, and what does that say about me? What does it say that, when others in my cohort are pushing harder, going further, working longer to achieve perfection, I, instead, am happy with very good, great, exceptional—but not perfect?

I have long experienced self-consciousness around my lack of perfectionism. I have been chastised by superiors for not having achieved perfection, and even though I knew in my heart that striving for perfection would mean I’d always be working toward something unachievable, I listened to their reprimands and questioned my own standards, wondering why I thought something was great while others only saw imperfection. I let their words create a soapbox upon which I knew I would never stand. And so I changed, I removed my creativity from my processes, and I did what I could to meet their more objective standards. In my attempt to be the perfectionist I knew others wanted from me, I stripped myself of the qualities that perfectionists can lack: the ability to produce; the propensity to try, fail, and learn.

In effect, I became less than—all in an attempt to meet perfectionist standards. And for what? All this self-inflicted transformation did was prove to me further that I am unlike other perfectionists, and perfectionism is not something you can fake.

In my attempt to be the perfectionist I knew others wanted from me, I stripped myself of the qualities that perfectionists can lack: the ability to produce; the propensity to try, fail, and learn.

Even though we know that being a perfectionist can be paralyzing, and articles and books about overcoming perfectionism abound, it still serves as a standard to live up to. People still ascribe to the notion that being a perfectionist is a good thing. Like when the interviewer asks you what your biggest fault is, and you say you’re too hard on yourself or you have too high of standards. This illuminates your positive attributes of meticulousness and high-quality output, leaving a propensity to waste time, or worse—not ship anything—in the shadows.

It’s like an ingredient label. When someone is a perfectionist, you know exactly what you’re going to get from them. This is an attractive label to place upon ourselves. It provides clarity in a world severely lacking it. It’s a reassurance that the work that is yet to be produced will be of the very highest quality. As someone with a more nebulous label, I often feel like I need to prove something to make up for my lack of perfectionism. This disillusionment is harmful at best.

Please don’t mistake my own insecurities about not being a perfectionist as a bashing of those who are. If you aim for perfection and let yourself achieve it, I commend you. I am in awe of your bravura. And I hope you know that the imperfect stuff you do is important, too.

Perfectionism is not a scale upon which our worth is measured. No matter what variety we are, perfectionist or not, our contributions to society are all valuable, and these labels are just ways to help us better understand our inner workings—the reactions that happen during our own processes.

Like geraniums, there are many different varieties of perfectionists. Maybe the lesson here is that perfectionism is not a scale upon which our worth is measured. No matter what variety we are, perfectionist or not, our contributions to society are all valuable, and these labels are just ways to help us better understand our inner workings—the reactions that happen during our own processes.

Source