I can’t really speak to what it’s like to be a perfectionist, but having grown up with a mother who is a hyper perfectionist, I can say, hallelujah. Instead of learning from her and learning how to meticulously iron clothes, measure, and fret over every tiny detail, I went the other direction. I developed skills at a young age to be a non-perfectionist. At first, it started out as my way of rebellion by purposely mismatching my socks, hanging pictures crooked, and keeping a very messy bedroom, all in an effort to irk my mother. It worked and still works to this day. On my last visit, I put the tablecloth on the table slightly crooked, and she of course fixed it. I noticed her doing this, and each time I walked by the table, I moved the table cloth a centimeter and watched her fix it every time. After about 8 times of this game, she screamed, “AMBER STOP WITH THE TABLECLOTH THAT IS ENOUGH!” She of course knew it was me.
Even though this is how it started as a child, it became clear to me as I got older that obsessing over the little things wasn’t in my nature. I am plagued with a mind that some call global thinking. I see the big picture and feel anxiety and stress when I am forced to see things in a linear way or break them down into tedious details. Let’s look at the rainbow as an example. It is so magnificent and beautiful and sometimes we can see part of it or other times the whole thing but either way the colors across the sky are beautiful. What would we think if the rainbow said “Thank you but the purple isn’t the right shade and the yellow is a little dull, I will keep trying until it is perfect.” This perfectionist way of thinking takes the joy and appreciation out of the beauty that is in front of us. If someone is seeking perfection constantly in their lives in this way, so caught up in the tiny minute details that they miss the beauty and awe of the rainbow in front of them, they are missing out on the joy. I think I have a bit of an advantage being a non-perfectionist, and I propose we all strive to be a little less perfect. These are a few ways I have “perfected” non-perfectionism:
- Be Flexible: When I am working on a project, I brainstorm, come up with a multitude of ideas, and layout an outline for the project. I work out the main details and structure of the project, how it will be done, and the overall vision of what the end goal will look like. Then I will review it and submit it for other people to give input. Together as a team, we can create the smaller details and the intricacies of how it will work. I don’t try to completely finish the project before submitting it for other people to see. We don’t have to get every detail perfect in order to start.
- Determine priorities: My mother for example was so caught up in her house being absolutely spotless and meticulously cleaned when we were growing up that she often gave up many opportunities to spend time with me and my siblings. I find that managing my time is important and that for me if seeking perfection in something takes the place of spending time with friends and family, I am completely fine with laundry sitting there until I get to it. This goes back to the rainbow: the unrealistic pursuit of perfection distracts us from being present in our lives.
- Let go: Perfectionists often feel the need to control things and people in their lives. This is a false sense of security because in reality so much is out of our control; all we can do is all we can do. What a weight off that would be for these perfect people! Last summer I and six other friends camped in Steamboat. We stayed at a KOA right along the river that shuttles us up to a certain point in town with our tubes, and we rode the river all the way back down to the campground. Depending on the amount of water and the speed of the flow, the journey down can be very fast or like a lazy river slow and steady. Either way, it’s a blast. We have a floating cooler full of beer, and we laugh and have a great time. Last summer, we went on a fast-flowing day; the river was high, and it was moving very fast. We started in the late morning and planned to float from pretty far up realizing we would get back pretty quickly, which is about four hours.
One of our friends who is the well-known perfectionist in the group states as we enter the river on our tubes, “Okay so, we need to get back to the campground before 4:30 so that we can get ready to go to Strawberry Springs by 6 because we have that time reserved.”
It was 2020, so we had to reserve a time slot so they could limit the number of people who were at the hot springs at one time. We all just look at her and me with particular disgust. Did she really think we could control how quickly we got down this river? The river was in charge, not her, let me tell you. We had a bright idea to tie all 6 of our tubes to float down the river. Needless to say, we all flipped and fell in the current multiple times; the whole day was wild, fun, and crazy. Except for the part when our friend lost her engagement ring. We also had zero control over how fast we got down the river and what time we made it back. Thankfully our perfect friend’s husband is a wonderful non-perfectionist and kindly said, “We will make it back when we make it back.” We did exactly that and still made it to the hot springs on time.
- Open to feedback, learning, and growing: Perfectionism is rooted in insecurity; this is an effort to make themselves look better outwardly when in fact they are very unsure of themselves, and when there is any type of constructive criticism or feedback given, they get defensive and have hurt feelings. If we are a non-perfectionist, we are comfortable with the fact that we are NOT perfect and that we have room to grow and learn and are in a position to apply the feedback and become better. This has a lot to do with mindset, which is a whole other topic. Ironically, seeking perfection inhibits growth and the potential of becoming perfect, if perfection was real.
Hopefully, in implementing these tools, we can all be a little more non-perfect, more present, and enjoy the beauty of life and look up and enjoy the rainbow.
Biography: I am an instructor in the recreation department and I teach health and wellness seminars for the employee wellness program. While my career is focused on health/fitness/wellness, I write for fun and this is a creative outlet for me. I wrote this essay as part of a writing course I took last summer and decided to submit it. I don’t always write non-fiction but this piece is something I felt I needed to express and other people need to hear. I think so much that holds us back in life is the fear of failing or messing up and this is a reminder that it’s absolutely okay to not be perfect and when we can accept that it opens up so many opportunities to have a fuller life. For me, writing in this way is a way to form my thoughts and opinions in creative ways that I think might help another person.