Who among us is not a perfectionist at heart?
It seems like yesterday (but hardly was) when I first observed my own perfectionism. I was four years old, and my parents bought me a new bed and dresser set. Like a sleuth, I walked around the room, making sure there was no damage to any of the furniture.
As it turned out, there was a large piece of painted wood broken off one of the dressers, and an indescribable anxiety welled up at the realization that my world at that moment was not perfect.
One of my favorite stories about perfectionism shows that if we can accept things as “good enough,” we can shake our perfectionist anxieties:
One Halloween season as an adult I was pumpkin picking, and I could not help overhearing the conversation between a mother and her daughter feverishly searching for the “perfect pumpkin.” The little girl sobbed as her search yielded only pumpkins with discolorations, bumps, and scars. But she worked things out in her own mind over her time in the patch, which was very impressive to me, and she settled on a pumpkin with warts and all. Suddenly, out of nowhere, holding her Halloween treasure, she said with conviction, “Now that’s a pumpkin with character!”
How’s that for easily adapting a “good enough” mindset in her search for perfection?
As adults, we all frantically search for perfect experiences. Who among us has not sought out the perfect grade or the perfect mate? I think back to so many times of being on the verge of tears from missing a perfect grade by a point or two. Rarely did I think about how well I did compared to others people taking the same test. If I had a “good enough” mindset, missing those few points would have been fine. Maybe I could have even missed a few more, with an attitude that I learn from my mistakes.
It can also be stressful looking for the perfect mate and feeling lonely when no one comes our way, or even settling for superficial relationships. As a teenager, I spent a lot of time feeling lonely—but not because boys were not interested in getting to know me. It was mostly because I spent time viewing their flaws through a magnifying glass. For anyone with the tendency to look for imperfections, my advice is to throw that glass away and people will appear more in balance. Making a conscious effort to look for the good in people is not always as easy as it sounds, but it’s a great antidote to perfectionism and a springboard for getting to know people in deeper, more meaningful ways.
I also have had some success in reminding myself that there may be more behind the metaphoric door if I just give the person a chance. I can still hear my mother’s voice in my head from time to time saying, “Just give him a chance.” This can work if you make that conscious effort.
For me, giving a chance has evolved into the role of being a good listener—as hard as that can be sometimes—because we all want to be heard. Through good listening, I have learned a lot about people and their characters, which usually brings me closer to them. In time, they want to learn more about me, and by that point I am usually trusting enough to open up more about myself.
Adopting a learner-mindset is also a good antidote to perfectionism.
Rather than striving for perfection full force, I keep working on new learning and learning from my mistakes. I have taken up studying Spanish and singing as an adult. There are so many times that I thought about giving up because I am not as far along as others in my own skills. At the same time if I give up because of that reality, I would miss out on the joy of learning a new language and singing my favorite songs.
In any of my life experiences reflecting on I what I hoped for with a “good enough” mindset—and on what I have learned after the fact—has overcome the stress of perfectionism. All too often, in the grips of having to be perfect and wanting others to do the same, my thinking narrowed and I later realized how much I missed out on in seeing the good in others and even myself.
Good enough can be fine many times in life, but I must admit that it is has taken some time to accept this reality. It sometimes felt as though I was settling by not seeking out perfectionism, but I have also come to see that this belief is far from the truth. Moving to a “good enough” mindset has brought more serenity and calm to my life, and has helped balance the inevitable stress of daily living. It truly has led to taking more chances in relationships, and to build more trusting and deeper ones.
Author: June Rousso
Apprentice Editor: Josette Myers; Editor: Emily Bartran