You know that moment… and that other moment…and every day when you are barely on top of your urgent To-Do list and you look to over and see that the person in the cubicle across from you is shopping online… again?
Then maybe you are also familiar with the moment afterwards where you wonder why the H–E–DoubleHockeySticks you even bother working so hard. Perhaps that person is praised (for whatever that’s worth) just as often as you are and it is becoming all too clear that no one at this Non-Profit Organization cares/notices who is working hard and who is getting by doing the minimum. And maybe you, too, have been called a perfectionist.
At some point during my childhood, trying to be perfect became a primary goal. My mom surely knew I was at least a little compulsive when she walked in to my bedroom and found me alphabetizing my books by author’s last name. I was eight. My tenth grade chemistry teacher must have known when he insisted that if I didn’t learn to relax, I would get an ulcer. (By the way, that is not an okay thing to say to a 15-year-old. Internet search engines existed, folks.) The general result of my efforts was that I was good at many things and not excellent at anything.
Generally this so-called “perfectionism” has served me well. I have always gotten good grades and any complaints or criticisms were rarely due to lack of effort (that “rarely” is dedicated to my high school theater teacher/director. Long story probably not worth telling). Somewhere along the way, my brain translated procrastination and being broke in to doing-things-ahead-of-time-but-feeling-like-it’s-the-last-minute and flat-out-refusing-to-spend-money-when-close-to-zero-dollars, respectively. Most of the time these are good things. Some of you may even consider these backhanded compliments to myself. And yes, this way of thinking keeps me organized. But as a working adult, I am learning that perfectionism can be exhausting and not particularly rewarding.
Three years ago I had no clue what I wanted to do with my life/my
overpriced college education and now I am a licensed professional who might as well carry a Pro-Social Work banner around everywhere.
Go Social Work! Yeah! And No, I Am Not Here To Take Your Child Away!
In social work I think I have found a career where having basic knowledge of a lot of random things is useful and where the only things I really need to be excellent at are being open-minded, learning, making a concerted effort to be self-aware and admitting to ignorance (off the top of my head; surely I have left things out that I might otherwise emphasize). I think most (competent) social workers and professionals in similar fields can agree that we cannot fully plan anything in our work because so much depends on what the client brings to any given encounter. To be successful, it may even be best that we work to let go of the concepts of control and perfection. If nothing else, it seems necessary that I/we recognize the uselessness of perfect for the sake of perfect.
I am beginning to feel that my tendency to strive for perfection is just an old habit, dying hard. My definition of success has changed, but in times of high stress, my default settings seem to kick in without my authorization. It’s like how when my mom was tired or deep in thought, she would sometimes drive toward our old house (where we lived for the first 15 years of my life) even a year or so after we’d moved.
What I want now is not to be perfect, but to prioritize and work hard at things I value and to be fully invested in those things. I want to be who I am to the fullest extent and be proud of myself and what I do. I want to be present where I am. It all sounds a bit cheesy, but perfectionism as it has existed in my life makes it impossible for me to be “in the moment” because there is always something to think about, to consider, to perfect. Ultimately, my values no longer support my perfectionism and that is fine with me.